By David Morgan, Associate Editor
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Heading into the 2020 season, change is in the air throughout the NASCAR Cup Series garage. Team Penske in particular underwent a major shift over the offseason, with the organization moving crew chiefs around among its three teams.
Ryan Blaney, the newest member of the Team Penske trio, inherits Todd Gordon as his crew chief for 2020 as both he and the No. 12 team look to take a leap forward.
Since earning his first Cup Series win in 2017, the 26-year old has been consistent in the wins department, making one trip to Victory Lane each season since then and finishing each year in the top-10 in points. While one win a year is enough to make it into the Playoffs, Blaney noted that things will need to change if he is to take it to the next level.
“I think just getting smarter as the race goes on,” Blaney said when asked what steps he can take to help boost his performance this season. “I think that is something that has hurt me and something that I have struggled with, maybe not thinking far enough ahead of how the track is going and changing things to be better at the end of a race. I think that is where the best guys can do that.
“Kyle (Busch) and Harvick, those guys are really smart at figuring out what the track is doing really early, what their car is doing, and what they need it to do for the end. A lot of races we fire off really well and then don’t end the race like we fired off. That is what I am talking about, the ability to pinpoint where you think things are going and get ahead of it. If you are finally figuring out halfway through the last run, that is obviously too late. That is the biggest thing that me, personally, can do.”
Blaney added that having a championship winning crew chief atop the pit box this season can only help make his team better as the season goes along, especially with Gordon bringing a different mindset than what he has had in the past with Jeremy Bullins at the helm.
“I am excited to work with Todd Gordon,” he said. “It has been really great so far. Maybe you think of things that you didn’t before because it wasn’t normal to you. It opens your mind a little bit to other areas you need to improve on.
“I worked with Jeremy Bullins since 2012 when I got to Penske from Xfinity to Cup and when you work with someone that long, you kind of get your own language going. When you work with someone new, they have their own vocabulary and maybe ask about the car differently. It is just a little different demeanor. I am different from Joey and we are both different from Brad.
“When you get someone new, it changes things up and then you start thinking about things different and we focus more on those things and also focus on what I know from the past. It opens you up when you work with different people. You take what you learned from the previous experience and you are learning new things. It just gives you a bigger bandwidth for knowledge, which is good.”
The journey for Blaney and Gordon starts with this Sunday’s Daytona 500, with Blaney hoping he will be able to duplicate the results from the 2015 race, when Gordon was able to lead Joey Logano to his first win in the Great American Race.
With five starts in the Daytona 500 under his belt, Blaney’s best finishes in the race have come with a runner-up finish in 2017 and a seventh-place finish the following season. Though he has had success at Daytona, Blaney noted it will be a tall task this season with the new rules package in place that has made racing at the 2.5-mile superspeedway a volatile affair.
“We have had a couple decent runs here but honestly it is almost a luck of the draw type deal for if you are going to get to the end or not,” Blaney said. “We ran second here once and led a bunch of laps in 18 but you never know what can happen. We got tore up in this race with 10 to go last year, just being part of the mess and getting plowed into it. It is a really big toss up of the hat. Especially now.
“I feel like the leader can’t control the race as well as they used to. We have talked about that last year with this package, it is really hard to control the race. I think it will be even more of a difficult thing to find yourself in the right spot this year. But, I think our car has been pretty decent and we are just trying to find ourselves to where you get to the end of the race and have a shot at it. You want to get towards the end and see the front and have a shot at the win. That is all you can ask for when you come to these.”