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Ryan Blaney already has his bags packed for next November in Las Vegas

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Ryan Blaney has a new favorite song.

It’s an oldie but goodie by Elvis Presley, but the up-and-coming young NASCAR star can’t be faulted for singing, humming or whistling it: “Viva Las Vegas!”

The reason is simple: Blaney attended his first NASCAR Awards more than three weeks ago in Las Vegas. Because he qualified for the NASCAR Cup playoffs, he was among the 16 drivers that were feted and toasted in what was Martin Truex Jr.’s celebratory party.

After having so much fun in Vegas, including doing burnouts on the famed Strip, Blaney is bound and determined to make it back to the land of slots, shows and speed every year.

To do that, he’ll have to make the NASCAR Cup playoffs each year too, but at 23 years old (he turns 24 on Dec. 31), Blaney likely has another 15 to 20 awards shows still left to attend.

And maybe a championship or two or three for him to be feted just like Truex this year, Jimmie Johnson last year and so many others that have preceded him as NASCAR’s best.

“It was a good time,” Blaney said. “I had a lot of fun. I was out there all week. The things we got to be able to do like the podcast we did, meet a lot of fans, drive up and down Las Vegas Boulevard and do some burnouts, to see how many people lined the street to see us was pretty neat.

“It felt good to have fun with the other drivers outside of the season. And then of course the Awards Banquet was a blast, as well. It was my first experience with Champions Week and hopefully I’ll be able to keep going back there every single year for the rest of my driving days.”

Other than the Awards show, Blaney’s favorite experience was driving on the Strip. But you’ll love his reason why:

“For multiple reasons,” Blaney said. “First, you never can do a burnout on Las Vegas Boulevard without getting arrested and we were able to do that, so that was nice.

“Also, honestly, driving the No. 21 car for the last time, the last time I was going to be in that car, that was really special to me, driving up and down the Strip. That was probably the coolest experience, I think.”

Blaney said he’ll always treasure his time driving the No. 21 Ford for the legendary Wood Brothers Racing, especially winning his first career Cup race this summer at Pocono, which was the 99th win in Wood Brothers annals.

He tried his best to get the 100th win, but fell short.

“I’ve used that word, bittersweet, a lot the last couple months,” Blaney said. “As the races were winding down with them, it was really sad to leave the Wood Brothers because they were so good to me and a great family.

“I was kind of sad to leave there, but at the same time, it’s a dream to go drive for Roger Penske. That’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, so I’m looking forward to that.

“But, yeah, it was bittersweet feeling, for sure. I can’t thank the Wood Brothers enough for the last two years.”

Now, Blaney takes the next big step of his career by driving the No. 12 Ford in 2018 for an equally legendary team owner, Roger Penske.

“I’m really looking forward to being in-house over at the Penske group,” he said, “and being able to bring back the 12 car, that’s a really big deal and we’re real excited to get that team up and running and expand and hopefully make us stronger.”

To drive for two of the most legendary teams and team owners in all forms of motorsports might be a heady thing for some young drivers, but not for Blaney.

Instead of worried, he’s relaxed. Instead of feeling pressure, he embraces that he’s been chosen to be an integral part of one legendary team and now another equally legendary team.

“No, not really, there hasn’t been any pressure,” Blaney said. “I’ve just been really lucky and fortunate to drive for a couple great owners and families and teams.

“They’re two of the most iconic teams in racing and I’ve been lucky enough to drive for both of them. To go drive for Mr. Penske is great and hopefully I’ll be there for the rest of my career.

“It’s been a lot of fun. I wouldn’t say there’s any added pressure, I’m just very fortunate to be in this position and be able to drive for some great people.

“I almost see it more as opportunity. It kind of makes me strive harder to do even better. I’ve always enjoyed challenges and feel like this is a good challenge and I’m excited to accept it.”

So Blaney will win the Daytona 500 two months from now, right?

“I hope so. We were close last year (finished second in this year’s 500). We’ll see if we can do one better this time around.”

And if he does win the 500, you can bet he’ll be singing “Viva Las Vegas” in victory lane.

 

Driver-to-Driver with Jimmie Johnson: ‘I’ve got a lot to prove still’

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Jimmie Johnson is in his 17th year of full-time Cup racing and is in the midst the longest winless streak of his career at 42 races.

But the seven-time champion’s competitive drive is as strong as ever.

Johnson sat down with NBC Sports’ Dale Jarrett to discuss his career at this point in the latest edition of Driver-to-Driver.

“I can honestly say I spend more time now than I did my rookie year focusing on my job,” Johnson said. “I think that the support I have from my wife (Chandra), my kids are 7 and 4, to have them watch me be passionate about something has another meaning I didn’t anticipate coming. I’m lovin’ what I’m doing. I wish the results were a little better than what we have right now, but the process of what I’m going through is really fun.”

Hendrick Motorsports as a whole is in a slump. The team is in the middle of the second longest winless streak in its history at 35 races.

Johnson admits it’s hard to know when the right time will be for him to retire.

“The thing I can pull out of it is, don’t pick a number, make sure that fire’s gone out and that fire hasn’t gone out,” Johnson said. “The other thing that’s weighing on me, I don’t want to go out not at my fullest potential and not on my terms. The last thought that’s going to run through my mind is to walk away or, ‘Oh, it’s not going right, time to stop.’ Uh uh. I know I still got it. I’m going to go down swinging. I’ve got a lot to prove still.”

Watch the above video for more.

 

New Hampshire Cup race in rain delay

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The Foxwoods Resort & Casino 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway is in a rain delay.

The race was scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. ET. The start time had been moved up from 2 p.m. ET due to the threat of weather.

Kurt Busch is on the pole and Martin Truex Jr. will start second.

Check back for more.

Staff picks for today’s Cup race at New Hampshire

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Here’s a look at who the NBC Sports staff is picking to win today’s Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Nate Ryan

Denny Hamlin. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver rediscovers his magic here and locks into the playoffs.

Dustin Long

Martin Truex Jr. wins back-to-back races for the first time in his career.

Daniel McFadin

Kevin Harvick earns a career-best sixth win of the season.

Dan Beaver

Martin Truex Jr. is getting into the same groove he had last year. This week he catches Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch. Next week, he starts to pull away,

Today’s Cup race at New Hampshire: Start time, lineup and more

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The Cup Series holds its only race of the year at New Hampshire Motor Speedway today with the Foxwoods Resort & Casino 301.

Kurt Busch starts on the pole and Martin Truex Jr. starts second.

Here’s all the info you need for today’s race.

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given by Jean Swift, treasurer of Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Counsel, at 12:51 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 1 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 301 laps (318.46 miles) around the 1.058-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 75. Stage 2 ends on Lap 150.

COMPETITION CAUTION: Lap 35

PRERACE SCHEDULE: Garage opens at 7:30 a.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at 11 a.m. Driver introductions are at 12:05 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: Vanessa Salvucci will perform the anthem at 12:45 p.m. The Canadian National Anthem will be performed by Kirk Young at 12:42 p.m.

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will broadcast the race beginning at 1 p.m. Coverage begins at noon with Countdown to Green on NBCSN. Performance Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at noon p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will have PRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for a high of 70 degrees and a 78 percent chance of rain and storms at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Denny Hamlin won this race last year over Kyle Larson. Kyle Busch won the playoff race over Larson.

TO THE REAR: Landon Cassill (backup) and Michael McDowell (backup).

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the complete starting lineup.