At Talladega Superspeedway, drivers think constantly about getting to the front and who can help them get there – all of which is subject to being lucky enough to avoid a massive wreck.
Ryan Blaney doesn’t ponder the latter part.
“If you’re thinking about that, then your mind’s somewhere else,” Blaney said in a Thursday media teleconference. “You understand what it can be, but when you’re out there running, you’re not thinking, ‘Oh, we might wreck, we might wreck, we might wreck. I’m afraid to get in a wreck.’
“You never think about that – at least, I don’t. If it happens, it happens. And until it does happen, you’re not conscious of that at all. You’re trying to figure out ways to get to the front, stay there, lead laps, win stages, win the race.”
The Team Penske driver has won two of the last three races at NASCAR’s biggest track, which is next up on the Cup Series schedule. Sunday’s race (2 p.m. ET, FOX) will mark his 14th Talladega Cup start.
From his first Talladega Cup start in October 2014 to now, Blaney acknowledges how his approach has changed on superspeedways.
Youthful aggression has given way to a veteran’s appreciation for everything that goes into coming out on top in this style of racing: Getting in front of a big run from behind, knowing how to work the lanes to get ahead, and perhaps most important, the teamwork that it all requires.
“The communication really has to be the best that it can be,” said Blaney. “Working with Josh (Williams) as my spotter, he’s done a great job and we’ve done a good job of getting better every year with him watching the races, him telling me a lot of information on what to do.
“I usually don’t like a lot of talking on the radio and information besides the (superspeedways). Because you just need that constant info. I like that side, that everyone’s really involved and it takes a lot of teamwork and communication to run well there.”
Blaney’s organization has had that down pat at Talladega. A Team Penske driver has won eight of the past 13 Talladega Cup races, dating back to Brad Keselowski‘s playoff victory in October 2014.
Eyes will be on the Penske camp (including the Wood Brothers’ Matt DiBenedetto) again this weekend, but not just for their previous Talladega success.
The Cup Series is back on a superspeedway for the first time since the season-opening Daytona 500. On the final lap, Penske drivers Joey Logano and Keselowski were running 1-2 until contact between them cost them both the Harley J. Earl Trophy.
Having been eliminated in the day’s first major crash on Lap 14, Blaney could only watch from his couch as his teammates went spinning and Michael McDowell slipped through to win.
Team owner Roger Penske counseled his drivers this week on how to avoid a repeat. From Blaney’s point of view, the conversation was productive.
“I feel like we had a really good discussion between all of us,” Blaney said. “Hopefully, we have a good plan, and hopefully, we found ourselves in that spot again to where we have teammates lined up at the end of this thing and we’re leading to try and work together and win the race. That’s the ultimate goal.”
Should Blaney benefit from that plan, it will continue a solid, if not perfect, early-season run for him and the No. 12 team.
Entering Talladega, they’ve posted six consecutive finishes of 11th or better, including a win over a dominant Kyle Larson at Atlanta. However, that stretch also includes an 11th-place finish at Martinsville that could’ve been much more if not for a late-race penalty on pit road.
“Getting a win early in the year is obviously nice,” Blaney said. “I think the 12 group’s in a really good spot now. There’s some things we’ve got to clean up at some places, like the Martinsville deal. It’s nice having a good run there and winning a couple of stages, but the deal that happened at the end of the race with the final pit stop – you’re like, ‘Oh, my gosh.'”