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Cup Notes: Blaney To Soldier On With ‘The Captain’

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, March 6 2020

Ryan Blaney, left, will continue on as a teammate with Brad Keselowski, right, at Team Penske. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Garry Eller)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Team Penske took Ryan Blaney out of any impending NASCAR Silly Season conversations Friday, signing the third-generation driver to a “multi-year” contract extension to continue wheeling the No. 12 Ford Mustang in the Cup Series.

The championship point-leader, Blaney posted a second-place result in the season-opening Daytona 500 while compiling a 6.3-average running position through the first three 2020 events at Daytona International Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.  Friday’s announcement secures Blaney’s ride at Team Penske, where 2012 Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski is a free-agent.

The extension also eliminates Blaney as a possible candidate for Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 48 Chevrolet Camaro that seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson will vacate when he retires at season’s end.

“We started working on this thing in the offseason,” Blaney said during a presser Friday morning at Phoenix Raceway, site of Sunday’s FanShield 500. “Even though we had pretty much a full year left on our deal before my current one was up, I was really happy with where I was at. I love the people I’m around and working with all the teams. I feel like I owe so much to Roger (Penske) for what he has done for me.

“I just didn’t really see myself, right now, anywhere else. There are a couple doors open, a couple seats open with other teams but I didn’t talk with any other teams. If I was approached by another team I don’t even know if I would want to talk to them because I’m so happy with where I’m at and so loyal to Roger. My mindset was if they would have me back I would love to be back. It was great that both of our minds were set on that.”

Asked to specify the number of years on the extension, Blaney said, “Multi-year.” Blaney was quoted in a team release as saying the extension was for “2021 and beyond.”

Blaney, a member of Team Penske since 2012, has earned three Cup Series victories and qualified for the NASCAR Playoffs in each of his three fulltime seasons.

“Ryan is a true talent with a long runway ahead of him and we are excited to have him as a part of the future of Team Penske,” Roger Penske said in a team release. “Since joining our team, Ryan has developed into a championship-caliber driver and his personality and engagement with fans has made him a terrific ambassador for NASCAR.  In addition, Ryan has done a great job of working with our partners to support their activation and investment throughout each year. I am looking forward to even more success together.”

Blaney first joined Team Penske as an 18-year-old, competing in select NASCAR Xfinity Series races. He earned his first NXS victory for Team Penske at Kentucky Speedway in 2013.  He won his first Cup event driving on-loan for the Wood Brothers in 2017 at Pocono Raceway before joining Team Penske as a fulltime Cup competitor in 2018. Now 26, Blaney has a combined nine wins and seven poles since joining the organization in 2012.

“We have fired-off really good, but you have to keep your cars up-to-date and keep them fast,” said Blaney, driving the No. 12 Menards/Tarkett Ford Mustang on Phoenix’s 1-mile oval this weekend. “It will be interesting to see where we stack up with everybody with this low downforce package. You get to the Playoffs and there are a lot of short tracks. This will be a big test this weekend.

“Honestly, it has been nice to start off the year good. We didn’t get the finishes we wanted but to be running up in the top-three every single race and working with a new team, that’s just great. You’re going to build off of that as (crew chief) Todd Gordon and I get used to each other and things like that. There are a couple things I wish I could have taken back last week that hurt us toward the end of that race. That’s just learning. We’re doing our job right and the finishes will come. We’re working together but the big thing is staying on top of it all year.

“You can never be truly satisfied with where you are running because teams will continue to get better. You have to stay with the group.”

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NASCAR Cup Series driver Ryan Newman, recuperating from injuries suffered in a violent crash during the closing laps of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 17, made a surprise appearance at a Ford Team Building event Thursday night.

Ford Performance set up a Punt, Pass & Kick-style competition among the drivers from its various teams at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz., home to the Arizona State University football program. Newman, of Roush Fenway Racing, joined the group for dinner.

“We had no idea that he was going to show up,” Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney said. “That was great. That was the first time I have seen Ryan personally. I think the first time a lot of us had seen Ryan. That was really cool to see. We sat and talked, the whole Ford group, for an hour, hour-and-a-half once he got there. He is full ‘Ryan Newman caliber’ and it’s great to see. It was cool to hear some of the process that he went through and some of the doctors that worked on him. They were very extensive with him and he has been passing everything with flying colors, which is unheard of and great to hear.

“It was nice to see him and sit down and talk to him a lot about multiple things from how the process of what happened to where we can go in the future to keep improving the safety aspects of these things.“

There is no timetable for Newman to return to RFR’s No. 6 Ford Mustang, currently being driven by Ross Chastain.

Meanwhile, Blaney said Thursday’s football competition served as a team-bonding exercise among Blue Oval competitors. “Yeah, Ford does a good job of trying to keep everybody pretty close,” Blaney said. “We’re all competitors but at the same time we drive for Ford and it’s very important to try to get them to Victory Lane. We have done multiple things. This time we were at the ASU football stadium, which a bunch of drivers playing football sounds hilarious. We did a competition, a throw, punt and field goal kick competition. I won the field goal competition. I hit a 35-yarder. I’m pretty proud of that. My leg is sore today, but I did it.

“Corey LaJoie is a pretty good athlete. He won the throwing competition. Surprisingly enough, Cole Custer won the punt competition. I don’t know why I said it was surprising, he seems like a good athlete. But that’s what we do. Just kind of hang out with the drivers and the Ford Performance guys and things like that. It’s just something that they do to bring everyone together, which I think is good.”

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Responding to fans’ increased interest in road-course races, Daytona International Speedway officials announced this week the Busch Clash at Daytona will move to the Speedway’s 3.56-mile road course and be held under the lights next season.

The 2021 Busch Clash at Daytona, an exhibition-style event, will be run on Tuesday, Feb. 9, on the same course as the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Daytona 200, North America’s premier races for sports cars and motorcycles, respectively. Road-course racing always has been a vital component on the Speedway’s calendar, with the Rolex 24 first held in 1962 as a three-hour race called the Daytona Continental while the Daytona 200 moved off the old Daytona Beach Road Course to the Speedway in 1961.

“The famed road-course at Daytona has a long and storied history with sports cars and motorcycles, and now we can write a new chapter on it with stock cars,” said Ben Kennedy, NASCAR Vice President of Racing Development. “Fans coming to the track will get to see six consecutive days of exciting NASCAR action, with no two days being the same.” 

In contrast to the tightly packed competition on the Speedway’s high-banked, 2.5-mile trioval, the re-imagined Busch Clash will utilize approximately three-quarters of the trioval along with the challenging infield portion of the road-course. That translates into 12 turns instead of the usual four.

“Having driven on the road-course at Daytona in the Rolex 24, I know how difficult the circuit can be,” said NASCAR Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon, a FOX television NASCAR analyst. “It will present a real challenge to the drivers and teams, and I’m looking forward to calling what I believe will be a lot of action from the booth.”

That challenge includes the high-speed entrance into Turn 1, as drivers dive left off the front straight to begin the twists and turns the infield offers, including the east and west Horseshoe turns and the trick negotiation of the backstretch chicane prior to a climb back atop the banking in Turn 3.

“NASCAR fans have asked for more road-course competition and the industry is listening,” DIS President Chip Wile said. “With the talent level the Busch Clash brings to the table, the race will now clearly have its own look and feel during Daytona Speedweeks Presented by AdventHealth in 2021 and beyond. The new placement on the Speedweeks schedule also adds to the anticipation. That switch will make for a fuller Speedweeks calendar.

The Busch Clash at Daytona was held for the 42nd consecutive time on Sunday, Feb. 9, featuring NASCAR Cup Series pole-winners and Playoff participants from the previous season, former Busch Clash champions and former Daytona 500 champions and pole-winners who competed fulltime in 2019.

In addition to changes to the Busch Clash, it also was announced the Lucas Oil 200 Driven by General Tire ARCA Menards Series season-opening race shifts to Saturday, Feb. 13, as part of a doubleheader with the NASCAR Xfinity Series race, the NASCAR Racing Experience 300. 

Daytona 500 Qualifying Presented by Kroger will be held on Wednesday, Feb. 10, to set the front row for the Daytona 500. The Bluegreen Vacations Duel at Daytona qualifying races will remain on Thursday night, Feb. 11, followed by the NextEra Energy 250 to open the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series season on Friday night, Feb. 12.

Tickets for the 63rd annual Daytona 500, the 43rd annual Busch Clash and all other Speedway events can be purchased online at www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, March 6 2020
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