By: Cole Cusumano
Photo By: Matthew T. Thacker | Nigel Kinrade Photography
AVONDALE, Ariz. — The NASCAR Cup Series makes its long awaited return to the Valley of the Sun and Phoenix Raceway, but the competition isn’t the only thing heating up this weekend. The first domino has fallen in the superstar-flooded free agency pool as Ryan Blaney inked a multi-year contract extension with Team Penske.
“I am really excited to get that out there,” Blaney told POPULAR SPEED with noticeable relief. “It is something that we have been working on for a little while through the off-season. It is nice to finally announce it and all that stuff. I am really excited to continue with the Penske group for years to come. They have been a great group to me. Mr. Penske, I don’t know that I could ever thank him enough.”
Specifics haven’t been revealed on exactly how long the 26-year-old’s tenure will be. When asked for a little more insight on the extension, Blaney smirked and reiterated coyly, “multi-year.”
The driver of the No. 12 revealed thatcontract talks began well before the season even got started at to Daytona International Speedway. Both Blaney and Mr. Penske were equally pleased where they were at from a performance and professional standpoint.
“I love the people I am around and working with all the teams,” the Ford Performance driver said “I feel like I owe so much to Roger (Penske) for what he has done for me. I just didn’t really see myself, right now, anywhere else.” Blaney also admitted that he did not receive any competing offers from opposing teams, and even if he had, he wouldn’t have entertained the idea of leaving his current team.
The decision makes complete sense as the young driver is officially establishing himself as one of NASCAR’s most exciting and dominant drivers for 2020. Although he may not have the results to show for it in Las Vegas and Fontana, Blaney had a legitimate shot to win every race in this early season.
“We have fired off really good, but you have to keep your cars up to date and keep them fast,” the racing prodigy stated.
Good however, is an understatement. Blaney has led in every race this season for a total of 77 laps, which ranks him fifth among all drivers. He got things started with a runner-up photo finish in the Daytona 500 and had an average running position of fourth and third-place respectively in the previous two races.
“We are doing our job right and the finishes will come,” Blaney said. “We are working together but the big thing is staying on top of it all year. Teams will come around, ones that might be struggling right now will figure it out and be good and we will have to keep getting better ourselves. You can never be truly satisfied with where you are running because teams will continue to get better. You have to stay with the group.”
Looking ahead to Phoenix, this is a track where he has seen much success in recent years. Blaney has won two pole awards at the one-mile speedway – including the Spring race of 2019 – and he finished third in both races last season.
While he does have the results and history to show for his young career at the Arizona-based track, the sport underwent significant changes to the cars and the track itself in an effort to improve the competitive edge.
“It will be interesting to see where we stack up with everybody with this low downforce package,” Blaney said. “That will be the big testament to see.”
The driver of the No. 12 placed 10th in both practice sessions at Phoenix Raceway and qualified fifth for the FanShield 500. History and current trends should spell great things for Blaney in the Grand Canyon State, but the reality is that there is much uncertainty for every team this weekend. One thing is positive, this contract extension solidified by Team Penske was indeed a win for the driver and the organization for years to come.