At just 29 years old, Ryan Blaney didn’t think he’d ever be commemorated for any accomplishments at this point in his life. Growing up, he played multiple sports, but as he told Jayski.com earlier this week, “Hell no. I wasn’t good enough to get into any other Hall of Fame in any other sports or a student hall of fame.”
When Team Penske’s public relations team told Blaney that Talladega Superspeedway wanted to honor him this weekend for his success at the track, he was surprised. But in just his eighth full season at the Cup Series level, Blaney will be inducted into Talladega’s Walk of Fame at Davey Allison Memorial Park.
“I didn’t expect that,” Blaney said of getting the nod. “It was something that’s really cool to have some kind of success at a racetrack. We won a couple times there, but gosh, I feel like there are some people that have done far better things than I have. It’s special and cool to be associated with Davey Allison. I was a big fan of his and loved hearing his stories.
“The folks at Talladega have always been great to me. I look forward to doing that Friday night; that will be fun.”
Blaney joins the likes of NASCAR Hall of Famers Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty and Cale Yarbourgh to be on Talladega’s Walk of Fame. He will be just the third active Cup driver – joining Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski – in a who’s who list compiled of 51 names.
In 17 career starts at Talladega, Blaney has a pair of wins, both of which were photo finishes. Each margin of victory was the exact same at .007 seconds, first over Ryan Newman in the fall of 2019 and then in 2020 when he edged out Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Along with the wins, Blaney has four top-five and six top-10 finishes, which includes his runner-up result to Chase Elliott last fall. He’s led 228 laps at NASCAR’s largest oval, and eight times he’s led 10-plus laps in a single race.
Being inside of the Team Penske walls for a decade – even when he ran for Wood Brother Racing – Blaney received firsthand knowledge from Keselowski and Joey Logano, two of the most aggressive drivers in the series on superspeedways. Taking in that information propelled Blaney to near immediate success.
“I enjoy those races,” Blaney said of superspeedways. “You understand what you’re getting in, at least putting that into my head and you can understand what can happen. You could get wadded up and it’s not your fault and you’re part of the accident. Once you get that through your head of accepting that, it doesn’t bother you as much going to these places and you find ways to enjoy these racetracks.
“Being around Brad and Joey on the Penske side, those guys are super good at the speedway stuff. Me being a rookie coming up in the Cup Series running for the Wood Brothers, watching those guys and being in the meetings and working with them throughout the races. That helped me a lot and I feel like I was able to take some stuff that I learned from those guys in just watching and asking them questions and apply it to my deal.”
Blaney has overcome adversity in both superspeedway races this season to score top 10 finishes. In the season opening Daytona 500, a bump went wrong from Kevin Harvick to Tyler Reddick and sent Reddick into Blaney, who was running in third position. The No. 12 car avoided multiple late incidents and finished eighth. At Atlanta Motor Speedway, Blaney overcame a pit road speeding penalty that put him two laps off the pace to finish seventh.
That’s on par with Blaney’s 2023 season thus far. The No. 12 team has shown speed, but considers the first quarter of the year to have been “up and down.”
“Little bit of a slower start than I would have liked, but still feel that we’re there and in the hunt,” Blaney said. “We just have to straighten some things out.
“It’s taken us a little bit to get used to the new Ford noses. That was a big change for the Ford teams. I’m not saying that the Fords are lacking speed, but it’s something everyone is getting used to.”
That nose change has shifted the aerodynamic balance of the Fords. It’s been a bigger change than what was expected. But Blaney is excited to return to the mile-and-a-half racetracks at Kansas Speedway in two weeks, as the series has only visited Las Vegas Motor Speedway thus far.
Still, Blaney sits 10th in the standings, poised for another playoff appearance.
Before that, though, Blaney has to get through his Wall of Fame speech on Friday night. His speech is something that he hasn’t put an engrossment of thought into, but is leaning off past speaking engagements.
“That’s a great idea,” he said, thinking about his speech. “I’ve always been a fan of having a couple of notes and going off your points on the notes. I hate people that get up there and – it’s great you have two pages of stuff you want to say, but they read it word for word. It’s not as genuine.
“Roger Penske is one of the most amazing speakers that I’ve ever seen and it’s all from the heart and the top of his head. I try to be like that, but I’m not good enough to do that so I need a couple little notes. That’s probably what I’m going to do. Have two or three points, but keep it short and sweet.”
Then Blaney will focus on Sunday, hoping to snap a 55-race winless streak that dates back to Daytona in August of 2021.