Ryan Blaney is no different than any NASCAR Cup Series driver when it comes to being a victim of the bad luck involved in restrictor-plate racing. He gets as frustrated as the next guy about running well but not being able to finish out a race at Daytona or Talladega.
“Maybe one day,” Blaney recent told RACER. “Hopefully [I’ll] do the right things.”
A year ago, the No. 12 team had done all the right things until the last eight laps of the Daytona 500. Recollections of the 2018 race likely involve the contact between Austin Dillon and Aric Almirola, and the return of the No. 3 to victory lane in the sport’s biggest race.
But before all that, it was Blaney who dominated the day. He led 118 of the race’s 207 laps and grabbed the Stage 2 win. Going into the weekend, Blaney had already finished fourth in the Clash event and won his Thursday qualifying race. The cliff notes version of his Daytona 500 dreams being dashed go like this: Lost the lead with seven laps to go, fought back with three laps to go, ended up in a big wreck with two laps left.
“I like plate racing – here [and] Talladega,” said Blaney. “Our finishes, it’s hard to look at the stat sheet. I’ve always said you can never look at a stat sheet on plate races and determine if that driver is good or bad at plate racing because you never know what can happen. You get in a wreck that’s not of your doing, or you blow up.
“But I personally enjoy it. I think myself and Josh Williams, my spotter, are getting better at it each race just communicating and being aware of your surroundings. I like it. I like coming here.”
Blaney has watched the ending of last year’s race probably “three or four” times already this month, but said that reviewing the tape feels no different to any other race, regardless of how much losing the Daytona 500 hurt in the moment.
“You just try to learn all you can,” he said. “I don’t know if you can take much from what you did in the race and carry it over. It’s easy to look back on it now and say, ‘Oh, I should have done that and maybe it would have worked out for us.’ It’s hard to make those calls in the moment, you don’t know if they are going to be right or not you just go with what you think is right. Split-second decision.
“It was good for us to run so well in the 500 last year, we kind of got a small sense of what to do better throughout the whole 500 miles and especially if you make it to the last 20 laps or so. How you can pick and choose, set yourself up. You’re just trying to get to those laps and go racing from there. There are things we can learn and apply to this year, hopefully.”
Closing out a race at Daytona would be special to Blaney for two reasons. Not just to see the checkered flag, and hopefully, first, but when dad Dave Blaney was racing, Ryan spent a lot of time in Daytona with his family. There was winter testing and then what at one time was a much longer Speedweeks schedule that culminated with running in the Daytona 500.
“You learn more as you get older about the history of this place and what it means and you start to appreciate it,” Blaney said. “Now to actually be able to drive in the 500 has been really neat. You got to respect what this place means.”