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Catching up with Dave Blaney: Champion, Hall of Famer, but most importantly, Ryan’s father

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When it comes to Ryan Blaney, he definitely has followed in his father Dave’s footsteps as a race car driver.

Like father, like son. In fact, you might call Ryan a chip off the old block – engine block, that is.

While Ryan spent his youth growing up watching his father racing first in sprint cars and then in NASCAR, their roles are now reversed. Now it’s Dave who spends much of his time watching his son develop into one of NASCAR Cup’s rising young stars.

“I’m really proud of him, the type of person he is, his attitude and work ethic that has led to success in NASCAR,” Dave Blaney says of his son. “I think that would have led to success in whatever he tried to do in life.

“He’s a good kid, I’m loving it that he got a great chance in NASCAR early, at a young age, and took advantage of the opportunities he’s gotten. He has a chance to have a really good career. You’ve got to keep going and keep pushing and I think he’s up for it.”

While Ryan’s career has been ramping up the last several years, including the last 2 1/2 seasons with Wood Brothers Racing before shifting to Team Penske in 2018, Dave’s own career has shifted to part-time status the last couple of years.

Much of the reason has been by choice, to follow and watch Ryan’s own career develop, such as last season’s first career Cup win at Pocono.

“I’d go to a bunch of Ryan’s races and then race sprint car part-time,” Dave Blaney said.

But Ryan’s success has also served to whet Dave’s own appetite to get back to racing on a more frequent basis in the new year.

So instead of like father, like son, 2018 for Dave Blaney will be like son, like father.

While Ryan turned 24 yesterday (December 31), Dave Blaney is now 55. It’s almost like a role reversal: Ryan spent his youth watching Dave, dreaming of becoming a racer himself, while watching Ryan has prompted Dave to get back on short tracks from Connecticut to California in the new year.

“We’ll go to wherever it kind of fits,” Dave Blaney said. “We’ll go to a World of Outlaws race, All-Star race, an Open race, kind of jump around. But I’m hoping to do a lot more racing this coming summer. You get to the point where to get a little better, you have to do it full-time, just like anything.”

It may even be Dave’s last hurrah, but he’s going to wrap up an illustrious, Sprint Car Hall of Fame career on his terms.

“I don’t have much of a window looking forward. My window is only about a month at a time,” Dave said with a laugh. “I still love it. We ran a little bit last year and near the end of the year we got really competitive.

“I think we can do it (win more races), it’s just a matter of running more. I’ve got a good couple guys here to go work on them and go with me. We just take it a year at a time, but this summer, if we can get it put together, I’d like to go race more and see what happens.

“I’m 55 now, so a 55-year-old driver isn’t ideal but it’s pretty cool that he can still do okay.”

But Dave Blaney is also aware that even with his pedigree and decades of success behind the wheel, if he doesn’t get enough sponsorship for his own effort in 2018, he actually may go from a reinvigoration of his career to retirement in less time than it takes to do a frontstretch burnout.

“It could end up this year that I don’t race any, but I think I’ve got enough help put together to race quite a bit,” Dave said. “If I don’t race any, then I don’t.

“I’m kind of okay with if I need to stop or the circumstances get me stopped, then it’s okay. I’ve raced a long time, have had a lot of fun and made a living at it for a long time, so that’s more than I ever thought might happen. It’s all good.”

FOUR WHEELS: A FAMILY TRADITION

Ryan followed in the family business of being race car drivers. His grandfather, Lou, raced sprint cars in the Midwest and was part-owner of Sharon Speedway in Hartford, Ohio.

Dave followed his father with his own career as one of the best on dirt before moving to the NASCAR world, where he made nearly 475 Cup starts in 17 years. While he never won a Cup race, he had four top-fives and 28 top-10s.

Dave also competed in 121 Xfinity races, earning one win, along with 12 top-fives and 31 top-10s, as well as three Truck Series races.

It’s probably because Ryan grew up watching his father drive stock cars more than sprint cars that Ryan skipped the sprint car world and went straight to stock car racing.

“I think that was all geographic,” Dave said. “If I was still racing dirt cars in Ohio, I’m sure that’s the direction he would have went.

“But I was in North Carolina, running NASCAR, and for a youngster growing up, there was some dirt racing, plenty of go-kart stuff, and we started running quarter-midgets only because a track was put in really close to where we live and we kind of went from there.

“In another step, it was all pavement and we just kept going down that path.”

Father and son have raced against each other a handful of times over the years. Which brings about a couple of great stories from father Blaney, who recalled them with a laugh.

“We did a couple little exhibition things, I remember,” Dave said. “We ran some dirt modifieds one night in New York and I remember him beating me, where he won and I ran second.

“There were probably 8 or 10 NASCAR drivers there. If you want the truth, Ryan started at the front and I started at the back and I still almost beat him. But he’ll tell you he whipped me.”

And then there was the one regular NASCAR race where father and son butted fenders, the inaugural 2013 Mudsummer Classic Truck Series race at Eldora Speedway (owned by former 3-time NASCAR Cup champ Tony Stewart).

Dave started sixth and finished ninth, while Ryan started 23rd and finished 15th.

“We were teammates in the Brad Keselowski trucks,” Dave said. “I’ll always have it over him that I whipped him that night. That was the last time. I quit while I was ahead right there and never did it again”

FATHER TURNS TEACHER, SON IS NO. 1 STUDENT

Dave Blaney took to sprint car and midget car racing like a duck to water. Of course, having his father serve as his defacto in-house tutor didn’t hurt.

Dave learned so much from Lou during his teen years, absorbing information like a sponge. And when Dave decided to give sprint cars a whirl full-time, he proved he learned his father’s lessons well.

He was the 1983 All-Star Sprint Circuit Rookie of the Year at 21 years old. In 1984, he won the USAC Silver Crown Series national touring series championship.

He went on to win a number of the biggest sprint car races there are, including winning a World of Outlaws event at Eldora Speedway in 1987.

There also was his win in the 1993 Chili Bowl Midget Nationals in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

He returned to Eldora to win one of the biggest sprint car races there is, the King’s Royal in 1995, taking home a then-princely sum of $50,000.

But the greatest moment of Blaney’s sprint car career came in 1997, when he not only won the sport’s Gold Cup, he also captured the sport’s biggest race of all, the Knoxville Nationals, in central Iowa.

It was shortly after that when Dave Blaney moved on to his own career in NASCAR.

“Just to go out and race and make a living at it, I thought was just the coolest thing ever,” Dave Blaney said. “It got to where I got to run pretty good, had a chance to win with these guys and that turned into winning some good races. Just getting a chance at doing it was almost as big to me as having success.”

When it came to raising Ryan, Dave followed his father Lou’s example. He didn’t push or force his son into racing.

But at the same time, if son showed any interest, father would do his best to teach him the right way. He didn’t sugarcoat things, but rather showed him the good, bad and ugly of racing.

And if son still wanted to go forward, father would do all he could to help him. It worked that way for Dave from Lou, and then worked that way for Ryan from Dave.

“It seems like pushing them at a young age most times doesn’t work out,” Dave Blaney said. “Ryan was pretty timid, honestly, but the more success he started having, even at nine, 10 or 11, then he would improve a little more with a little more success and get a little more confidence and it kept building.

“I’d say that by the time he was 14 and we stuck him in a Super Late Model on pavement and he ran incredibly good right off the bat. His confidence was real high and even I could see it. I was like, ‘Wow, he’s got a chance to do whatever here.’ By that point, I think he was pretty focused on keeping rolling with it. But it took a little while. It wasn’t from Day 1.

“Ryan grew up learning the basics and fundamentals at a young age and that gave him a head start. Me having a background in racing just helped speed up his learning curve is all that happened.

Ryan Blaney after winning his first career Cup race, last June at Pocono Raceway.

“He still has to have the talent to make this car go fast. He has to have the desire and the drive to want to keep learning and want to work at it, so that’s all on him. The one thing I always regretted when he was young, it got a little rough sometimes because teaching isn’t always the most pleasant thing.

“You can’t always just pat him on the back and say ‘you’re doing great.’ He had to learn, and by learning it, you’re pointing out the things he’s doing wrong or you’re pointing out his bad habits. There’s part of tearing him down and building him back up sort of. It was tough a little bit some times, but he never wavered through any of it, he was really good.

“Ryan ran good in the Trucks and got a good shot, now he’s in the Cup cars and is running good, but he quickly realized, ‘I’m in a really good Cup car here,’ but you can’t just go beat Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch and all these top guys. It takes experience and he found out that he has to keep learning quickly to keep up with these guys.”

A PROUD PAPA DESTINED TO GET EVEN PROUDER

For a moment, forget about Dave the racer. Instead, think about Dave the father – and the fatherly pride he has that his son has raced for two of the most legendary organizations in motorsports: Wood Brothers Racing and Team Penske.

“It blows me away, believe me,” he said. “I was sitting here for the whole thing, the whole last 10 years and I still don’t know how it happened. He just got some chances and jumped on them. It’s the coolest thing ever.

“I remember the day, I think he was 18, when he signed a contract with Roger Penske. I was just blown away. I was scared to death that it was too much, too much pressure, too much everything.

“But he’s like he didn’t care at all, he was like, ‘Let’s go.’ They don’t know, they’re just ready to go. I was scared it was too much, too soon, but he did a good job.”

Dave and Ryan have always been very close, and even though Ryan is on to building his own career, Dave is always close by or a phone call away.

But Father Dave admits he does like to jokingly rub things in at times to his son, calling him, ‘Hey, big-time Cup driver.’”

What does father Dave Blaney call his son Ryan these days? ‘Hey, big-time Cup driver.’

In a sense, Dave Blaney is like a father who gives his teenager keys to the family car for the first time and trusts the youngster will do the right thing.

In other words, even with his own racing background and success, Dave is not a typical racing father. He leaves Ryan to his own devices and will offer advice when asked, but doesn’t want to interfere with his son’s development and rising star.

“I was probably at more than half his Cup races this year,” Dave said. “I’m just around. I’ve never spotted for him, actually.

“A lot of times, like for practice, he might tell me to go to Turn 1 and watch. Then I might text him what I see, but it’s mainly about what other guys are doing compared to him.

“Or he might tell me to watch from a certain corner for whatever reason. If I see something that sticks out, I might say, ‘Hey, you might think about this.’ But those teaching days are way gone. It’s just supporting and being there if he needs anything.”

But even with all the resources he’s had over the last few years, first at Wood Brothers Racing and now with Team Penske, Ryan still gives his father a thrill when he asks him for advice.

“It’s very cool, actually, that he’ll still ask my opinion, and there’s 100 percent no doubt in his mind I’m going to tell him exactly whether he’s doing it way better than everybody else in that corner, or way worse,” Dave Blaney said. “I’m going to tell him and give him the right information and he can take it from there.”

Where the younger Blaney goes from here with Team Penske is anyone’s guess, but it’s pretty clear the direction will definitely be further upward.

If Ryan was to win the Daytona 500 or the NASCAR Cup championship, it would be the realization of a joint dream held and shared by both father and son. But it also will be verification and vindication that Ryan learned his lessons well and Dave was an excellent teacher.

“It would just be cool to see his reaction, to see how happy he is, for all the work he’s put in it and it pays off,” Dave Blaney said. “That’s the cool part.”

Can Adam Stevens, Kyle Busch ‘get mojo back’ at Bristol?

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Kyle Busch is known for speaking his mind. He says what he has to say whether things are good, bad, successful or frustrating.

That kind of attitude has rubbed off somewhat on his crew chief, Adam Stevens.

After Busch finished a disappointing 29th in Thursday’s fourth Cup race in 12 days, dropping Busch from 8th to 12th in the standings, Stevens was asked in a Friday teleconference where he would assess the progress of the No. 18 team since returning from the COVID-19 hiatus.

Like his driver, Stevens didn’t beat around the bush – no pun intended.

“Overall, it’s been a disappointing start, I’m not going to sugarcoat it,” Stevens said. “You have stretches like that and I think we need to get our program a little better and then internally as a team we have to do better.”

In the four post-hiatus races, Busch finished 26th at Darlington, accidentally knocked Chase Elliott into the wall to finish second in the return trip to the Lady In Black, was fourth in the Coca-Cola 600, and then things just fell apart in Thursday’s race, his 29th-place finish being the second-worst finish this season (worst was 34th in the Daytona 500).

“In general, I would say we’re not as competitive as we’d want to be,” Stevens said. “We haven’t executed like we’ve wanted to.

“We’ve managed to get a couple good finishes in there, managed to get a couple poor finishes – the poor finishes were probably more poor than what they needed to be because of mistakes or circumstances we fell into during the race.”

A potential part of the problem with the No. 18 team – it’s a likely problem for most teams that have struggled since the return to racing – has been fatigue.

By the time Sunday’s race at Bristol is over, that will make five Cup races in 15 days. Plus, wih limitations on personnel numbers both at-track and at the JGR shop due to the pandemic, fatigue is apparent.

But after Sunday’s race, NASCAR Cup teams get a luxury of sorts: no midweek races this coming week and a chance for everyone to collectively catch their breath and rest up for nearly a week until the next race on June 7 at Atlanta.

“There’s quite a few of my crew guys who have been worn out here and spread pretty thin,” Stevens said. “They could really use a day or two off for sure, and they’re going to get that early in the week.

“We have a race in Atlanta with no practice, so the prep is down, but no midweek race … will make it a lot more palatable next week. Next week will probably be a week to get caught back up and assess where we’re at and maybe do a little bit more leg work on some of the future races so we can be a little bit more ahead. For certain there’s a large group of guys who need a day off.”

Sunday’s 500-lap race at Bristol offers a chance at redemption — if not a kind of home track advantage — for Busch and Stevens. In 29 Cup starts there, Busch has eight wins — including three in his last five starts there — plus 12 top-5 and 17 top-10 finishes.

If there ever was a place to right the listing No. 18 ship, the world’s fastest half-mile may just be the place.

“What makes Kyle (Busch) good at Bristol doesn’t change,” Stevens said. “He’s just so good at adapting what he’s doing behind the wheel to suit how the track is changing. Hopefully he’ll get to showcase more of that this weekend.

“It’s the track and the nuances of the track and how that changes and the fact that it changes is what makes KB shine there. He can make time on the bottom, in the PJ1, he can make time around the top when that’s the place to be and he’s not scared to move around and really is exceptional at getting through the lapped traffic as well.

“If you had to circle a place to get your mojo back, this would probably be it.”

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Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Forget practice, qualifying, ‘I just like to race’

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In the new normal of NASCAR, there are a lot of things drivers are getting used to.

From health screens when they get to the track to carrying their own helmets and other chores that previously were done by assistants, drivers are adapting.

One thing that Ricky Stenhouse Jr. likes is how, with the exception of one qualifying session for the Coca-Cola 600, that the first four Cup races back since the COVID-19 hiatus have not had practice or qualifying.

Stenhouse, to paraphrase late Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis, wants to “just race, baby, just race.”

Even though NASCAR’s race-only policy is predicated upon keeping things simple and staying safe in the pandemic, Stenhouse definitely has embraced the mindset of climbing in the car, firing the motor up and slamming on the gas pedal. No warm-ups, no testing different setups, no nothing. He just wants to chase the checkered flag.

“I just like to race, I like to be in the race car,” Stenhouse said in a media teleconference Friday. “Practice and qualifying doesn’t do it for me as much as getting out and competing in the race, as (opposed to being) in the car on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

“Really there’s nothing like going out and racing. I enjoy racing as much as possible.”

Stenhouse, who finished fourth in Thursday’s Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, has also enjoyed NASCAR holding two of its first four Cup races back since the coronavirus hiatus in mid-week and prime time.

While that type of schedule makes it difficult and even grueling for crew chiefs and the rest of the team, count Stenhouse as hoping NASCAR moves forward with more mid-week races next season and beyond once coronavirus and the limitations it has placed upon the sport are gone.

“I like the Sunday-Wednesday schedules; I wish we could kind of keep doing that,” he said. “I’ve never been a fan of shortening the season because I just like to race.

“I’m going to try and sprinkle some more dirt races in when I can, if NASCAR lets me (he laughs). For me, I enjoy the racing aspect of it. I love being in the race car as much as possible. Like probably the other crew chiefs said, the guys at the shop definitely have a lot more work as far as getting cars ready week in and week out.

“So, that’s always been probably the biggest question mark of running these mid-week races to catch up our schedule is the toll that it’s taking on the crew guys. But it’s all been well received, they enjoy it and they love us back racing.”

In his first season with JTG-Daugherty Racing, Stenhouse has admittedly struggled. In the first eight races, the driver of the No. 47 Chevrolet has just two top-five finishes: Thursday night and third at Las Vegas.

Every other finish has been 20th or lower.

But Stenhouse sees light at the end of the tunnel. Ever since NASCAR returned from the pandemic hiatus, Stenhouse has seen improvement within his team that may not necessarily be reflected in the final result, but he definitely likes what he’s seeing from his team and the performance of his race car.

“Looking at the equipment that they have here, the people, the parts and pieces, the Hendrick power, the new Chevy Camaro body – I feel like those are all really good things to put together,” Stenhouse said. “Bringing my crew chief Brian Pattie over, bringing Mike Kelley over, with a lot of knowledge and a lot of experience to work in, they jumped right in. I felt like they’ve been working with these guys for a long time and it’s only been a short amount of time.

“So, I feel like we are definitely capable of running in the top 10. I feel like last night was definitely a night that we hit it right. We had a really good car and I hope we can continue to run top five and contend for wins.

“But I definitely feel like we can run top 10 with everything that we have right here. We have to do that – we have to limit my mistakes, limit the issues that we’ve had and just have good, smooth, solid nights, and I think we can run top-ten.

“I told the boys that we needed a good run going into Bristol, my favorite race track, knowing that I really like the way these cars drive. And if it drives as good at Bristol as it has at these other race tracks, I feel like we’re going to have a shot at a win. I wanted a good solid top-15 run, no issues, no mistakes and it turned out to be way better than that. So, we’re looking forward to hopefully carrying that momentum into Sunday.”

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Starting lineup for Sunday afternoon’s Cup race at Bristol

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Brad Keselowski and Aric Almirola will lead the field to the green flag in Sunday’s Cup Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Keselowski will start first and Almirola will start second.

The top five is completed by Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr., putting all three of Team Penske’s cars in the top five.

The field was determined through a random draw of the following groups:

  • Positions 1-12: Random draw from charter teams in those positions in owner points
  • Positions 13-24: Random draw from charter teams in those positions in owner points
  • Positions 25-36: Random draw from charter teams in those positions in owner points
  • Positions 37-40: Open teams in order of owners points

Click here for the starting lineup.

NASCAR Cup Series at Bristol

Race Time: 3:30 p.m. ET Sunday

Track: Bristol Motor Speedway; Bristol, Tennessee (half-mile oval)

Length: 500 laps, 266.5 miles

Stages: Stage 1 ends on Lap 125. Stage 2 ends on Lap 250.

TV coverage: FS1

Radio: Performance Racing Network (also SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Streaming: Fox Sports app (subscription required); goprn.com and SiriusXM for audio (subscription required)

Next Xfinity race: June 1 at Bristol (300 laps, 159.9 miles), 7 p.m. ET on FS1

Next Truck Series race: June 6 at Atlanta (130 laps, 200.02 miles), 1 p.m. ET on FS1

Chase Elliott ‘Sent it, for Judd’ in Charlotte Cup Series win

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A rollercoaster week for Chase Elliott ended Thursday night with him in Victory Lane for the second time in three days and for the first time this year in the Cup Series.

But Elliott’s win at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the seventh Cup victory of his career, had additional weight for the Hendrick Motorsports driver. Not long after the race, Elliott posted a picture on Instagram of him celebrating on the frontstretch. At the bottom of the picture was a drawing of a character saying “send it.”

A sticker of that figure, which is a walrus, is located on the front bumper of Elliott’s No. 9 Chevrolet.

“Sent it, for Judd,” Elliott wrote in the Instagram post. “This ones for you brother, miss you my friend. That sticker will forever stay on the front of that 9 car, I promise y’all that.”

On Friday, Dale Earnhardt Jr. asked Elliott on NASCAR America at Home the meaning behind the sticker.

“Judd (Plott) was my best friend since I was a kid, he and I grew up together,” Elliott said. “His mom sang at my parent’s wedding and just my best friend since I can remember. Lost him last fall. That sticker is kind of remembrance of him. He had a tattoo on his leg of that little walrus and that was kind of his little logo.

“So I had a friend make up some stickers last fall after (Judd passed), and I just thought it’d be really cool to carry that moving forward. He was my best friend as long as I can remember and just always supportive and just felt like it’d be special to carry that for the rest of my career and always remember him and he was one of a kind and he was a genuinely good dude.”

The walrus decal and its placement on Elliott’s bumper is similar to one that can be found on the bumper of Jimmie Johnson’s car. It’s dedicated to his friend Blaise Alexander, an ARCA driver who was killed in a crash at Charlotte in 2001, and the 10 people who were killed in a Hendrick Motorsports plane crash in 2004.

The walrus decal isn’t the first time Elliott’s honored his late friend. Last November, he had a tribute to Judd on his nameplate above the driver-side window.

Following Thursday’s race, the Cup Series next competes Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway. Like the previous four races, it will be a one-day show. Elliott shared his thoughts on how a limited at-track schedule and condensed crew rosters are bringing the No. 9 team together.

“It’s brought an excitement back to it that I haven’t had in a little while, from the standpoint of I feel like I’m short-track racing again,” Elliott said. “I feel like it’s brought our team closer together because different guys on our team are having to do more jobs. Like (crew chief) Alan (Gustafson is) having to come off the box and catch tires during the pitstop. And that’s brought him closer to our pit crew. I’m having a couple more items to do and keep up with than what I had before and I think all that is bringing us closer together. And for me, it’s just been a lot of fun kind of condensing the group and doing more racing and less sitting around.”

The one-day show at Bristol has an added element to it. Without any prior track activity before Sunday’s green flag, the traction compound added to the lower lanes in the turns will be more difficult for drivers to navigate.

Elliott thinks it’s been “overlooked a little bit.”

“(The traction compound) does not like to be run on until it gets run in and those are two things that don’t go good together, right?” Elliott said. “Because it doesn’t have grip and nobody wants to run on it. But we all want it at the same time because we want another option. What I’ve noticed is it seems like it takes the leaders catching lap cars and forcing cars into a position that they don’t want to be in to start to run that stuff in. Until it gets run in, it’s really hard. It’s really slick. And I think that’s probably the biggest thing is just, you know, marrying up all those things, right? Do we have the splitter height, right? How slick is that stuff going to be? How long is it going to take it to come in. And when it does come in how long until it wears out and the top becomes the advantage because it typically does by the end of a race.

“But we typically have a full weekend to practice and qualifying and a Xfinity race. And a lot of times we don’t see that top line come dominant until late in the Cup race on Sunday. So I’m really curious to see how all those things play out.”