Ford Performance NASCAR: Pocono 1 (Ryan Blaney Media Availability)

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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS)

Pocono 400 (Pocono Raceway; Long Pond, PA)

Friday, June 1, 2018


Ryan Blaney returns to the site of his first career Cup Series win which came a year ago at the Tricky Triangle. Blaney spoke about coming back to Pocono Raceway and more with media members prior to the opening practice session Friday.


RYAN BLANEY, No. 12 Menards/Duracell Ford Fusion — WHAT IS IT LIKE COMING BACK HERE HAVING WON HERE LAST YEAR? “It is always nice to come back to a place you have had success at and won at. It gives you confidence as a driver and as a whole team everyone’s confidence is up. Obviously you want to repeat that. You want to win every week but when you come back to a place where you have had success that definitely is nice. Especially after the last couple of weeks. We have struggled the last couple of races after having fast cars. That is almost like an extra slap in the face when you have fast cars and have problems like that. It just makes it that much worse. The good news is we do have fast cars right now and it is a matter of putting everything together, from not getting into accidents to braking. We need to get on the right track here. We are poised to do that. We have a good group of people over there on this 12 team. It is a matter of getting the monkey off our back. We have two good tracks for us in Pocono and Michigan where we typically run pretty decent and have fast cars. Hopefully we can have two strong ones and maybe get a win before the break.”


HOW FRUSTRATING WAS IT LAST WEEK KNOWING YOU HAD A TOP-FIVE CAR AND THEN BLOWING THE ENGINE? “Yeah, that stinks. Obviously it is never what you want. I thought our car was pretty decent. I don’t know if we had anything for the 18. Nobody had anything for the 18. But we could have run in the top-five all day. You never know how it would have shaken out. I thought our car was strong enough to run up there and I think it was only 20 laps before the end of that second stage and we were fifth and it dropped a cylinder and eventually dropped all of them a little bit later. Yeah, it is frustrating for sure. Especially at Charlotte where I feel like it has not been our best race track. I feel like we have to really fight hard there and have made really good gains at that place as far as a competitive standpoint of getting ourselves up there with the better cars. I think we made a good gain at Charlotte. That stinks but those things happen. I took us out of contention at Kansas and we had a motor issue at Charlotte. Things you can’t control. We couldn’t control the motor issue but we can control the things at Kansas. I think if we just try to do the best job of taking control of what we have our hands on then that other stuff just happens. It is part of racing sometimes.”


WHAT GOES THROUGH YOUR MIND WHEN YOUR CAR IS ON FIRE LIKE THAT? “I don’t know. You just try to get stopped. You can’t see nothing. You try to get stopped as quick as you can and get out of the thing. They asked me if I pulled the pin but I was just trying to get out of the thing. I couldn’t see it regardless. But I smelled like smoke the next two days.”


RYAN BLANEY CONTINUED … MANY SAY THAT DRIVERS EITHER GET THIS TRACK OR THEY DON’T. DO YOU THINK YOU GOT THE FEEL OF THIS TRACK EARLY ON? “I have always enjoyed this place. We won a truck race here in 2013 and I have always liked coming here. I think it is really unique. Then you jump in the Cup car and it is even more special because you are shifting a couple times a lap that makes it more unique in how you shift and where you do it and it makes it more difficult. I have always enjoyed it. I came up here and watched my dad run a lot throughout the years growing up. I made my first start in a race car at the dirt track out there outside of turn three. That is where I made my first quarter midget start. This place has always been special. We always have a lot of family at this race. I have enjoyed it for a long time and it suits the way we like to setup the race car and the way I drive. It seems to come together and we seem to be able to put together some decent runs.”


WOULD YOU SAY THIS TRACK ISN’T SO MUCH ABOUT EXPERIENCE HERE AS IT IS ABOUT IF YOU LIKE THE FEEL OF IT AND IF IT SUITS YOU AS A DRIVER? “I think some of that comes into play. Always experience comes into play. If you are coming here for the first time in a Cup car you’re not going to know a whole lot. William Byron, this is his first time here in a Cup car and you can run the simulator all you want but it is just different than Harvick being here for the 15th-plus time. It is just different. You learn more with experience and reps, with any race track, not just this place. I think it is a combination of both. The first time I came here I struggled really bad. It is just hard to get the feel of it right away and what you have to do to get around this track.”


WHAT IS YOUR EVALUATION OF THE ALL-STAR PACKAGE AND WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE SOME VARIATION OF THAT USED ELSEWHERE THIS YEAR? “Yeah, it is different, that is for sure. It is something that I applaud NASCAR for always trying to do something different. They put a lot of hard work into that and trying to get these 1.5 mile packages where we are a little closer and able to race a little bit more. I wouldn’t mind seeing something like that. I think you can still tweak it and make it better and put it back into kind of making it a little harder to drive. To be honest they were a little easy to drive and I like it to be more difficult. You kind of take away a little bit of car handling when they are that locked down on the race track. Whether it is a little more horsepower or a little bit of that downforce off of them. I am sure we will see it a couple more times this year at a couple race tracks just to see how it does. You gotta try stuff. They are at least doing it and listening to people.”


RYAN BLANEY CONTINUED … DID YOU WATCH ANY OF THE MONACO OR INDY RACES? “Yeah, I watched all of it. I got up early that morning. The Monaco race was pretty good. It was cool to see Ricardo win it. He kind of got robbed of one a couple years ago so it was cool to see him pull that off. Then the Indy race, that was great. I watched every lap of that. That was amazing to see Will get the win. He is a super nice guy and for Roger (Penske) to get his 17th Indy 500 is very special. They did a great job executing that whole day. It was fun to see Will really excited. You talk to him and he is like the most low-key Australian guy ever. He just doesn’t show emotion so to see him get that pumped up in victory lane was really funny and neat to see. Those races were really good. I try to watch all of them every year.”


HAVE YOU TALKED TO WILL SINCE THE WIN? “I haven’t seen him. He has been off doing all his media stuff. I have talked to him a little bit over text messages but not in person.”


THE XFINITY SERIES IS USING THAT ALL-STAR PACKAGE HERE THIS WEEKEND. WHAT IS YOUR PREDICTION FOR WHAT THAT MIGHT LOOK LIKE? “I don’t know. I will be interested to see how they practice. I think they will be really close together. It is a long front stretch and they will be drafting up close to each other a lot, really quickly. The only thing I am thinking about is how flat and one-lane turn three is. If they can stay close enough in that corner to be close enough off of three to get the benefit of the drag and draft down the straightaway. I am sure you will see a lot of pack racing in practice to try that stuff out. It is a little different here because you are mainly on the bottom here. In Charlotte you were running the middle and had a bottom lane to go bail off to and get some air. I will be interested to see here and then I think they are running it at Michigan next week, to see how it does. You have to try something and hopefully it works out for them.”


YOU ARE THE LAST FIRST TIME WINNER. WHY IS IT SO HARD FOR PEOPLE TO BREAK THROUGH FOR THEIR FIRST WIN AND WHO DO YOU THINK MIGHT BE THE NEXT TO DO IT? “I think it is so hard because it is the Cup Series. A lot of good teams. A lot of great race car drivers. They are in this series for a reason and it is because they are really, really good. Not only the drivers but the teams are amazing as well. The crew chiefs and engineers know what it takes to win. When you have that combination of a team and driver that can win, like Kevin Harvick or Kyle Busch who are just dominating, that is trouble for everybody else. It is hard to break through. The odds aren’t very good. They aren’t really in your favor. The next to breakthrough, I don’t know. There are a lot of them that are running great. I look at Chase (Elliott) who if a couple things go his way he would probably already have a few wins in his career. Erik Jones is running good and Suarez is running really well. Those three stick out in my mind of the next ones who will get their first win pretty soon. I think their teams are good enough and them as drivers are plenty good enough. It just needs to all work out for them.”


RYAN BLANEY CONTINUED … HOW WOULD YOU EVALUATE YOUR SEASON THUS FAR BY GIVING YOURSELF A GRADE AND WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST STRENGTH AND WEAKNESS? “Our team grade is pretty good. I am very happy with how everyone is working with each other. You talk about the transition from the Wood Brothers to Team Penske and it has been — I have said it before that it has been pretty easy. There are a lot of the same personnel and the crew chief and engineers are the same. There are a few new mechanics but they have all known each other. In this sport you kind of know everybody if you are a crew guy. You have probably worked with somebody, everybody, at some point in your career working in the garage. They all get along really well. I think they have their own communication which is good. We have one of the best teams in the garage as far as working with each other. I think our cars are pretty good to where they are close to where they need to be. We aren’t quite there yet. Obviously there are a couple cars that are beating everybody week in and week out but I think we are right there. We just need to find that little bit and put a weekend together. I don’t know. As far as driving, I could do better. I make mistakes. I hit the wall. I wrecked myself at Kansas with a winning car. Just have to be a little smarter and I haven’t been that this year. I need to get myself cleaned up a little and if we make some gains on the car we will be right there with being at the top.”


YOU’VE LED THE MOST LAPS IN THE SERIES BEHIND HARVICK AND KYLE BUSCH. IS THAT REASSURING? WHEN YOU DO GET A WIN, WILL IT BE A SENSE OR RELIEF AT THAT POINT? “I don’t think it will be a sense of relief because the stress level on our team about it isn’t very high. We aren’t like, ‘Oh, we haven’t won a race yet. Oh my God what are we going to do?’ When it happens, it happens. You go out each week and you forget last week. Everyone has forgotten it by Tuesday morning when they go in the race shop and focus on Pocono. We will do the same thing after this race whether we win or finish 30th. We will go focus on Michigan. I think that is what our team does really well. As far as leading a bunch of laps and not getting a win, I don’t really look at laps led and stuff like that. I just go try to run the best I can and whatever happens, happens. If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. You just try to learn from your mistakes from the previous race and if you find yourself in those situations at a later date then hopefully you learned from that and try to do better. That is me, pit crew, crew guys, crew chief. It is all one big machine we are working with and every part has to be operating well. I don’t think we are frustrated or on the edge of our seats. We are trying to go do the best we can each weekend and I know the best we can do is winning the race. It is just a matter of coming through when it counts.”



RYAN BLANEY CONTINUED … WHAT IS THE SENSATION OF SPEED HERE ON THE FRONT STRETCH? DOES IT FEEL FASTER THAN OTHER PLACES LIKE MICHIGAN OR CALIFORNIA? “Yeah, you are moving pretty fast into turn one there. Honestly I feel like Michigan feels a little faster into turn one for some reason. I don’t know why. Maybe because you drive off into turn one a little deeper there. I think the front stretch is so long here that you don’t max out speed but once you get over 200 mph I don’t know the difference between 200 or 210 but it is definitely a large sensation. Honestly the speed through the tunnel is getting really fast. You are kind of hanging on over there and it is rough and bumpy. There is definitely a speed sensation for sure but I would say that I can feel it a little more at Michigan, like when we go out in qualifying trim compared to when we come here, just because this place is so big.”


Greg Engle
About Greg Engle 7421 Articles
Greg is a published award winning sportswriter who spent 23 years combined active and active reserve military service, much of that in and around the Special Operations community. Greg is the author of "The Nuts and Bolts of NASCAR: The Definitive Viewers' Guide to Big-Time Stock Car Auto Racing" and has been published in major publications across the country including the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He was also a contributor to Chicken Soup for the NASCAR Soul, published in 2010, and the Christmas edition in 2016. He wrote as the NASCAR, Formula 1, Auto Reviews and National Veterans Affairs Examiner for and has appeared on Fox News. He holds a BS degree in communications, a Masters degree in psychology and is currently a PhD candidate majoring in psychology. He is currently the weekend Motorsports Editor for Autoweek.