By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
The first major piece of silly season for the much anticipated 2021 NASCAR Cup Series campaign was solved Friday as Ryan Blaney signed a multi-year extension with Team Penske.
Blaney wasn’t hesitant to say in Friday’s press conference at Phoenix Raceway that he’s loyal to Roger Penske and never even thought of talking with any other teams as the extension was negotiated during the off-season.
“I was really happy with where I was at. I love the people I am around and working with all the teams. I feel like I owe so much to Roger for what he has done for me. I just didn’t really see myself, right now, anywhere else,” Blaney said. “There are a couple doors open, a couple seats open with other teams but I didn’t talk with any other teams. If I was approached by another team I don’t even know if I would want to talk to them because I am so happy with where I am at and so loyal to Roger. My mindset was if they would have me back I would love to be back. It was great that both of our minds were set on that.”
Penske also sees the talent the 26-year-old veteran as he’s won three Cup Series races and fresh off a career-high seventh in points last season.
“Ryan is a true talent with a long runway ahead of him and we are excited to have him as a part of the future of Team Penske,” Penske said. “Since joining our team, Ryan has developed into a championship caliber driver and his personality and engagement with fans has made him a terrific ambassador for NASCAR. In addition, Ryan has done a great job of working with our partners to support their activation and investment throughout each year. I am looking forward to even more success together.”
Currently in his third season with Penske on the Cup level, Blaney has had a roller coaster ride that began with a runner-up finish in the Daytona 500 and having superb runs at both Las Vegas and Fontana until issues prevented him from visiting victory lane, finishing 11th and 19th in those respective races.
Despite this, Blaney’s stage points (highlighted with a Stage 2 win at Fontana) have boosted him to the top of the championship standings as other drivers have received points penalties and more inconsistency results.
Blaney, who’s 11 points ahead of his Penske teammate Joey Logano, knows that Sunday’s FanShield 500 will be the true test of how their season will go because of the low downforce package and Phoenix hosting the championship-deciding race in November.
“We have fired off really good but you have to keep your cars up to date and keep them fast. It will be interesting to see where we stack up with everybody with this low downforce package,” Blaney said. “That will be a big testament to see. You get to the playoffs and there are a lot of short tracks. This will be a big test this weekend. Honestly, it has been nice to start off the year good. We didn’t get the finishes we wanted but to be running up in the top-three every single race and working with a new team, that is just great.”
Blaney followed it up discussing about the importance of his chemistry with new crew chief Todd Gordon and knows that other teams will bounce back. The ideal plan is hoping the entire No. 12 team stay on top of things all season in order for Blaney to go from a guy that’s only won wacky races to a legit championship contender.
“You are going to build off of that as Todd (Gordon) and I get used to each other and things like that. There are a couple things I wish I could have taken back last week that hurt us toward the end of that race. That is just learning. We are doing our job right and the finishes will come. We are working together but the big thing is staying on top of it all year.
“Teams will come around, ones that might be struggling right now will figure it out and be good and we will have to keep getting better ourselves. You can never be truly satisfied with where you are running because teams will continue to get better. You have to stay with the group.”