By David Morgan, Associate Editor
CONCORD, N.C. – Heading into the Bank of America Roval 400 weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Ryan Blaney holds the title as the only man to ever win on the 2.32-mile, 18-turn road course.
As he looks to defend that title and return to Victory Lane for the first time since winning here last year, the driver of the No. 12 Ford won’t have to go far when the green flag drops after qualifying ninth Friday afternoon.
“Coming back here, it’s nice coming back to a place you’ve won at no matter how you do it,” Blaney said.
Despite a return to a track where he’s won at, it’s not exactly the same venue where he was victorious a year ago as the track underwent a slight reconfiguration with the backstretch chicane being redesigned. Blaney noted as much, saying he was just as excited to return to Charlotte as he was to see the new chicane.
“Honestly, I was kind of more excited to come back here to see the new chicane,” he said. “I think that was pretty unique, a lot different from what we had last year. We’re actually talking about adding more braking markers because there are only six of them and we’re braking at like the hypothetical seven, so I think we’re gonna add a couple more.
“Last year, you were carrying so much more speed getting in there and you weren’t really using the brakes much. You’d only downshift one gear and carry a ton of speed through there, and now this year, I know a lot of the guys had multiple problems getting in there the first few times they’ve gotten on the brakes there because initially when you get on the brakes you think you’re good, but then it’s a really tight corner and then immediately you’re turning back to the right after the first set of curbs.
“It kind of took a little bit to get used to. I know I kind of ran over the strips once and then I missed it and bailed the second time, and a lot of guys have been doing that, so that takes some time to kind of get used to it and get your bearings straight.
“I think the corner is gonna be really exciting in the race when we’re all bunched up together. You’ll see some pretty bonsai moves in there, but it’s definitely a lot different. I like it better. You needed another heavy braking zone. Before you could never pass through there, it was just too fast and way too narrow, so I think it’s a good thing that they’ve done that.”
Blaney enters Charlotte only eight points ahead of the cut-off line and with this race being a major wild card, no one is really safe until the checkered flag falls. Though the margin of error is small for everyone still trying to lock themselves in, the Team Penske driver didn’t seem to be worried about his future in the Playoffs.
“Honestly, we’re in a better spot this year than what we were last year,” Blaney said. “I think we were only four points about the cutoff line last year and I thought we executed the day really well from getting stage points in the first stage and then winning the second one. That was kind of our goal.
“Every team around the cutoff line are gonna have their certain goals and how they’re gonna play the race out, and we kind of have our slight idea and plan of what we’ve talked about this week and gonna try to stick to that, and then you compromise if things don’t go your way or something random happens.
“You just try to have a solid day. You try to run well in the stages and get stage points and whether you’re sacrificing here or there it’s kind of what you have to do. A lot of the teams are in the same boat, you just try to not have any issues, keep it on track and just be in a spot to where you can run up towards the front.”
Blaney and his team will have two more practice sessions on Saturday to get their car dialed in before the green flag drops at 2:30 pm Eastern Sunday.