By: Ashley McCubbin
Team Penske was able to place a pair of drivers in the Championship 4 with Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski. Then there was their teammate Ryan Blaney, who ultimately placed ninth in the standings with a win, 11 top-five’s and 17 top-10’s.
However, it was ultimately considered a solid year for the second-generation racer given the circumstances.
“Last year, 2020, was difficult for everybody, not only people in our sport or sports, but everybody around the world in general. So, really, you just had to have a good game plan going into the weekend,” Blaney recalled. “With our time being very limited at the shop, not being able to go in and see everybody and get a normal game plan in person between Todd (Gordon) and I, you have to do that over the phone, which is good, but it’s not ideal.”
While it was his seventh season of NASCAR Cup Series competition, it was his first year with Todd Gordon. Roger Penske aligned the pair together, hoping the crew chief’s experience in leading Logano to a championship in 2018 would help Blaney to reach the same success as his teammates. It is worth noting both Logano and Keselowski have titles to their name, the driver of the No. 12 Ford’s best finish in the standings is a sixth.
“I think about how he kept his poise and what he worked on internally within the races and how he put the races together,” Gordon reflected. “I thought he did a really good job of it. I thought he outperformed my expectations in that respect and really just the raw speed impressed me with what he had. I’d seen it from a sister team for years, but I thought he did a really good job. He could get a lot of speed out of the cars and we learned a lot about what we needed to do. I thought he handled his emotions well. It’s part of the growing up piece and he was competitive.”
Blaney will take aim at the Championship 4 this year once again with Gordon, hoping a year of learning each other and finding their strengths and weaknesses will translate into success. He noted the pair sat down this offseason to discuss those factors, and how they could become stronger.
“Each team is a little bit different, but it’s just been nice to sit back and figure out what we need to do,” he commented. “I thought we had a lot of speed last year; we just didn’t capitalize on a lot of moments. Some of those things we could control and some you couldn’t, but other than our bad first round in the playoffs, the next two rounds were great. It was just a shame we were out of the playoffs.
“I’m looking forward to this year, the second year with the team. I think we’re gonna bring a lot of speed again and it’s just about closing out some of these races that will really, I think, put us over the top where we need to be.”
Blaney feels they have shown speed, but performing better on pit road and during the last quarter of the race will be critical if they want to collect more checkered flags and move forward in the playoffs this season.
“I feel like a handful of them slipped through our fingers last year where we had the fastest car and those ones sting a lot,” he added. “But you just look at those areas and really work on them super hard and try to apply them when you’re in those same situations this year and capitalize on them. That’s the biggest thing. That’s what I think will put our group over the top here this year and hopefully all the hard work in the offseason pays off.”
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Categories: NASCAR Cup Series