Ford Performance NASCAR: Ryan Blaney Press Conference Transcript

Ford PR

Ford Performance NASCAR Notes and Quotes

Coca-Cola 600 Advance – Charlotte Motor Speedway

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Ryan Blaney, driver of the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion, visited the infield media center prior to today’s practice session and discussed a variety of topics.  Here’s a transcript.

ARE YOU DUE ON SUNDAY?  “I don’t know if you’d call it due.  We’ve been pretty strong on mile-and-a-halves this year, which has been a lot of fun to drive the race cars because they’ve been so fast.  Last week in the Open and the All-Star Race, we struggled pretty bad all weekend for some reason and could never really get to where we wanted to be.  Hopefully, we learned a lot from last weekend and we’re able to come back with something new and hopefully by a little bit better.  I know all of our cars struggled a little bit last weekend between mine and the Penske cars, so hopefully we’ve worked out some of the bugs that we needed to and we’ll be back to where we should be on mile-and-halves this weekend.  I say I hope so because it will be a long 600 miles if it was any indication of what we were like last week.  It’s just nice to be back at Charlotte, nice to kind of have a home race two weeks in a row.  We’ll see what we can do.”

HOW MUCH DID LAST WEEKEND HELP?  “It helps a ton.  You see a lot of people kind of test things and this track is so touch and difficult and being able to kind of get a little pre-race before the 600 was pretty nice.  We kind of got through our practice and the Open and the All-Star Race you kind of go through all the temperature swings that this place goes through and you have pretty much the same thing on Sunday with this race starting in the day and ending in the evening, so that was kind of nice to see where the track goes, and I’m pretty curious of what it’s gonna be like since they put that stuff on the top of the race track at the start of this thing.  I don’t think you’ll see anybody up there today at all, maybe on Saturday if we get longer runs and the track is hot, but that will definitely change it up a lot.  I feel like this track needed it and I think NASCAR did a good job of putting into action what they thought would be best and I know our Driver Council talked about it.  I’m interested to see what it does.  Hopefully, it helps it out at night because it was pretty rough last week around the bottom in the All-Star Race.  Drivers don’t want that.  Fans don’t want to see that.  Hopefully, putting that stuff up top will help that out a little bit.”

YOU’RE CARRYING THE NAME OF U.S. ARMY SGT. GREGORY BELANGER ON YOUR CAR AS PART OF 600 MILES OF REMEMBRANCE.  WHAT DOES THAT MEAN TO YOU?  “It means a lot.  He was a friend of my engine tuner Darren Russell and it means a lot.  NASCAR does a great job supporting the troops every single weekend.  I feel like we do the best in all of sports of showing our support to the military, but this weekend is something just a little bit extra.  I had a family member of mine on the car last year.  He was on the door with us, so it means a lot to show the support and get to meet all the military personnel that come to this race track, and being able to talk to them and hearing their stories.  I was fortunate to be a part of that at a younger age with Brad Keselowski’s Foundation, his Checkered Flag Foundation, we used to give rides to military personnel.  So it was really neat to hear their stories and be able to talk to them and get a small glimpse into their world.  It’s nice to pay them back, hopefully, with them getting a glimpse into our world.  It’s a really special weekend for everybody in the garage area and I hope they enjoy being here and seeing what we do because we wouldn’t be able to do what we do without them.  It definitely makes for a special weekend.”

YOU WERE AT THE CARS 3 SCREENING DURING THE WEEK.  HOW DID THAT GO?  “It was fun.  I can’t say anything about the movie or I’ll get in really big trouble, but that was really neat to be part of Cars 3.  The first one came out, I believe, when I was 11 or 12 and that was really neat.  I enjoyed that movie as a kid and it was really, really special to be a part of one.  Something that you enjoy a lot growing up and something that sticks with you at a younger age and then to be involved in it in a very small way still meant a whole lot to me.  That was a lot of fun to get to meet everybody who worked on that from Disney and Pixar.  That meant a lot and I thought the movie was great, so I’m excited for everybody to see it.  I think it comes out on June 16, so that was really neat to go there.  I brought both of my sisters, who were fans of it as well, so that was really cool.  I’m excited for everybody to see it.”

DO YOU THINK DOING FORWARD THAT VHT IS GOING TO BE THE SOLUTION TO EVENING OUT THE LANES AT TRACKS?  “We’ll find out.  It’s kind of unchartered waters to be honest with you.  Bristol is a lot different, a lot shorter race track, we’re not going as fast, a concrete race track.  You don’t know how that substance they use is going to combine with asphalt.  I’m curious to see how that does and it’s very heat-activated.  At Bristol, we’re going to be running the bottom regardless.  That’s why it worked so well on the bottom there and here I’m wondering what it’s gonna be like when we’re running 200 miles an hour into the top lane and hoping it’s hot enough to stick.  So that’s gonna be a little sketchy at first, but, like I said before, I thought NASCAR had to make a move on that side of it to get us off the bottom of the race track or at least give you options.  Like I said, we saw it in the All-Star Race where it was just bottom-feeding.  This will hopefully help it out, but I don’t know much about it.  It’s gonna be really interesting to see how practice develops.  Like I said, I don’t think you’ll see anybody on it today, but hopefully Saturday we’ll get up there and get a feel for it and go from there.”

DOES THE FACT THIS RACE PAYS MORE POINTS AFFECT HOW YOU APPROACH IT?  “I don’t think you change up your approach at all.  I really think that we’ve done a pretty decent job all year as a team of attacking pretty hard all throughout the race and it’s paid off for us in getting stage points and a couple stage wins.  That’s really helped us out from the three bad weeks that we’ve had.  It’s kept us in contention to be where we need to be and honestly I don’t look at points very much.  I just try to go out there and we try to win races and do the best we can and stay aggressive like we have been all year.  That’s benefitted us more than it’s hurt us, so it’s nice that they added an extra stage.  I thought that was a great move on NASCAR’s part because this is such a long race you deserve to have another stage in it to break it up, number one, and number two, if you’re running up front all race it kind of benefits you even more.  I don’t think we approach it any different, myself and the team.  We’re gonna race like we always do, unless a situation comes up to where you have to make another decision at the end of a stage, just like at Kansas or anything like that.  We’ll approach it pretty similar.”

DO YOU HAVE THE SAME CAR AS TEXAS?  “I’m not sure what car we have.  I don’t think it’s the same.  I don’t think it’s in the cycle yet, that Texas car.  The track has some similarities.  To be honest with you, last year we would compare notes a lot more from Texas to here, but with Texas being repaved it’s more of like a Kansas note, to be honest with you now.  We just kind of look at all our mile-and-a-half notes.  This place is one of the roughest we go to.  Atlanta is bumpy, but this is kind of a different style of bumps at this place, so you have to approach it a little bit differently.  All of our mile-and-a-half setups are fairly close and then you just have a little bit different things here and there, but it definitely encourages us that we’ve run so well on mile-and-a-halves this year to come here and see what we can do.”

HOW DO YOU MANAGE DOVER WITH THE WAY YOU PUT RUBBER DOWN UNDER GREEN AND THEN PICK IT BACK UP ON YOUR TIRES UNDER YELLOW?  HOW DO YOU MANAGE THAT?  “It’s pretty difficult to figure out.  I feel like that’s one of the most changing race tracks throughout the run that you get because you said it perfectly.  We lay a bunch of rubber down and our hot tires under caution pick it all up.  That means you kind of have to get your tires cleaned off a bunch more than you would like at this place, and then your car is completely different from the start of a run to the end of a run just from all the rubber being laid down and applied.  We get that sometimes at Bristol, like running the radius up top it will over-rubber, but Dover is pretty similar and that’s just right around the bottom, so it’s pretty tough to try to get your car to start out a run one way and then have it go not totally south when the rubber gets laid down because we usually have pretty long runs at Dover, but I feel like we have a fairly decent idea about that now.  It’s taken a few races and a couple years, but I hope we can go back there.  I think we had a strong run going there in the fall race last year and we ended up blowing a tire and hopefully we don’t have that this year.  I think we have a pretty decent plan for that place.”

WHY DON’T YOU THINK ANYBODY WILL GO UP ON THE VHT TODAY AND WHEN YOU DO, WHAT WILL YOU BE LOOKING FOR?  AND DO YOU THINK THIS COULD WORK AT A PLACE LIKE DOVER?  “The reason why I don’t think anyone will go up there today is I just feel like most of the Cup cars will be in qualifying trim to start out and you want to be right on the bottom.  The XFINITY cars, I don’t know.  They might creep up there with two practices, but it’s kind of later in the day.  I think their first practice there is at 4:00, so it might start cooling off by then so the bottom might be pretty fast.  I just personally don’t see it.  I could be 100 percent wrong.  I probably am wrong.  I’m sure there will be cars up there and I’ll have to eat the words I’m saying right now, but usually when you go up there in the top lane your car handles completely different than when you’re running the bottom.  Me personally here, you always get really loose when you run the top compared to the bottom.  You’re just carrying so much speed.  We’ll just have to see how our cars adapt to that substance they put down when you do run the top compared to what it used to be here when there was nothing up there.  And then going back to Dover, I think the top at Dover is fairly decent.  You can kind of run middle and up for a few laps and, to be honest with you, Dover is so fast already and there’s so much load and tire load there that that would make it pretty tough to put something like that down at Dover.  You never know.  It could work and they could try it out and it might be the best thing ever, but I don’t think this is a bad thing to try to kind of play with right now – this stuff they’re putting on the race tracks.  I feel like that could open up more opportunities maybe at a track we haven’t widened out fully like Michigan or something like that.  I don’t know, but it might be the next step in trying to get us to move around a little bit more at places to where there’s just no grip on the top of the race track.  I hope so.  That’s just gonna help the racing out if we can master that and pin it down.  I’m just interest to see what it does on asphalt.  I just don’t know how it’s gonna react and we’ll see firsthand.  I’ll let you know whenever we go up there.”

DO YOU THINK THERE’S BEEN MORE EMPHASIS ON PIT STOPS WITH IT BEING SO HARD TO PASS?  “Pit stops are huge.  They’re the easiest spots, to be honest with you, to gain or lose.  We talk about restarts being an easy spot to get spots or lose spots.  Pit road is very easy as well because we’re all bunched up just like a restart and it comes down to a small point of how you get in your box, but the pit crews are a big point.  If you lose a second on pit road, that’s two or three spots and that’s big.  That can win or lose you a race.  I know my team has been really, really strong this year.  They’ve put a lot of work in and it’s the same group of guys we had last year, the same exact group of guys and they’ve done a great job of working together and developing and teams are always working on pit development, whether it’s trying new guns or jacks.  The way they do their formations around the car, they’re always working on something and our pit department has done a great job at the Penske group to develop these guys to where they are really consistent and fast.  If you have those two things, you’re gonna be pretty good on pit road.  I thought we showed our strength a lot at Kansas on pit road.  They did a great job with that deal, so they’re a pretty young group of guys.  We have one veteran who has been around it a long time.  He’s a pretty good quarterback for the whole deal, but they do a great job.  We put huge emphasis on pit road.  That’s something we’ve invested a lot of time and effort on that side to get them to where they need to be.”

THE FIRST TIME YOU RAN THE 600 DID YOU FIND IT TO BE A BIG CHALLENGE AND WHAT DO YOU THINK THE STAGE RACING WILL MEAN HERE?  “To be honest with you, the first time I ran this race we were doing the part-time schedule in 2015 with the Wood Brothers and you’re young back then and you’re just getting into the Cup Series and you’re go, go, go all the time.  I was go from the moment of the green flag dropping and had a couple close calls with the fence and I look up and they’re like, ‘Alright, we’re halfway.  Lap 200.’  I’m like, ‘Oh man, I’ve got to do this for another 300 miles,’ and I think I ended up knocking the fence down a few times, but you definitely approach it a little bit different when you’ve run it a couple times, just knowing how long it is and how much the track changes throughout the race.  You calm down a little bit as you get a little bit older, I think, and as you gain experience.  But I think the segments, breaking it up into 100 laps each, I don’t only think it’s switching it up in a good way for the drivers, but it’s also switching it up in a good way for fans.  This place would have super-long green flag runs, and at the same time I enjoy green flag runs.  I think it’s kind of what makes you or breaks you as a team and driver if you have long run speed in your car.  But I think for the fans it’s gonna be nice to know we have these breaks at this point because it’s a long race for them to watch too.  It’s not only long for us to drive, that’s a long time sitting in the stands or watching on TV.  I think that’s gonna benefit and, one, you’ll see more restarts, which fans like, and things like that.  You kind of have a little break to talk to your family or something like that, so that will be nice, but I don’t think they’re taking anything away from how special the 600 is by putting segments in it.  I think it’s still a great and fantastic race, it’s just kind of breaking it up in a good way, I feel like, from all sides – from the team side and the fan side.”

THE WOOD BROTHERS HAVEN’T WON THIS RACE SINCE BEFORE YOU WERE BORN IN 1987 WITH KYLE PETTY.  WHAT WOULD IT MEAN TO YOU TO ADD ANOTHER FAMILY NAME AS A WINNER FOR THIS TEAM?  “Yeah, he won in the car that’s gonna be our Darlington car, actually.  That’s what we based that car off of was his Citgo 7-Eleven car, but it would mean a lot.  The Wood Brothers are all about history.  We broke a 13 or 14-year drought of them getting a pole at Kansas.  I’d love to break another drought of their last 600 win.  That would be really special to be able to do that for the Wood Brothers.  That would be really cool and then the 30th anniversary to when Kyle won it would be even more special.  I think we have the team to do it, we just have to do our jobs and stay in it for all 600 miles and position ourselves at the end of this race to have a shot at it.  So it would definitely mean a lot just to get them back in victory lane at any race track.  That would mean the world not only to me to be able to do that for them, but just to get them back in victory lane.  For them and Ford it would be really special, but for here there are three race tracks where I really want to win at for them and it’s Daytona, here and Darlington.  This is our second shot at trying to get that done for them.  We almost got it done at Daytona for them and hopefully we can step it up here and make that happen.  That would be pretty cool.”

CAN YOU SPEAK TO THE PRACTICALITY OF GETTING THOSE EXTRA LAPS IN THE ALL-STAR RACE AND TO BE ABLE TO QUALIFY FOR THE FIRST TIME?  “It was really important to try to get laps last week.  It’s almost like a test session to be honest with you.  We got double the laps being able to run the Open and the All-Star Race, so that was nice.  It’s a shame it was kind of a struggle for us all day, but there’s always a benefit in the rough weekend because you learn what not to do and what things didn’t work and you can apply them to next week.  We’re lucky to just come back here next week and try to make changes, but as a young driver and especially for this race it’s nice to kind of see all aspects of how the track is from day to night, rubbered in or not, and just put that in your personal notes, whether it’s for me as a driver or a team and knowing, ‘OK, I need this at this point.’  There are certain things throughout the race, but as far as being a part of the All-Star Race like you asked, that was really cool.  I always enjoyed it as a kid.  My dad always usually ran the Open.  I know he wasn’t really a part of the All-Star Race, but it was always something really special for me to watch.  It’s just a cool event for fans and drivers, and I was fortunate enough to be a part of it.  On the fan side, I think it’s one of the greatest spectacles and I thought Monster did a great job last week of putting that on for everybody and really blowing it up and making it pretty special.  For me as a kid enjoying that race and growing up an hour up the road from here, that was pretty cool.  Hopefully, we can be a part of it in the future again.”

HAVE YOU EVER PREPARED FOR THIS RACE DIFFERENTLY DUE TO THE LENGTH?  “I don’t drink as much beer as I usually do, so that probably helps (laughing).  No, I don’t really do anything different week to week.  You stay hydrated the best you can and try to eat well.  I’ve never really had an issue in 600 miles.  There are some people who do special things to try to prepare themselves, but I just kind of stick to what you know.  If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.  I try to prepare myself every week like I do for this race, just like I will next week for Dover.”

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE RESTARTS IN GENERAL?  “They’re hectic, for sure.  If you’re not aggressive on these restarts nowadays, you’re gonna get passed and probably by two or three cars.  So I feel like if you’re playing defense on restarts, you’re already behind.  You kind of have to be on the offensive on all those restarts.  The last couple of years I’ve always not been very aggressive on restarts and you get used up pretty easy, and then you spend the whole next run trying to get those three or four spots back, and this year I feel like we’ve upped that aggressive level on restarts to try and be on the offensive to try to get a few spots or a row or two here and there just because you have to.  Kyle won the All-Star Race last week because he was aggressive on restarts.  If he wouldn’t have done that, he probably wouldn’t have won the All-Star Race, so it just shows you the importance of it and not only here, but Dover next week or Martinsville.  Even though there’s not a lot of opportunity there to go three-wide or be as aggressive, you still have to hold your ground, so they’re as important as ever, for sure.  Here, they’re always pretty wild.”

TODAY IS THE 40TH ANNIVERSARY OF STAR WARS.  DO YOU HAVE A STAR WARS SHIRT COLLECTION?  “Yeah, it’s pretty extensive.  I don’t have as many, you don’t really find a lot of old Star Wars t-shirts.  It’s not like racing stuff.  They used to make tons and tons of old racing t-shirts and you find your favorite driver and you try to search after that, but I haven’t really found a lot of old Star Wars shirts.  I just try to collect them when I can whenever I go to Disney or something like that.  I was walking through the Concord Mills Mall and I passed a Disney Store and I didn’t know what was in there, so I was like, ‘Well, maybe they’ve got either a Cars 3 shirt or some Star Wars stuff,’ and when I walked in I didn’t know the max age limit in there was like seven, so, one, I felt really weird.  I was in sweat pants and a t-shirt with all these kids in there, searching and looking.  I would even take like a kids XL, I felt like that would fit me, but they didn’t have any of those, so that was a little weird.  But, yeah, I have a bunch of them.  It’s pretty cool that it’s 40 years.  That’s pretty special, but it matches my racing t-shirts.”

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.