Ford Performance NASCAR: Team Penske Media Day (Blaney and Keselowski)

RYAN BLANEY, No. 12 Menards Ford Mustang – WHERE DO YOU THINK YOU AND TODD CAN BUILD THE MOST IN YOUR SECOND SEASON TOGETHER? “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. 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 and I, you have to do that over the phone, which is good, but it’s not ideal. So, you just work around that, but Todd and I we’ve sat down this offseason and figured out, ‘OK, what areas were we really good at and let’s continue to keep those very strong areas, but where are areas, more importantly, where we struggled and what can we do to improve those. Let’s talk about what we can do to make those better.’ Each team is a little bit different, but it’s just been nice to sit back and figure out what we need to do. 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.”

BRAD KESELOWSKI, No. 2 Discount Tire Ford Mustang – WHERE DO YOU AND JEREMY LOOK TO BUILD FOR 2021? “Trying to of course get one more spot. I thought it was a really good year to run as competitively as we did and to win four races, just haven’t been able to hit a couple of marks that I want to hit with respect to winning another championship and winning the Daytona 500, winning in my home state of Michigan. Those are certainly some buckets I look to fill up or boxes to check off the list, but still I was really proud of winning the Coke 600. I’m one crown jewel away from having them all, which is really cool and special for me. It means a lot to me personally, so that’s definitely on the list is trying to get Daytona to come together and not get wrecked, but I think the team is pretty good and really happy with a lot of people I’m working with. Jeremy has got an incredible attitude that is really healthy for our team and it was a really fresh, new challenge for me personally last year. I’m still have hunger and eagerness to achieve more results and that opportunity is coming up real quick here in the next few weeks, so nothing is taken for granted. Everything has to be earned. That’s not a shocker to anybody listening here today, and I’m willing to put in the work and I feel like I have a team that is hungry and willing to put in the work as well. It’s really an exciting time for us.”

WHEN DID YOU GET THE CONFIDENCE TO MAKE THE RIGHT MOVES AT DAYTONA COMPARED TO A YOUNGER DRIVER? “Like anything, confidence goes up and down. Probably the biggest thing for your confidence is having a really fast race car. I’ve been on both sides of that at Daytona and Talladega. When you don’t have a fast car none of your moves work, and then your confidence just really goes down the toilet. And then when you have a really fast race car all of your moves work. All of a sudden I can pull out and just pass people and it’s like, ‘What so hard about this?’ So I think ultimately your confidence in most forms of racing somewhat starts with the speed in your car and then as you get the reps and the experience that goes with it, the two can really add up quite quickly. I think that’s where it really starts and I’ve been fortunate to have a great team and some really great cars. I’ve have some bad cars too at Daytona and Talladega and that can be frustrating, but over the last few years I’ve had really good cars at Daytona and I’m very thankful for that.”

RYAN BLANEY CONTINUED – WHEN DID YOU GAIN THAT CONFIDENCE AS A DRIVER? “Brad said it really well. It can almost vary week to week. If your cars are really fast, it feels like everything you’re doing is right, but then there are some weeks where it feels like you can’t do anything right. That can eat away at people, and that’s with anything it’s not just motorsports, sports, it’s with anything. If you’re doing something right, you have all the confidence in the world, but some days it’s just not your day and your confidence kind of goes down. I feel like some of that is trying to forget the bad days very quickly and then focus on the task at hand the next week and just try to keep your confidence up to a level to where you know that you’re working hard enough and can do it from an athlete side and you have a lot of confidence in your team, too. It’s a whole group of people that needs to have their confidence up, but it definitely does take time coming into this sport when you’re really young. You might not have the confidence that guys who have been in it for a while, just because you’re new to it, and I think that does come with time. That’s something I’ve been trying to work on. I’m not the most confident person in the world, but that’s something that you need that just kind of boosts your morale. You just have to remember that and you’ve got to keep that high because when your confidence is high, your team’s confidence is high and then usually you run really well.”

WE SAW A CLIP OF THE NETFLIX SHOW “THE CREW”. WHAT WAS YOUR EXPERIENCE LIKE FILMING THAT COMPARED TO MAGNUM PI AND TAKEN IN YEARS PAST? “That’s something I went up there and filmed about this time last year up in New York – upstate New York. I thought that was a lot of fun. I’ve had some cool opportunities to go do a couple little TV shows from that Taken deal, a little action show where we’re shooting blank guns, and then the Magnum PI thing, and then The Crew. Getting to meet Kevin James. I’m a big fan of his. I love the King of Queens, really, really funny guy, just a great person. A lot of the writers on that show I got to meet and the director and they do a really good job of getting a lot of information before they started writing the show. I think they do a really good job of what I saw of kind of how interiors and like how the race shops work. They asked a lot of questions. They went to a lot of teams and they weren’t just winging it. I think they did a good job. It’s a sitcom. It’s a live audience sitcom, but I thought it was good. It’s a pretty light-hearted show that we were able to be a part of and Cole Custer is part of it too in another episode with me. But I thought it was good. I saw some people writing bad stuff about it, some reporters writing bad stuff about it, but I didn’t really agree with that. It’s supposed to be a light-hearted, funny, sitcom show in front of a live audience and I think they did good. They’re not really trying to make us look bad, they’re just doing something that is going to be, I think it’s really gonna get people watching NASCAR. I mean, how many subscribers does Netflix have and there are gonna be a lot of episodes on that, so that was a really good time meeting those people and talking to them and being able to kind of tell them what we do. It’s a shame because in 2020 they were gonna come out to the track and do some filming and then do some research as well and obviously that didn’t happen with Covid, but it was a really cool experience. I hope the show does great. I’m really looking forward to when it starts coming out and you guys can watch episodes because it’s really funny, but at the same time it does get informative about the sport and I think they do a really good mixture of the two.”

HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO YOU FOR IT TO BE AUTHENTIC TO WHAT NASCAR IS? “I think it’s important. You’ve got to have a good mixture. There are different types of sports shows, documentaries. You have the Drive to Survive, which was great and that was reality. That’s cameras being at the racetrack interviewing the teams and such. With The Crew it is a good mixture of they’re not interviewing drivers and teams, it’s just not that kind of show at all, but they’re not making fun of NASCAR by any means. They’re not trying to make fun of us. They are having fun with a really good show that is gonna bring comedy to people and make people laugh, but at the same time they’re not making a mockery out of NASCAR. They did a good job of really doing their research and then sprinkling in details of how a little bit of shop stuff works on the sponsorship side. Yeah, they might have some jokes in there, but it’s all in good fun. I don’t get upset with it at all, so I think they did a good job of combining all those things.”

BRAD KESELOWSKI CONTINUED — THERE ARE A LOT OF CHANGES IN THE CUP SCHEDULE. IS THERE ONE CHANGE YOU’RE LOOKING FORWARD TO OR ONE THAT WILL HAVE A BIGGER IMPACT ON THE SEASON? “I guess I’m looking forward to Nashville, mostly because I want to see if they’re bringing the guitar trophy back. That was always one of the coolest trophies in racing and not going back to Nashville that was the thing that probably hurt the most was not having a shot to win that guitar. So, I’m hoping they’ll bring the guitar trophy back. Of course, Sam Bass was the one who designed it and took care of it every year and we miss him an awful amount, but I’d love to see that trophy come back. That was always very, very special. Just for pure selfish reasons I’m gonna say Nashville for the guitar trophy. That’s what I’m looking forward to the most. And we want racetracks, by the way, with cool trophies. That should be the rule. You can’t get a new race unless you have a really cool trophy, not like one of these out at the dime store, it’s got to be a really cool trophy. That should be a prerequisite in my mind, but I’m very much looking forward to going back to Nashville.”

RYAN BLANEY CONTINUED – “I think we’re going to some really neat and new venues with Circuit of the Americas, going up to Road America – first time the Cup cars up there, so that will be really good. Nashville, like Brad said. The Bristol Dirt Race will be very interesting. I’m not sure what to expect from that. I’m excited for it, but I’m not sure what to expect, but I think it will put on a pretty good show. I think Circuit of the Americas will be really neat. I’m looking forward to that one. That’s obviously a great area down there in Austin, Texas, a beautiful racetrack. I was able to visit it one of the first years it got operational for the X Games. I went out and watched it. I didn’t get to see the whole track, but that looks like a great venue and a good area for sure. Some of the venues we’re going to, maybe that area has never had a NASCAR race before like Austin, so it brings in a whole new kind of town of people that can come watch a NASCAR event. That and Road America I’m excited for because everyone up there in Wisconsin, they love NASCAR racing. I was there for an XFINITY race a handful of years ago and it was packed. I think that place is really deserving of a Cup race, so those are the ones I’m really looking forward to, but really all of them. You ask any driver any time you go to a new track you’re looking forward to kind of going there and seeing what the challenge is all about.”

BRAD KESELOWSKI CONTINUED – THERE HAVE BEEN A LOT OF SAFETY CHANGES THE LAST 20 YEARS. DO YOU WAIT FOR NASCAR TO MANDATE A CHANGE BEFORE YOU DO SOMETHING AND HOW MUCH DO YOU RESEARCH ANY SORT OF PROPOSAL OF LIKE A CHANGE IN THE BELTS OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT? “First off, there’s pretty strict rules on pretty much every piece of safety equipment, so that said, because those rules are so tight most of them require approval before you can engage them. So, there have been a number of potential new safety items have come out over the last few years that I would have liked to have been able to try out and experiment with, but, according to the rules, you’re not allowed to. That kind of puts just by the very nature of it the emphasis on NASCAR to be the ones that develop it and set out a timeline for approval. Whether that’s head and neck restraint devices, concussion devices, helmets, etc., when a new safety device comes out it’s really not even an option for me to use it until NASCAR has approved it. That said, once there is an approval we look at everything. The second they make an approval, the team gets some kind of notification, whether it’s virtual or verbal – one of the two – or document I should say is probably the better way, and we look at everything immediately. We’ve got a great guy at Team Penske, Dave Kenny that’s in charge of our safety department on driver safety and development of all those kinds of things on the NASCAR side. He’s an incredible resource. He’s probably the best in the business and I’m so thankful. That guy has probably personally saved my life at least once or twice, so he does a great job staying on top of all that stuff and it’s one of the things I’m probably most proud of at Team Penske.”

RYAN BLANEY CONTINUED — WHAT WILL IT TAKE FOR YOU TO WIN THE DAYTONA 500 THIS YEAR? “Our Penske cars have always been really fast on the superspeedways. I feel like Brad’s been one of the best plate racers for a long time, for sure, and we’ve been pretty decent at them here the last couple years. As the rules change, really, as the cars change on the speedways it’s not what it was a couple years ago with big spoilers on them. The runs are so much different. You don’t really see any of that air blocking going on anymore. The leader can’t really control the race as well as what they used to, so that’s made it very difficult to all of a sudden become a great plate racer and really be able to control the race. At the end of the day, if your car is really fast, I feel like myself, Brad, Joey and Matt DiBenedetto work really well together on the plate tracks. That’s what it takes is a lot of teamwork and a lot of other Fords actually working together too. We’ve been close to the 500 a couple times. We lost it by a couple feet last year and ran second in 2017 there too, so just try to make it through that whole day. That’s the biggest hurdle you have to make is just trying to get to the end and having a shot to win it. You never know what can happen. You could get involved in someone else’s mess early on and all of a sudden your hopes are ruined, so that’s the biggest hurdle. But I have confidence in our cars that we’re gonna show up to the 500 very fast and just trying to get to the end and having a shot at it is really all you can ask for.”

BRAD KESELOWSKI CONTINUED – “I think Ryan answered it pretty well. After the rules change, I guess in ’18 or ’19 I can’t remember what year it was, the race at Daytona specifically – the 500 – really turned into a crashfest. You had little to no ability to kind of control the race as the leader and since that’s happened I think there’s been more of an emphasis on riding in the back, surviving and we’ve seen that be very successful. So, I think survival is just really key. You have to be there at the end. I think the amazing thing, Denny has won three of the last four or something like that there, but what’s more amazing than the fact he won three out of four races is the fact he was around at three of the four races because the wrecks there have just been atrocious. Just surviving those wrecks is a statistical anomaly multiple times, so just try to go there and recognize the fact that you’re most likely going to wreck, but if you don’t wreck and you’re around at the end, you need to capitalize on it. Unfortunately, for me I think the last four years I’ve been caught up in somebody else’s wreck. I’m looking forward to the opportunity of hopefully not getting caught up in somebody else’s wreck and if that happens, capitalizing.”

HOW DO YOU FEEL THE LACK OF EXPERIENCE WITH SOME DRIVERS COULD AFFECT THE RACE AND IS IT TIME FOR NASCAR TO TOUGHEN THE STANDARDS OF WHAT IT TAKES TO DRIVE IN THE DAYTONA 500 AND CUP SERIES IN GENERAL? “There are parts that I think are good and part that I think are bad about that. I think in some ways it makes the racing more compelling and more fun to watch because it’s less predictable when you have less capable drivers to some degree. I can remember watching some of the lower levels races as I was growing up on short tracks and they were the best races because everyone was all over the racetrack and it was crazy. Then you’d watch the professional series roll out and it was kind of like, ‘Well, this is kind of boring,’ because when you’re a pro you shouldn’t have a lot of exciting moments if you’re under control. So with respect to that, there’s an argument to that, but then on the other side of it there’s something to be said for watching the best race car drivers on the planet, and I think there are on any given weekend, if you look at our fields, there are probably the bottom 10-15 drivers are probably not what you would consider the best drivers in the world. I’d like to see as a pure competitor I’d like to see that change, but ultimately that’s not my decision. That’s NASCAR’s decision. I’d love to see the hotshot guy that’s running in name your series, whether it’s dirt or Indy Car or anything else, I’d love to see those guys have a real opportunity because I think it just lends credence to the belief that the best racing and the best race car drivers are competing on that day in that series. But that’s not the format and ultimately it’s not my decision, it’s NASCAR’s.”

THIS WILL BE YOUR NINTH SEASON AS A TEAMMATE WITH JOEY. HOW HAS THAT RELATIONSHIP EVOLVED OVER THE YEARS AND HOW IMPORTANT ARE THOSE ONE-ON-ONE CONVERSATIONS IMPORTANT FOR THE SUCCESS OF NOT ONLY THE 2 TEAM BUT TEAM PENSKE OVERALL? “I think in a lot of ways Joey Logano when he came to Cup with Team Penske, he had been at Joe Gibbs Racing, he immediately made me a better driver with a number of weakness I had. I don’t think I was a very good qualifier. The things I was doing on the plate tracks some were good and some were bad, and he taught me a few good habits. He definitely made me up my game on restarts, so overall I think he’s made me better and I would hope that he would feel the same way that I challenged him to be better in other ways. So, I think that’s ultimately as a team owner that would be your goal is that you would have two teammates that make each other better, and I’m sure Roger Penske would say the same thing about the Indy Car side. Ultimately, all the drivers should make each other better. Ryan is on the phone here today, but even if he wasn’t I would say he’s made me better. He’s made me push harder on a lot of different fronts. I wish I had his talent, but with respect to that that’s a good thing, I think, ultimately for Team Penske.”

RYAN BLANEY CONTINUED — HOW DID THE IRACING PRO INVITATIONAL HELP THE SPORT AND HOW CAN THAT ATTRACT NEW FANS TO THE SPORT? “I thought the iRacing Pro Invitational deal when everything was shut down was a good way to try to get all the Cup, XFINITY, Truck drivers in a race and give something for people to watch on TV. I thought they did a really good job of putting it on television and streaming it live on the internet whenever you wanted to watch it and have us all race. I don’t really iRace that much, so I was pretty bad at it, but it was fun to do it. It gave people something to watch because that’s when no sports were going on. There were no sporting events going on, so I thought it did a good job and I think it got a lot of people into iRacing. When there was nothing to watch on TV, no sports, people would tune into that iRace and maybe they didn’t know about it were like, ‘Oh, let me check that out,’ maybe get a rig and then start watching NASCAR. I think it was good. They came out today or yesterday that they’re gonna do, I think, 10 iRacing events this year sprinkled throughout the year between Fox and NBC and I think that’s good. I think it’s a good thing to do and it just gives a little bit different perspective and something to do throughout the week. So I think it was smart, but it was a great idea that NASCAR and the teams brought up and the networks of doing it in that pandemic. That’s really what has kind of brought it to what it is now and I think they did a good job. It was nice to be a part of it and it’s nice that they’re still doing it.”

BRAD KESELOWSKI CONTINUED – “I don’t know that I have a ton to add to that. It’s great to see us be creative. It was good for NASCAR to be able to do those things and fulfill some of our commitments to TV and the rights holders and I’m glad some people enjoyed it along the way.”

RYAN BLANEY CONTINUED – CAN YOU EXPLAIN HOW HARD IT IS TO CLOSE OUT THESE RACES AND GET A COUPLE MORE WINS ON THE BOARD? “That’s the toughest part. Leading laps is one thing, but then when it comes down to the end of these races how everyone performs the last quarter of the race and me performing on pit road and them performing it all comes together. I think there was just some things we could clean up altogether, whether it was me cleaning up some stuff, try to get pit road a little bit better, some calls maybe didn’t work out whether it was staying out or pitting. A lot of those things are just racing, but there are things you can really improve and, like I said earlier, we sat down – me and Todd Gordon sat down – and really pinpointed the things that I thought we could improve on to help close out those races when we’re in a position to win. 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, 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.”

DO YOU FEEL IT’S YOUR TIME TO JUMP INTO NASCAR’S ELITE? “Yeah, I definitely think so. With Chase winning the championship last year, that was a great accomplishment for him. I’m selfish. I would have liked Team Penske to win it between Brad or Joey and they came close, but I’m 27. It’s time to get rolling here and winning multiple races throughout the season and try to make it to the Championship 4. That’s something I haven’t done yet, so it’s definitely time to step up and I think we have all the right tools in place to do so, it’s just about applying all of them and really capitalizing on moments like great athletes and great players do they capitalize on big moments and that’s just what we have to put in our heads and put in our minds. This team is plenty capable of doing it, it’s just about really making it happen and, like I said, just capitalizing on the opportunities. That’s the biggest thing. I think it’s a really good time in the sport right now. There are a lot of younger drivers in their twenties and then there are a lot of amazing champions that are in this sport that really make it a great mixture and it’s very competitive every single week. That’s something that I think we can break through, hopefully, in the 2021 season.”

BRAD KESELOWSKI CONTINUED – IS IT IMPORTANT FOR YOU TO CONTINUE TO ESTABLISH YOUR DOMINANCE AMONG THE NEXT GENERATION OF DRIVERS COMING UP? “I guess that could mean different things. I don’t really think about next generations. Honestly, I think about myself and being selfish with respect to just trying to put numbers on the board and trying to not take my position in this sport for granted. I think you look at last year we were able to do that and I think that’s my mentality every step of the way.”

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of


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