2015 NASCAR Season Review - Ryan Blaney

December 21, 2015

Since joining Team Penske in 2012 and driving the Discount Tire/Hertz Ford Mustang in select races, Ryan Blaney has been one of NASCAR’s fastest rising stars, if not the fastest. In 2013, he broke through to win his first NASCAR XFINITY Series (NXS) race, helping the No. 22 Discount Tire team win its first owners’ championship for Roger Penske.  The following season, he again posted a victory and helped the team to the owners’ title. The 2015 season brought on new challenges and tasks for Blaney, working with a new crew chief, while also serving triple duty competing part-time in NASCAR’s three premiere racing series.

Blaney’s first NXS race of the 2015 season came at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and it provided Blaney an opportunity to start the season off strong. Blaney qualified the No. 22 Mustang in the fourth position. He put on an incredible race for the win in the final laps but ended up finishing second to winner Austin Dillon. In his next two NXS races Blaney was able to earn top-10 finishes. After a tough finish at Dover International Raceway in his next start following an early on track incident with a follow driver, Blaney got back on track.

At both Chicagoland and Indianapolis, Blaney and the No. 22 Team Penske Ford team ran strong. The team led 67 laps and contended for the win in both races, finishing second in the closing laps. Blaney and the No. 22 squad were due for a win. It wasn’t until Blaney’s seventh race of the NXS season at Iowa Speedway that he was able to enjoy his first trip to Victory Lane.

Blaney’s Iowa win was one of his most dominating as he led 252 laps, more laps than the race was even scheduled for.  The convincing victory was a perfect way to redound after a heartbreaking second-place finish at Indianapolis the week before.  Blaney took another checkered flag in 2015, this time at Kentucky Speedway in late September, as he led 81 of 201 laps in the Discount Tire Mustang. In total, Blaney scored two victories and nine top-five finishes. Despite running just 13 of 33 races, Blaney finished in the top 25 in driver points and led the fifth most laps of any NXS driver this season.

The 21-year-old Blaney once again played an important role in a Team Penske NXS championship run. Not in a position to race for a drivers championship, Blaney and the No. 22 team’s main goal was to deliver Team Penske’s third consecutive NXS owners’ championship, with four different drivers competing with new crew chief, Greg Erwin. The team delivered again, winning seven times and had a 117-point advantage over second place accomplish its goal. With the performance, Roger Penske became just the second owner in NXS history to win three consecutive owner titles, joining William Baumgardner (1995-1997).

On top of Blaney’s 13-race NXS schedule, he also raced in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS) for Brad Keselowski Racing. During the 2015 season, Blaney scored one win at Bristol Motor Speedway, leading 40 of 202 laps, finished in the top five four times and the top 10 five times. Blaney was also credited with one pole at Dover International Raceway. Only entered in five NCWTS races, Blaney completed all 794 laps he was scheduled to race and 90.8% of Blaney’s laps run were inside the top 15. Out of his 794 laps completed, 12% of Blaney’s laps completed, he was the race leader.

The 2015 season not only brought NXS and the NCWTS success for the young driver, it also opened up a new opportunity at the top level of NASCAR competition. At the beginning of the 2015 season, Blaney was announced as the newest driver of the famed No. 21 Ford for Wood Brothers Racing. Blaney competed in select Sprint Cup Series races, making 16 starts over the course of the season.

Blaney’s part-time Cup Series experience featured a lot of promise. He made his first appearance in the Daytona 500 as he qualified the No. 21 Ford in the 12th position and ran as high as seventh in his debut. Blaney also finished a career-best of fourth at Talladega Superspeedway and scored a seventh-place finish at Kansas Speedway. As expected there were also a few challenges in Blaney’s first extended opportunity in the Sprint Cup Series. The No. 21 team did not qualify at three events during the course of the season as Mother Nature was not on their side with rainouts cancelling qualifying at at Daytona, Kentucky Speedway and at Chicagoland.

Blaney learned valuable lessons and took advantage of his seat time and the team grew stronger and more consistent as the season went along. Despite competing in just 16 of 36 events, Blaney ranked 26th in the Cup Series in laps run inside the top 15, even edging out some full-time drivers.

The promising season opened the doors for even more opportunities in 2016 as the Wood Brothers will race a full 36-race schedule and Blaney will compete for the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year as well as a spot in The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.