2016 Season Review - Ryan Blaney
December 20, 2016
Help is crucial over the course of a long racing season, especially if it’s a first full season in NASCAR’s premier series. Ryan Blaney appreciated the assistance he received throughout his rookie campaign in 2016, particularly the help and guidance he received from his Team Penske teammates.
“Brad (Keselowski) and Joey (Logano) have been really good to me the entire time I’ve been at Penske,” said Blaney. “Brad’s always been a good role model for me. I got my start driving his truck (at Brad Keselowski Racing in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series). I learned so much. He’s been a big help to me, as has Joey. Those two guys have been a great asset to me, especially in the Cup deal, just because it’s so different. Every little thing matters, and they definitely know what to do. They’ve been really accepting of me, so I’ve been fortunate to have them on my side.”
Blaney, the 22-year-old son of former NASCAR driver Dave Blaney, competed eight times in the NASCAR XFINITY Series splitting time between the No. 22 Discount Tire/Fitzgerald Glider Kits/REV Group Team Penske Ford Mustang and the No. 12 Snap-on Tools Team Penske Mustang this season in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. He also campaigned a 36-race schedule in the NASCAR Cup Series driving the Wood Brothers famous No. 21 Ford Fusion in a deal that combined the forces of the legendary team with Team Penske.
Across both series, Blaney recorded seven top-five finishes, including two XFINITY Series third-place results.
“I feel like there are things on both sides we can be proud of,” said Blaney, who began working with Team Penske in 2012. “There were things that happened during the season that went our way and other things that didn’t, but you expect to have that during a season. The way our team bonded together and grew during our first full year (in the premier series) was really good to see. That was really important. We can look back on the season and be fairly proud of it. Obviously we would have liked to have made the Chase, but we can apply things that we learned this year to next year. I think we’ll be a lot stronger.”
Blaney’s time in the Team Penske XFINITY Series program improved as the season went along. He finished third on Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course’s road course, then followed it up with another third-place effort on Kentucky Speedway’s oval.
“The XFINITY program wasn’t what we wanted it to be,” Blaney said. “It definitely wasn’t what it has been over the past few years, but I thought toward the end of the season that it got better. That was encouraging to know that we made a gain late in the year. We didn’t get off to a fast start, but it really started to come around. We’ll take that momentum into next season and look for another owner’s championship.”
Blaney’s growth and development as a driver was evident in his first full season in NASCAR’s top series with the help of his two seasoned teammates. While the results weren’t as good as he wanted them to be, Blaney managed two fourth-place finishes – at Michigan and Chicago – and a fifth-place run at Kansas along with six additional top-10 performances and a 20th-place finish in the final point standings. It was the experience, though, that was invaluable.
“It was really good to get into a full season,” he said. “That was super important. In 2015, we were only able to do half a season. It’s tough when the whole team was sitting home for two or three weeks at a time. That’s not good for anybody. That we were able to bring it back to full time with the help of the Penske group was awesome. It was great to get their support on it. The Wood Brothers definitely appreciate that.”
The opportunities he saw this season left Blaney wanting even more as he looks ahead to 2017.
“When you don’t have the year you want, you really try to come back the next season showing improvement and get out of the gate quickly,” said Blaney. “You can sit back in the offseason and evaluate everything down to the smallest details. What can I do better as a driver? What can the team do better as a whole? Improvement is an evolution. I’m excited about the prospects for next season. The experience gained this year will pay off as this race team develops.”