Ryan Blaney has thrown the gauntlet down on himself for the upcoming NASCAR Cup Series season.
“This will be year five for me full-time — time to start learning a little bit quicker and winning more than one race a year,” Blaney said Monday during a Team Penske press conference at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “You don’t really want to be that guy. (I have to) try to win a lot more and be in contention.”
Such a pointed thought stems from the fact that there will be different pieces in place on the No. 12 Ford Mustang team. On January 6, the organization announced a crew chief shuffle for all three of its drivers, pairing Blaney with Todd Gordon, the 2018 championship-winning crew chief. The road and pit crews are following their respective crew chiefs, meaning Blaney is now working with what was Joey Logano’s No. 22 team.
In two seasons in-house at Penske, Blaney has won just two races. The first was the Charlotte Roval in 2018, and last season he won the Talladega playoff race. Blaney’s pace has been well behind those of teammates Logano and Brad Keselowski, who have a combined 11 wins in that same span.
“You never want to be the last guy,” Blaney admitted. “Yeah, we beat the 2 (Keselowski) in points last year, but he won three races. So, yeah, you don’t want to be a one-win-a-year guy. And people tell me, ‘Well, it’s better than no wins a year.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, but you want to be level with or above your teammates,’ and that’s just a competitor thing.
“I feel like we just have to put some things together, and hopefully, I get a little bit smarter with some stuff. This will be a big year for us — hopefully to keep improving and showing what we can do.”
Like many others, Blaney didn’t expect the changes that were made and felt everyone in the shop needed a day to process the news before it was back to work. Switching things up every now and then can be a good thing, he admitted, and certainly shakes away the complacency some might have fallen into.
“Everyone is getting a great team,” said Blaney. “I’m really looking forward to working with Todd a lot.”
Gordon has no doubt the team can win multiple races this year.
“He’s got a ton of speed,” Gordon told RACER. “I look at it a lot like when Joey came over to the 22 car, similar ages and similar experience at that point. I think he’s got a ton of speed, he’s got talent, and a great part is when we first sat down after the changes got announced, there were things he looked at internally about what he could do differently and (things we could do) as well.
“I have no doubt that we can win multiple races. He was on the front row of the race to race his way into the Final Four at Phoenix on the last restart (last year). The group he had before supported him, did a great job with him; but I really look forward to the opportunity for us to help build him into what he can become. He’s got a ton of talent, and we can help him kind of grow into it.”
Working with someone new will be a challenge, but Blaney believes he can learn from Gordon.
“That whole group won a championship two years ago, and they’re obviously a great team,” said Blaney. “I had a number of great people on my other team, but I’m excited to work with this group now, and we’ll see what we can do.
“I do hope we have a big year.”
Hearing that his new driver put the onus on himself to improve his results has impressed Gordon although his new crew chief knows full well it will be a team effort to turn potential into results.
“If you look internally before you look externally, usually more things get done positively, and that’s a really positive attribute for somebody to have,” Gordon said of Blaney. “He came in talking about things he could work on and that he needed help with; but I think there are a lot of things we can do better, too. So, I’m looking forward to what we can do together.
“It’ll be interesting to see how communication (goes) in the beginning of the year,” Gordon continued. “After seven years with the same guy, it’s a little different, but not that Ryan is a total stranger. (He’s) somebody I’ve been in every team meeting with, and he’s heard everything we’ve had to talk about. We’ve been to the simulator, we’ve worked through some things.
“I look forward to the opportunity and what we can do. I think it can be a great year for the 12 team.”