With a walk-off victory of sorts at Martinsville Speedway last weekend, Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney certainly shows up for the NASCAR Cup Series Championship race full of momentum and confidence.
It marks the 29-year-old third-generation racer’s first appearance in the Championship 4, but he certainly likes his chances at the Phoenix Raceway mile, where he boasts 10 top-10 finishes in 15 starts, including runner-up efforts in the last two races at the track in the Next Gen car – a statistic that makes him the “favorite” as far as NBC Sports commentator and former driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. is concerned.
Blaney’s teammate, Joey Logano, won this race last year en route to the championship trophy.
Blaney is not only good at Phoenix, but he’s been good in general, turning in an especially strong Playoff run with a pair of wins (Talladega and Martinsville) and a runner-up at Homestead in the Round of 8.
And in a rather unique competitive situation, Blaney will be racing for the title against his younger sister’s longtime boyfriend, Hendrick Motorsports driver William Byron. Blaney smiled and acknowledged it’s an interesting situation, conceding if Byron beats him for the championship, he would obviously be sad initially at not having won himself, but ultimately, he’d be happy for Byron.
“William and I have always raced really well together,” Blaney said. “He and I are buddies. He’s a good guy. I’ve had the pleasure to get to know him better, more in depth. He comes from a great family, he’s a great kid and an awesome race car driver. He and I have a lot of respect for one another.
“At the end of the day, it is kind of funny he and I both going for a championship, I told (Blaney’s sister) Erin, ‘You’ve got the best percentage of anybody of someone you care about winning this thing.’
“It is a funny dynamic, but at the end of the day, he and I both understand we’re still competitors—but we’ll race each other with respect.”
Blaney also says even in the midst of preparing competitively for this championship race, he’s made a point to appreciate this important career opportunity. It’s his first time advancing to the Championship race in eight fulltime seasons in the marquee NASCAR Cup Series.
“I enjoy going to the race shop and seeing everybody at the race shop,” Blaney said, adding, “Seeing all them supporting that we can go for a championship is massive too – even (people) from other series – that part is the best for me.
“I’ve been able to enjoy it. A lot of people have told me, ‘This weekend is what it is, but remember to enjoy it, because it’s an opportunity that not a lot of people get.’ You get to race for a championship. You get to be one of the four drivers going for it. So that part, I’ve tried to keep in my mind, ‘Enjoy being here and kind of take it all in.’
“You never know what will happen and you may never be here again. You just have to appreciate it while you still can.”
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