NASCAR Star Ryan Blaney On His High-Octane Racing Career & Worst Crash
“Part of being a race car driver is finding a limit. Sometimes you’re going to drive out of it and be okay, and other times you’re going to crash.”
He was practically born with a steering wheel in his hands—his father was Cup Series driver Dave Blaney, and his grandfather was modified dirt-track legend Lou Blaney, which means 2022 NASCAR All-Star Race winner Ryan Blaney was behind the wheel by the age of eight, barreling down the track in a go-cart-like quarter midget, kicking up dust at 40 mph.
“You go to the track with dad on weekends and it’s your whole life,” Blaney tells us. “It was really just dad giving me a choice when I was young. He asked me, do you want to start racing? I was just a young teenager. He asked me, are you sure you want to do this? I always really wanted to do it cause it was the best thing I knew and obviously I was somehow pretty decent at it.”
That kind of humility has won him fans off the track. But on the track, Blaney’s anything but humble. He joined Team Penske as an 18-year-old in 2012, notching his first victory a year later with an NXS win in Kentucky. By 2015, he had posted nine top-five wins. Over the last 10 seasons Blaney has produced a combined 13 victories and seven poles for the team across Xfinity Series and Cup Series competition. In 2017, he was a major player in the team’s best season since 1995.
Last spring, Blaney led a race-high and career-best 163 of 400 laps at Charlotte Motor Speedway, beating back William Byron to take the Coca-Cola 600 for his first victory on the 1.5-mile oval. More recently, Blaney clinched his Round of 8 Berth in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs with a photo-finish victory at Talladega Superspeedway on October 1. But there have been low points, too, like spinning out fellow driver Jimmie Johnson at Watkins Glen in 2019.
“I think I accidentally turned him around, didn’t mean to,” Blaney shrugs. “He was pretty pissed at me but we got over it pretty quickly. When you’re a driver you know what’s malicious and what’s accidental. You have two guys racing for the win at the end of the race and they sort of rough each other up a little bit and still finish first and second. That’s just hard racing.”
“But if you got the same scenario and someone spins out the ladder, that’s pretty dirty. It’s different for us because you race against the same guys each week. Not like any other sport where you’re playing different teams each week. You get to know their tendencies and strengths and weaknesses, what they excel at and what they’re not as good at. You build a database of everybody over time and try to play to their weaknesses.”
The other little incident was hitting a concrete wall head on at Nashville Superspeedway last spring in what Blaney calls the hardest impact of his career. “I knew it was concrete the moment I hit it. It was like there’s no way that should have been that hard of a hit. I got over it in a couple of weeks and I’m good to go. But not a fun situation. That’s part of being a racecar driver and finding a limit. Sometimes you’re going to drive out of it and be okay, and other times you’re just not going to save the race car. You’re going to crash.”
That was before his more recent wreck in August at Daytona International Speedway where he was involved in a 12-car pileup on Lap 95. The car he’s driving is nothing like any Mustang you’ve ever driven. And the experience inside the cockpit is far from the climate-controlled comfort most of us are used to. In a race that’s 500 miles long, you’re in the car from three to four hours. The driver’s seat is right over the engine, which pushes temperatures as high as 140 degrees.
“You’re working real hard and hydration is a huge part of it. All through the week you stock up, hydrating yourself. And then you lose it all on Sunday, you sweat it out and you start rebuilding again for the next weekend.” For Blaney, a key part of his recovery after a race is BODYARMOR sports drink, one of his sponsors.
Off the track, he’s into all things Star Wars, and occasionally appearing in movies like Lucky Logan, starring Channing Tatum. He also voiced Ryan “Inside” Laney in Pixar’s Cars 3. It’s life in the fast lane for Blaney, but if you catch him driving to the golf course on a Wednesday afternoon you’d never know he makes his living at 150 mph.
“I think a lot of racecar drivers are pretty slow on the road,” he says. “I’m one of the smoothest, slowest drivers. I have nowhere to be. I get nothing out of speeding on the road. I get paid a good amount of money to go fast on the weekend at my job and I get nothing for doing that on the street.”