Daytona takeaways: Ryan Blaney no longer just ‘the third guy at Penske’ in breakout year


DAYTONA BEACH, Florida — Ask Ryan Blaney why he’s been assuming more accountability and responsibility this season, and the Team Penske driver naturally sounds like a leader.

“You’ve just got to do that; there’s a point you’ve got to get to when it’s time to step up,” Blaney said, several hours before he won his second consecutive Cup race for the first time during his six full seasons in NASCAR’s premier series. “I was sitting around being pretty much the third guy at Penske. Brad (Keselowski) and Joey (Logano) winning more races than me each year (and) being in the final four. It’s like, ‘Man, we’ve got to step the program up.’ You just try to motivate yourself more to be better to take the leap up to be a leader and want to learn more.”

The narrative around the No. 12 Ford star’s breakout season continued to build Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway, where Blaney notched his third victory of 2021. He will enter the playoff as the No. 2 seed behind Kyle Larson and with more regular-season wins than Logano and Keselowski combined.

With 24 playoff points, Blaney seems certain to avoid last year’s stunning first-round exit (which started with a “foolish penalty” for leaving weight in the car for prerace inspection), but it’s his demeanor that has crew chief Todd Gordon comparing his development with Joey Logano (whom he worked with from 2013-19). Gordon, who is leaving his role after the season, said after Blaney’s victories at Daytona and Michigan that he is seeing signs familiar to his 2018 title with Logano. “Ryan is growing into being a championship contender,” Gordon said.

In further evidence of his blossoming leadership, Blaney defers the credit to Gordon for his increased shop presence in working weekly to pore through race and track data with Penske engineers.

NASCAR Daytona takeaways
Ryan Blaney celebrates after his victory at Daytona International Speedway (Nathan Ray Seebeck/USA TODAY Sports).

“Being a championship crew chief, he is really pulling information out of me and really wanting me to excel, so it’s kind of two sides,” Blaney said. “It’s not just me working harder, it’s Todd helping me out along the way, too. So it’s been cool to grow with him. But yeah, I’m just trying to make that effort. And I think next year it’s going to be even more with Brad moving on, and me and Joey being the senior guys over there. You want to be in that leadership role. I think we’re working toward that.”

Blaney’s recent surge (five top fives in six races) has coincided with the official announcement six weeks ago that Keselowski is leaving Penske after 12 seasons.

It was that impending leadership void that Blaney, 27, identified as a leadership motivator – especially for next season when he and Logano, 31, will become de-facto mentors as Austin Cindric, 22, replaces Keselowski and Harrison Burton, 20, moves into the Penske-affiliated Wood Brothers Ford.

Making the championship round for the first time would do well for cementing Blaney’s credibility.

“You have to be a leader,” he said. “Definitely Brad is a leader (and) Joey. I think it’s time for me to step up and be that guy, too.”

Other NASCAR takeaways from Daytona:

Keselowski isn’t the sentimental sort but conceded the emotions got to him as he pulled into the track for his last Daytona start with Team Penske.

“Week by week, it gets a little deeper for me,” said Keselowski, who delivered the first NASCAR Xfinity (2010) and Cup championship (’12) to team owner Roger Penske. “And I’m just trying to soak it all up.”

Did he have plans to address his No. 2 Ford team in a meaningful way before the playoffs begin?

“I had some great plans, and now with all the COVID stuff, it doesn’t look like those are based in reality,” he said. “But I’ll figure something out.”

Driver-team pairings with an expiration date typically don’t fare well, which is likely why Kurt Busch gathered his team for a first-round pep talk after qualifying for the playoffs with his July 11 victory at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

NASCAR Daytona takeaways
Kurt Busch (Logan Riely/Getty Images)

Chip Ganassi Racing’s Cup team charters will be absorbed by Trackhouse Racing after the 2021 season. While the drivers’ futures are secure (Ross Chastain will move to Trackhouse; Busch is headed to 23XI Racing’s new second car), the outlook has been open-ended for many team members for the past two months.

“There’s been a mixup of ownership and selling the team, and it’s a different vibe,” Busch said. “I tried to rally everyone together after Atlanta and said, ‘Listen, let’s build the (playoff-opening) Darlington car to win. Bring everything you’ve got. Bring everything for Richmond and Bristol (the last two tracks in Round 1). Every racetrack, if we can have a car that we haven’t raced before and polish up on it, let’s do it. I know they’re investing everything they can into this final little bit while Ganassi is around.

“I don’t know the exact quantity of new (cars), but it’s just the effort all the way through. It’s that attention to detail and really focusing in on the race notes. Pit crew guys, my guys have been top-five average all year. We’re going to need that. In the playoffs you need your pit crew to gain you spots you can’t gain on track.”

Busch also is looking for a new spotter for next season as Tyler Green will be moving to Harrison Burton. Busch said he is looking for an experienced spotter who will be expected to attend Monday debriefs and take copious notes to help adapt to the NextGen car. It’s part of Busch’s expanded role at 23XI, where he won’t have an executive title but will be empowered to make personnel decisions.

“My phone is blowing up with congratulatory texts and emails, but there are so many that are looking for a job,” he said. “So many people want to be part of this now. That’s the next step for me that I have to embrace and digest it the right way. I’m not in ownership within the team, but I asked for a role to have a good influence with the program. So it’s filtering through a lot of quality people. No. 1 is my spotter, but at the same time, there are so many guys for other positions that I have to filter through, so that’s my Monday-Wednesday job.”

With Kurt Busch’s addition at 23XI Racing putting him in a Toyota for the first time, the Busch brothers will be in official weekly Cup debriefs together for the first time. They last worked in a similar capacity together when they shared an Xfinity car for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the 2012 season.

“Kyle and I now go back and forth pretty hard on our banter,” Kurt said. “Just get ready for those Monday morning meetings at Gibbs. I don’t know if all the people in the room are going to be ready for two Busches. It’ll be fun. There’ll be a lot to filter through with the NextGen car.”

Kyle Busch said he’s joked with team owner Joe Gibbs about barring his older brother from the weekly Toyota team meetings at JGR’s Huntersville, North Carolina, shop. “Hopefully, (Kurt) just has to call in and, we can put him on mute when we need to,” Kyle cracked.

Daytona 500 winner Michael McDowell addressed questions in recent weeks about whether Front Row Motorsports will keep its charters for the 2021 season.

“I don’t think there’ll be any charters sold,” said McDowell, who starred in a national ad campaign for the first time after winning the biggest race of the season. “(Front Row Motorsports owner) Bob Jenkins has been extremely loyal to me and a good friend. They’ve told me I’ll be racing full time next year. What that looks like, I’m not exactly sure, but I feel good about my spot at Front Row. I feel good about what we’ve built and what we’re doing.

“I think there are a lot of things that still have to come together, but that’s not abnormal for us to be in this spot not knowing. It usually comes together pretty late for us in general. I don’t see it being any different than this year where we know this early.”

Sport shows support for Gibbs family at NASCAR Awards


NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The NASCAR community showed its support Thursday at the NASCAR Awards for the Gibbs family, grieving the death of Coy Gibbs on Nov. 6. 

During his interview on stage, car owner Joe Gibbs thanked the NASCAR industry for its support. (The NASCAR Awards show airs at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock).

Coy Gibbs, son of Joe Gibbs and father of Xfinity champion Ty Gibbs, died hours after seeing Ty Gibbs win the series title last month at Phoenix Raceway. Coy Gibbs, 49, was the vice chairman and chief operating officer at Joe Gibbs Racing.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR chief operating officer, introduced Ty Gibbs at the NASCAR Awards and noted that “everyone gathered tonight is all a part of the NASCAR family, and I know I speak for everyone that the entire NASCAR family is 100% percent behind this young man.”

Ty Gibbs received a standing ovation.

“Thank you,” he told the crowd, “that means a lot.”

Ty Gibbs spoke for less than a minute, thanking his team, sponsors, fans and the NASCAR community.

He closed his speech by saying “And thanks to my family. I love you. I hope everybody has a great offseason. Enjoy it. Thank you for all the support. Thank you for all the claps. I really appreciate it.”

Ty Gibbs spoke to the media earlier Thursday. Asked how he was doing, he said: “I’ve been doing good. Thank you for asking and definitely appreciate you guys. We’ve been doing good, doing a lot of stuff this week. … It’s been fun to experience this stuff.”

Asked about Joe Gibbs addressing the organization after Coy’s death, Ty Gibbs politely said: “For right now, I’m not going to touch on any of that subject at all. I’m just going to stick with all the racing questions and go from there.”

Cup champion Joey Logano said he spent time with 20-year-old Ty Gibbs on Wednesday at the champion’s dinner.

Logano said he told Ty Gibbs that “we’re here for you. You need something reach out.”

Brennan Poole joins Bayley Currey at JD Motorsports for 2023


Brennan Poole will join Bayley Currey at JD Motorsports for the 2023 NASCAR Xfinity season, the team announced Friday.

Poole will drive the No. 6 car for the full season. Currey returns to the team’s No. 4 car for the season. Currey scored five top-15 finishes last season for the organization.

JD Motorsports is planning to run the No. 0 car next season. No driver or sponsor has been announced for that ride.

“We’re full throttle here and getting ready to go,” Davis said in a statement from the team. “Bayley and Brennan are signed on and looking forward to chasing races and points next year. We’re actively moving along looking for sponsor commitments and for drivers and sponsors for the No. 0 car.”

“We’ve always taken the approach here that we want to go after the series with multiple cars, and that’s how we’re looking toward 2023. The new schedule is very interesting and provides new challenges to our drivers and team members.”

The 2023 Xfinity season begins Feb. 18 at Daytona International Speedway.

Friday 5: Will Kyle Busch become NASCAR’s Tom Brady, Peyton Manning?


NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The weight of an unfulfilled season, deciding where he’d race in 2023 and the impact on his Truck Series team are off Kyle Busch.

It’s back to racing for the two-time Cup champion, who seeks to reignite his career at Richard Childress Racing this season.

Busch performed his final duty representing Joe Gibbs Racing at Thursday’s NASCAR Awards (show airs at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock) and it’s now all about helping RCR win its first Cup championship since 1994.

MORE: NASCAR Awards red carpet scene

Busch will be with Richard Childress Racing this weekend at Circuit of the Americas for World Racing League endurance events. Busch said the team has turned an old Cup car into an endurance car for the event. Last year, RCR won an eight-hour endurance race there with Austin Dillon, Tyler Reddick and Kaz Grala.

Busch seeks better fortunes at RCR than what he’s had recently at Joe Gibbs Racing.

He has one Cup win in his last 53 starts — 14 drivers have won more races than Busch in that span, dating back to the July 2021 race at Road America.

His 17 top-10 finishes this past season were his fewest since scoring 16 top 10s in 2015. 

He was running at the finish in 29 of 36 points races — the first time he’s been running at the finish in fewer than 30 races since 2015. Two blown engines in the opening round of the playoffs led to failing to advance to the second round for the first time in his career. 

“It’s obviously been a challenging, not just this year, but the last little while,” Busch said Thursday at the Music City Center. “So, it’s kind of maybe a blessing in disguise, honestly, where it might just be time for a fresh start, time for something new, time for something different.”

He looks to future NFL Hall of Fame quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning for inspiration.

Brady won six Super Bowls with the New England Patriots before  joining Tampa Bay and winning a Super Bowl in his first season with the Buccaneers.

Manning won a Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts before joining the Denver Broncos and winning a Super Bowl there in his final season in the NFL.

“I’m kind of looking at it as a Tom Brady, Peyton Manning aspect where they left great teams, great originations where they won championships and they were able to win a championship somewhere else,” Busch said. “I’d like to think I still have that opportunity to be able to do that at RCR.

“I look at the opportunity with the new Next Gen race car as an easier move to make now with that vs. years past with previous generation cars.”

He says that because with the previous generation of cars, there was a greater separation between teams because NASCAR did not regulate as much of the car. With the the Next Gen car, teams have the same parts. Two-time Cup champion Joey Logano that his team still has much to learn about the car and maximizing setups. 

Even with his struggles at the end of his tenure at Joe Gibbs Racing, Busch says he doesn’t go to RCR with a chip on his shoulder. 

“I don’t think I have anything to prove or I need to have a chip on my shoulder,” Busch said. “I just want to go out there and run well again. … I felt like we had a lot of strong runs this year. There were like six races I can count that we could’ve, would’ve, should’ve won and we didn’t whip is very frustrating. 

“We were so good at giving them away that I need to get back to I’m so good at stealing them and earning them.”

2. Special delivery 

Among the perks with winning a Cup title is getting the Champion’s Journal. Jimmie Johnson started the tradition after his 2010 championship. The existence of the journal remained a secret until 2017 when Johnson posted a picture on social media of him handing the journal to Martin Truex Jr.

The journal passes from champion to champion with the current champion holding on to it for a year and adding an entry for the next champion before handing it to them. Logano will receive the journal from Kyle Larson. 

“I can’t wait to read it again,” Logano said before Thursday’s NASCAR Awards. “I’m telling you, it’s probably one of the coolest things. Jimmie deserves all of the credit for coming up with the idea. 

“I wish it started sooner. It’s so interesting. Some drivers are very detailed what they write to the next champion and some are kind of quick and simple. It’s very interesting to read it. It’s cool. It’s a real secret. It’s kind of like an unwritten rule, you can’t take pictures of it and post it. It’s a thing that only the championship drivers know and have read and seen.

“Every time I get it, I’m so nervous. I’m like don’t spill anything on this thing, don’t lose it. It would suck to be the guy that loses that. That would be bad. I’m putting it right in the safe.”

Logano won his first Cup title in 2018. He then gave the journal to Kyle Busch, the 2019 series champion.

“It’s something you put a lot of thought into, at least I did,” Logano said of what he penned. “I wrote a letter to Kyle. You put a lot of thought into it. It’s something that will be there as long as our sport is around. I hope so at least. It’s a really great tradition.”

3. Fun factor 

The day of last year’s NASCAR Awards, William Byron said he wanted compete in more races outside NASCAR in 2022. 

Byron, who seeks to make Sunday’s prestigious Snowball Derby Super Late Model race, has fulfilled his goal, winning, gaining confidence but also having fun.

“What I got out of it was immediate fun, sort of relief,” Byron said of racing various Super Late Model races this year. “It was not racing the Cup car. It was different. It was not as stressful working with the team and things like that because there’s not as much on the line. There’s still prize money and things, and honestly you’re there to have fun. I enjoyed that.

“As I got going in it, I realized how productive it really was for me to do it, how much I was learning. As I did it more often throughout the season, I learned little nuances that were helping me get back in the Cup car with a better skill set.”

That element of fun stood out to Byron. Cup racing is full of pressure with the multi-million dollar sponsors, expectations to win and all the people at the shop relying on the car’s performance. That’s significant pressure, on top of what any driver puts on themself.

“There’s a lot of guys that you are trying to provide for and do a good job for,” Byron said of Cup racing. “There is a weight to that. You want to perform for those guys that work non-stop at the shop. There’s just a much broader net that you are casting as a driver. Whenever you go to the short track level, it’s you and six to 10 guys working on the car. … There’s natural pressure with what we’re trying to do at the Cup level because it is the No. 1 motorsports in the U.S.”

4. Looking for a ride

Ross Chastain says he’s been “trying for years” to get a ride in the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway without success but that hasn’t deterred him.

“I’ve met with the president of IMSA,” said Chastain, who finished second to Joey Logano for the Cup title this season. “I’ve met with team owners. I’ve talked to drivers. I just can’t find my way in yet. I haven’t found the right person yet to either tell me how to do it or give me the opportunity. I could show up with sponsorship and get a ride, but how do I get in as a race car driver? I haven’t found that spot yet.”

Chastain said he’s reached out to some this offseason with no luck. 

He said the prestige of the season-opening IMSA event (Jan. 28-29, 2023) draws him but he also wants to gain more experience racing on a road course — even with his win at Circuit of the Americas this past season. And Chastain is not picky on the type of ride he’d like to have for that race.

“I’m not even looking to be in the top class. I want to find a mid-pack Xfinity team of the Rolex and go run there and experience it and then just to be around those road racers that do it year around. I know I could learn something. … I just want to race.”

5. Indy 500-Coke 600 double

It has been eight years since Kurt Busch competed in the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day, the last time the feat has been accomplished. 

Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson are among those who have expressed interest in running both races in the same day but don’t appear to be in a position to do so in 2023 because of the limited IndyCar rides available. 

Roger Penske, owner of the IndyCar Series and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, said he could see Jimmie Johnson attempting it this year, and others as soon as next year. 

“It’s about having the car and the manufactures, whether it’s Chevy and or Honda,” Penske said, referring to the IndyCar manufacturers. “All would be interested to see somebody run the double. Maybe Jimmie is going to do it, which would be great. 

“He has the experience. He did very well on the ovals. … It’s my understanding that he’s going to run potentially the 600 as one of his races (with Petty GMS). We’ll see.”

NASCAR Awards: Scene on the red carpet

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The NASCAR community gathered at the Music City Center to commemorate the 2022 season and celebrate Joey Logano‘s second Cup title.

The event can be seen at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock.

Here is a look at the scene on the red carpet before Thursday night’s NASCAR Awards:

Joey Logano and Brittany Logano (Photo: Dustin Long)


Ryan Blaney and Gianna Tulio (Photo: Dustin Long)


Kyle and Samantha Busch (Photo: Dustin Long)


Chase Elliott (Photo: Dustin Long)


Alex Bowman and Crystal Marsh (Photo: Dustin Long)


Tyler Reddick and Alexa De Leon (Photo: Dustin Long)


Denny Hamlin and Jordan Fish (Photo: Dustin Long)


Daniel Suarez and Julia Piquet (Photo: Dustin Long)


Chase Briscoe and Marissa Briscoe (Photo: Dustin Long)


Christopher Bell and Morgan Bell (Photo: Dustin Long)


Austin Dillon and Whitney Dillon (Photo: Dustin Long)


Kyle Larson (Photo: Dustin Long)


William Byron and Erin Blaney (Photo: Dustin Long)


Kevin Harvick (Photo: Dustin Long)


Ross Chastain and Erika Turner (Photo: Dustin Long)


Austin Cindric (Photo: Dustin Long)


Kurt Busch (Photo: Dustin Long)


Harrison Burton and Jenna Petty(Photo: Dustin Long)
Mario Andretti (Photo: Dustin Long)