Ryan Blaney & Todd Gordon Atlanta post-race press conference transcript

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Atlanta Motor Speedway

An Interview with: Ryan Blaney & Todd Gordon

THE MODERATOR: We’ll continue with our race-winning driver, Ryan Blaney, that No. 12. We’ll start with questions.

How much did you have to save at the beginning of that final run? Were you a little surprised that Larson fell off as much as he did at the end?

RYAN BLANEY: Yeah, you’re always kind of saving, right? You never know when cautions are going to come out, when they’re not. Yeah, we fired off after the last green flag stop, it was going to be over a 50-lap run. I did need to save a little bit. Even if you do get a caution, if you save a little bit, not lose a lot, you’ll be fine.

I knew our strong area of our car was not the short run. We weren’t that good on the short run. We could just kind of maintain. Not with Larson. He would drive away. But maintain with everybody.

After 15, 20 laps we’d start coming forward. Towards the end of the longer runs, we’d really start coming forward. We made a big step on that in the last stage. Just getting tighter. I was pretty free all day. We were able to get tighter, keep the rear tires under it. Looked like he was getting pretty free. Was just able to drive up, get a good run off of three and four and get by him.

With this surface, they talk a lot about the repaves. The cars were moving around a lot today, the bumps being a struggle. Can you describe how physically demanding this racetrack is and what it takes to maneuver around it?

RYAN BLANEY: Yeah, it’s tough. I know people have been having talks about the repave, but I hope it doesn’t happen any time soon. I think you talk to anybody, they really like this place the way it is.

Yeah, it’s rough. I mean, the bumps getting out of one and two is rough, three and four you have the wavy set of bumps there. Makes it hard to hold the line. Yeah, it’s just a big challenge.

I talked to Todd a lot today about our car hitting the racetrack pretty hard. As the race went on, it got a little bit better. So, yeah, it’s just the challenges of Atlanta. Sometimes you can do your best to try to get over them, get over those bumps. A lot of the time you just have to drive through them and work on your car around those bumps.

THE MODERATOR: We are now also joined by our winning crew chief Todd Gordon. Walk us through that win from your perspective today.

TODD GORDON: Yeah, it’s pretty awesome. Felt like we’ve had long run cars here in the past. I felt like last year we were that way. Definitely paid off with that last stage being — the last run almost being a fuel run. Excited about everybody got a chance to work together here. Thought pit crew did a good job, and Ryan drove a heck of a race all day long, especially that last run. Just grinding himself forward to put some pressure on the 5.

After a tough first couple races, starting with a pretty big points hole, I think last couple weeks we’ve been digging our way out of it. It’s a place I really like and wanted to win at. I felt like in the past I’ve had opportunity, been close.

But you love to win at these places that are old, wore-out racetracks, because everybody has to step up and do their part. The guys put together a good race car for him and Ryan did a good job today.

Todd, you probably heard what Ryan said about don’t repave.

TODD GORDON: No, don’t repave. Don’t repave. Don’t, don’t, don’t repave (laughter).

RYAN BLANEY: Same answer as me (smiling).

TODD GORDON: I’ve said it for the last five years and I’ll say it for the next 10.

If you’re going to introduce the NextGen car, is it okay to run on the old surface for a couple years with NextGen and then repave or would you prefer to have everything new at once?

TODD GORDON: This place, you got a lot of these old, wore-out racetracks. You have this place, California, Homestead come to mind for me. Darlington has come back into it.

When you look at it, like today, you saw cars running the wall, you saw cars splitting that last seam up top, you saw cars running around the bottom.

The older these surfaces get, the less grip they got in them, we can put a softer tire on it, you get cars that can run all over the place.

When we repave, get all the grip back in the asphalt, there’s a balance there. The tires have to be harder to keep us in a box that we’ve got to be in. You lose that ability to race all of the racetrack.

I would keep this surface as long as we can until it starts coming up. When you get to that, it becomes a safety issue, then you have to address it. But until you get to that point, I’d love to race a NextGen car here on this surface. I’m glad we get to race it again later this year. Great to have two events here at Atlanta.

Ryan, was there a point in the last run, I’m sure you never lost confidence, where you were, like, Larson is beatable today and I have enough to beat him?

RYAN BLANEY: Honestly, I didn’t really think that until I’d say the start of the last stage. He had a huge lead there in that second stage, then he didn’t really get that far out in front of me in the start of the third stage. Then we were running him down pretty good until we pitted there.

He got a little bit ways away from me on pit road after we came out. He stretched his lead out a tiny bit. I was like, All right, it’s going to be a 50-plus-lap run, I’m going to try to save my stuff a little bit. Hopefully we’ll even out and he’ll start coming back to me. He started coming back to me really hard at the end of that first run.

Yeah, at the start and halfway through the final stage, I had confidence we made really good changes to our car. Hoping there would be a long run towards the end because that was the only shot I had to beat him. I wasn’t going to beat him in a 10-lap shootout because his car was good. Hopefully it worked out for a long run. Had a great long run car, like Todd said. It was awesome.

Over the last few years you have had a lot of races, led a lot of laps, been dominant, been in position to win, seen something happen where it’s gone away. This was kind of the opposite of that today. Does it feel good to get a win like this after these experiences?

TODD GORDON: Who wants to answer first?

RYAN BLANEY: Go ahead. I just got done talking.

TODD GORDON: Yeah, it does. I think there’s a — this is just the growth of a relationship. Confidence building amongst each. Yeah, it’s great to be in a position where you’re chasing them down, the hunter, not the huntee. I’ve watched Ryan grow in the last 14 months. He’s had tons of speed. He continues to do things.

We’re understanding what we need to do as a race team to give him better stuff at the end of the race. There’s been places we’ve gone the other way. That’s all part of the learning curve.

Trying to put that together, yeah, I was thoroughly impressed with the drive there after stage two. Like what Ryan talked about, he knew late in that run before the pit cycle, the final run, he was running Kyle down pretty hard. Love the fact that he could put the pressure on him and still run up there at the top.

I think this is something that we as a team can continue to build off of. I think there’s a lot more opportunities to do this. We’ve had a couple situations where it’s gone away from us, but I would say that we all are figuring out what these pieces are that we can put together to make sure we’re successful at the end.

Today was a culmination of those. We’ll build off that.

RYAN BLANEY: Yeah, what Todd said. It is a little bit opposite from last year. We led tons of laps and it just didn’t work out.

Today, you keep yourself in the hunt at all these races, you keep yourself running up front, you’re going to stack up wins. Today was a great example. We weren’t the best car the first half of the day, we kept working on it. Everyone did a great job, pit crew included, of keeping us in the game, keeping us top three all day. We got our car where it needed to be. We were able to capitalize on it.

It’s just about staying in the game. We did that really well today so I’m proud of everybody.

Ryan, you’ve won a race now for five straight seasons. You have not won two races in a season. Going into this year, was that a goal, expectation, we have to take the next step and become a multi-race winner?

RYAN BLANEY: Oh, yeah, for sure. Yeah, it’s nice to win a race every year, but you don’t want to just win one race.

Honestly it’s nice to get a win early in the season now. Six races in, something like that, six different winners. It’s nice to get a win early in the season. That’s something that has kind of eluded us. We got the win at Talladega last year, but it was mid-season.

Getting one early is great. We had the potential to do it last year. Like Todd said, we’re just learning each other. Just really proud of the effort. I look forward to the rest of the season here.

Todd, from a crew chief perspective, how did you look at a 56-lap run to the finish on the tires and the way that they were working today?

TODD GORDON: I was foaming at the mouth, excited about it. As you looked at it, later in the runs we were running guys back down. The race kind of played out with the caution at 25, you got a little bit longer run to split stage one in half. Stage two was another eight or nine laps you had to run.

As we kept seeing that go, we saw the speed of our car on the long run, what Ryan was able to do with it. I was actually contemplating short pitting that last cycle as soon as we got in our fuel window just to force everybody into a long run there. I shrunk up, a little chicken there.

Definitely was excited to see the cycle start when I did. Was just trying to work through a couple things we wanted to do the final adjustment. We were talking through some things back and forth. I wasn’t willing to pit until we got to that point.

Glad to see the cycle start a little early and jump on it. I felt like that was going to put us in a good window for the last 20 laps of the race, like it did today. We had good long run cars at different places. Last year we did at this place. We knew what we wanted to do to make it a little better. We did that. Excited to see a 56-lap run.

Ryan, with the win in hand early in the season now heading to unfamiliar territory with the dirt race, what is your approach going into that weekend?

RYAN BLANEY: Go get another win (smiling).

I mean, no one knows what to expect, right? I mean, everyone, they’re going into it very optimistic. From seeing videos of the late models that have been racing there here this week, yeah, the track has gotten pretty rough. Granted, we aren’t going to be going nearly that fast that those guys are going. We’ll be seconds and seconds slower than them. We’ll see.

I’m excited. My dad actually ran the dirt race at Bristol in the early 2000s when they did it. They did it for like three years. He did it one year. He said it was just incredible in a Sprint car.

I’m just excited to see how it all plays out. It’s nice to be able to practice, have heat races, then race. That part is going to be nice. So, yeah, just looking forward to it. It’s going to be something new. Drivers like new things.

Ryan, how much patience did it take for you to tell the team I’m just going to let Kyle go, he’s just too fast, then save your equipment there for the end?

RYAN BLANEY: Yeah, I did say that. No, we got the lead on pit stop. The guys did a great job getting me out there ahead of him. They were holding off for a little bit, but he was just so good on the short run there.

Yeah, if I was going to stick with him… I wasn’t going to be able to stick with him, I was going to burn my stuff all the way up. I just got to save my tires, save my right rear and we’ll see what happens.

At that point when I said that, no one was able to touch him all day. He would straightaway you, and even more than that. Just got to ride here, see on a longer run, if he starts coming back to us.

Yeah, just kind of the position you were in or I was in just knowing if I try to hang with him, which I wouldn’t be able to hang with him, burn my stuff up, when he started coming back to us, obviously paid dividends just being patient. Just trying to be smart about this, not have a heavy right foot. It’s cool to win here today at a place that you have to finesse it a little bit, kind of think ahead. That was good.

It goes back to just knowing we had a good long run car. Like Todd said, you know what you got, try to play to your strengths. That’s really where that comment came from.

Todd, what kind of relief is it to have a driver that has the maturity? A lot of guys, they want to be the rabbit, get out there. A lot of times you have to pull in the reins. The fact he shows that wherewithal, I was impressed by that.

TODD GORDON: He’s done a great job. He’s got great balance because if you get him in the right position, he can run a lot of speed. There’s places that we’ve been able to do that and had success with it.

It’s good to keep composure. I think he did a great job of managing the situation. Like he said, understand the strengths of your race, play to it. It’s really cool to watch the maturity and just see the fruits of the labor in the end.

I kind of saw us whittle at the 5 car’s lead. It just kept getting bigger and bigger going back. Did a really good job. Really proud of him. Proud of the growth that I think we’ve had as a race team.

Todd, before this track was reconfigured, it was really conducive to Ford because of the long sweeping turns and the short strays. This is Ford’s fifth win in a row here at Atlanta. Do you still see the track as an advantage for Fords? If so, why? I noticed that Ryan was running the top groove when he was running down Larson after having been on the lower groove.

TODD GORDON: Yeah, I don’t know that I’d say that. I mean, really if we have cautions that break this up differently, we talk about how dominant the Hendrick group was. I felt like we raced the 48 and the 5 most of the day. The 9 got in the back and got some damage, so I don’t know where he was going to lay out.

It’s been a great racetrack for us. I think as a whole for our organization, Team Penske, I feel like the rougher, wore-out racetracks are a place we work pretty hard at, are good.

I can’t speak for why Ford or why not somebody else. I think if you looked at it, overall speed, I wouldn’t say that it was dominated by Ford today. I thought actually the Hendrick group was probably the strongest organization. We hit on what we needed to out of our notebook from prior races.

Can’t really put it on the Ford piece. But it’s great that we’ve got five wins in a row for the blue oval.

Ryan, it was actually this race 20 years ago that was probably your dad’s best chance ever to win a Cup Series race. Knowing that and having watched his career, the sight of him trying to win a Cup race for so long, does it make you appreciate the fact you’ve won five?

RYAN BLANEY: I’m really happy you brought that up. I was going to bring it up before I left anyway. I wanted to talk about it.

Dad was here today in the stands. He texted me today. He said, This is the 20-year anniversary. He was whipping butt in that Amoco car. The damn wheel fell off his car, ruined his day. He lost the race. He was dominating.

I said, We’ll win one for the 20th anniversary. I don’t know how solar cycles line up, every 20 years, I don’t know. Happy we were able to avenge that loss on him.

Dad, he’s taught me everything that I know. Like I said, he was here today. He comes to as many races as he can. Just sits in the stands nowadays. Obviously can’t come in the infield.

He’s always someone I always trusted. Fortunate to have a dad that’s done it all, seen it all. I still go to him for advice about anything. Whether it’s a stern talking to or it’s careful advice, I’ve always enjoyed talking to him, hearing what he’s got to say. Just him being around means a lot. I grew up watching dad race. Now I’m racing full-time in NASCAR. He’s watching me. That’s pretty cool.

Dad never got the best of opportunities at the Cup level. He drove for some great race teams, Bill Davis, one year at RCR. He was never with a powerhouse group I’d say like Penske or Hendrick or Gibbs. I hated that for him, that he never got that shot.

He was almost a little bit too old when he got into the sport because he was running Sprint cars for so long. He never got a great shot with an amazing team like I’ve been really fortunate to do.

It’s nice to have him here. I can’t wait to call him and tell him, I told you so, we got one back for you, so…

Ryan, the Cup Series comes back here in July for the summer race. Did you learn anything today that could help you for that race or is it completely different because of track conditions? How much will you beg Todd to let you bring back this car?

RYAN BLANEY: Yeah, you know, I definitely think it will change. It was pretty cool out today. The sun was out most of the race, I think. Might have been overcast, half and half. It was pretty chilly today. The start of the race was a little warm. As the sun was going down, it was starting to get cool. I think it changed the track.

When we come back here in the summertime, it’s going to be hotter and slicker. You can almost compare it when we came back to Atlanta last year after we got back racing. I think it was around the same time.

Yes, speed is going to slow down, it’s going to be slicker. But there’s definitely notes you can take from today and apply them to the next Atlanta race, how you build your cars. Your basic setup might be a little bit different, but I think you’re obviously going to learn a lot, put stuff in your notebook, try to apply it for the next one even though it will be a lot hotter.

Ryan, what do you make of the six different winners in the first six races? Does that speak for any kind of new or different competitive balance in the sport?

RYAN BLANEY: Happy I’m one of them (laughter). I’ll tell you what, we got the 5, I was like, Whew, we’re stacking them up, racking them up pretty quick. We need to win one here.

Yeah, man, it just shows how many people can win in this series, in this sport. You have different winners from different organizations. I think that just shows how competitive it is. I feel like everyone is doing a great job of figuring out ways to work with their crew chiefs and drivers and teams. It just goes in the off-season of prep work, how you’re going to unload, show up to race.

Yeah, we’ve probably never seen this. I don’t know when there were six different winners in the first six races. Yeah, it just shows that a lot of great teams are out there and you have to be on top of your game. It just shows how many people can win.

There’s 15 other teams that can win at the Cup level. Yeah, it just shows how competitive it is.

Ryan, is there any trend or anything from the first six weeks that is surprising when it comes to who is and isn’t performing right now?

RYAN BLANEY: Obviously I think the Hendrick cars are really good. They got a couple wins. The 5 car was crazy fast today. I’d say he dominated the whole race pretty much, most of the race, until the last 15 laps or whatever it was, 20 laps when we were starting to catch him. They were good.

I think other cars ran good today. The 9 had trouble. I’d say the biggest surprise for me is that Stewart-Haas has been struggling a little bit, which I think has shocked everybody. Great team, they’ll figure it out and get back to where they need to be.

The racing is kind of just a big cycle. Teams are up top, then other teams find something, it just kind of keeps rotating.

Obviously we showed our speed today at the Penske group. I think the other couple cars got damaged, from what I was told. The 21 ran pretty good. I saw him up there a good bit of the day. I think we’re really close. We made a big step from I’d even say Vegas, the last mile-and-a-half, even Homestead to now. I was really proud of the leap.

But you got to keep working and you have to do the best you can at finding new things because every other team is doing that.

Todd, I’ve heard from a few crew chiefs that inspection is a little different this year. That’s maybe accounting for some things with teams. Has that affected you at all? What are you seeing with the differences?

TODD GORDON: Yeah, I mean, Jay Fabian does a great job as series director. He looked at it where we were as a sport last year. I think there were some thoughts that the optical scanner was going to police everything. We have smart people that keep working at things. There were places that we were able as a sport to work around the optical scanner, kind of get it where we could make more downforce. As a sport, we got there.

Jay and the whole NASCAR group, they tried to reel some of that creativity back in, made some templates that would address areas that they felt like we were losing control of. He made it very clear in the off-season this was going to happen and we all knew it.

I do think it’s created a little more parity across. It’s taken some downforce away, which I think puts on good racing because we’re sliding around at places like Atlanta.

We’re trying to understand how we work our balance back around the aero balance that we’ve got now. Obviously at Homestead, Ryan talked a little bit about it, but we missed it at Homestead because we didn’t account for the shift as well as we needed to. But we learned from it and brought that here to another wore-out racetrack and had success with it.

I think what NASCAR is doing from an inspection standpoint is fair for everybody. It’s leveled the playing field a little bit more. That’s kind of how this whole sport works. We as teams continue to try to find places that we can work that are advantages for us. NASCAR looks at it kind of in a global scale and says, Where are we not policing, then come back to that.

I think it’s a level field and one that we have to learn a little bit from what our notebooks were last year. We’ll continue to work forward in the areas that we can.

Todd, what has your preparation been like for the Bristol dirt race? When did you start working on this race? What are you expecting?

TODD GORDON: So my preparation is ask Ryan what he and his dad thing because I’ve never raced on dirt to speak of at all (laughter).

We’re trying to understand what all needs to happen. Watching all the video you can. Just trying to understand through all the shop testing what we can do, what we can’t do, trying to understand what it’s going to take to run on dirt.

It’s great because Dave, Ryan’s dad, spent a fair amount of time just talking with me, with my engineers and myself. You’re trying to understand what it will be like. Fortunately Dave ran one of the truck races at Eldora in Brad’s truck team. He understands a little bit of what taking a stockcar type chassis, our type of a race car, to a dirt track.

It’s not going to be running like these late models where the left rear jacks underneath itself and it’s got four inches of skew in the housing, everything that’s going on.

Trying to pick off the people around us. Jeremy Bullins is the crew chief on the 2 car. He has a dirt late model on the side. Done that for a couple years. Just gathering information where we can and trying to watch the events. Joey ran the modified at Bristol last weekend in a sequence of stuff there. Just trying to learn from everybody we can around us.

It will be interesting when we get there, definitely. Unchartered territory.

THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, congratulations on the win. Go celebrate. Good luck next week at Bristol Motor Speedway.

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