As part of the new wave of young talent that’s invaded NASCAR racing this season, Ryan Blaney isn’t bashful about sharing his career plans.
“Obviously, we want to make it to Cup as quickly as possible, but you’ve got to sit back and be realistic about it and know when to pick your years and what you want to do,” said Blaney, who will celebrate his 20th birthday on New Year’s Eve.
“Next year we’re going to do the truck program again, and hopefully in ’15 we can do Nationwide and get to Cup in 2016 and go from there.”
First on the to-do list is competing for a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship. Driving the No. 29 Brad Keselowski Racing Ford, Blaney finished sixth in the final NCWTS standings this year, six points behind fourth-place Johnny Sauter and 78 behind runaway champion Matt Crafton.
Nevertheless, Blaney believes a title is within the realm of possibility.
“I like to think of my chances as really good,” Blaney told the NASCAR Wire Service before the NASCAR Nationwide and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Awards in Miami Beach. “I thought we were going to have a really good shot at the beginning of this year, and we didn’t get going well. It took longer than I thought to get to be winning races and running up front.
“Just with the manufacturer change we went through (from Dodge to Ford), it was pretty difficult to adjust to that, but towards the end of the year, we had really strong runs, and I thought we had a truck to run top five in every single race.”
Blaney certainly has the bloodlines to run up front. His father, Dave Blaney, a.k.a. the Buckeye Bullet, is one of the most successful drivers ever to sit behind the wheel of a Sprint Car. But Dave Blaney’s success on dirt hasn’t translated to pavement in a stock car, in part because he’s seldom driven top-tier equipment.
Without the history in open wheels, Ryan Blaney has shown remarkable acumen in NASCAR racing from the get-go. Blaney turned heads in his first NASCAR Nationwide Series start, running consistently in the top five and finishing seventh on Apr. 27, 2012, at Richmond.
In fact, Blaney got a large measure of NNS experience driving the No. 22 Penske Racing Nationwide car late that season, as Brad Keselowski forewent a number of planned NNS starts to concentrate on his successful run at the NASCAR Sprint Cup title.
The experience paid off for Blaney, one of four drivers to win in the No. 22 car this year, as the Penske Ford charged to the NNS owners’ championship. Keselowski won six races in the 22, Joey Logano three, AJ Allmendinger two (both on road courses) and Blaney once, at Kentucky.
“What did they win, 12 races this year?” Blaney asked rhetorically. “With four different drivers. That’s awesome to see, and it makes you feel really good to be a part of that team. I hope I’ll be able to get some starts with that team next year, too.”
Doubtless Blaney will get more seat time behind the wheel of the championship car as talented young drivers continue to make inroads at the highest levels of the sport.
Reigning NNS championship Austin Dillon is part of the youth movement ready to compete for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year title in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series next year. Blaney himself was on the short list of candidates to replace Kurt Busch at Furniture Row Racing before Martin Truex Jr. became available.
In fact, Blaney had mixed feelings as he watched Dillon, his long-time friend, battle for the NASCAR Nationwide title against Sam Hornish Jr., his Penske Racing teammate.
“I grew up racing with Austin and Ty (Dillon, Austin’s brother),” Blaney said. “It’s really cool to see them go up through the ranks and make it. Obviously, I really wanted Sam to win the drivers’ championship, but it’s really cool to see your childhood friend win it also.
“I think it’s going to be really good for our sport to have a couple of really good young guys, and I think it’s going to be a great battle next year for the Cup rookie of the year.”
Blaney also recognizes that he’s part of a movement, a gradual changing of the guard in NASCAR Sprint Cup racing. But he’s willing to bide his time — to a point.
“A lot of good guys are getting older, and then you see this wave of young guys coming in, in the 17-to-21-year-old range,” Blaney said. “It’d be kind of cool to see a new generation up there. I don’t think those guys up there at the Cup level that are doing really well are going to quit any time soon — like Jimmie Johnson or Matt Kenseth.
“But we’ll do our best as the young guys to try to excel a lot in the lower series, and then maybe in a few years we’ll be able to get up there. We’re just trying to do as good as we can now to build our stock and raise it for a few years to come.”