NASCAR Cup Series
Championship 4 Vow to Race Respectful and Hard at Phoenix
Nov 2, 2023
Ryan Blaney has been the best performing driver in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs over the last three races, and now he feels the momentum that he and his team are carrying into Phoenix is a major piece of the puzzle to winning a championship.
Ryan Blaney has always had the raw talent needed to put on a show behind the wheel of a race car. His talent has never been the question. However, his confidence from time to time over the years has seemed to wane. It's not waning this time around. Heading into Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series Championship Race at Phoenix Raceway, Blaney is confident in his chances of hoisting the Bill France Cup.
"I think what we've been doing the last three weeks, we're plenty capable of winning the championship. The execution we've had has been pretty remarkable," Blaney explained during Thursday's Championship 4 Media Day. "I feel like we had the best speed and best races out of anybody in the round of eight. You just hope to keep doing that. Our group can."
Despite being eliminated in the Round of 8 of the Playoffs last season, Blaney learned a lot in that Playoff run. After finishing second in the finale a year ago to his teammate Joey Logano, who went on to win the Championship, Blaney felt if he could just get back to Phoenix actually alive in the championship hunt, he could contend. Now, he's here, and in the Championship 4.
"This group is definitely poised to do it. We had a good shot at it last year," Blaney said. "I think we learned from what kept us from winning a championship last year and have been able to apply it this year. Just have to go do our job Sunday."
Blaney is confident in himself. He's confident in his crew chief Jonathan Hassler. He is confident in his team. He's confident in the entire package.
I mean, you're always trying to find things that you can do that make you better, whether they're speed on the track, whether they're at the race shop, preparation, things as a driver. You just hope all those things come together at some point, and they all complement each other.
I think that's what's going on right now, is everything is playing off of each other, everyone is doing their job really well right now and their confidence is high. All those things have kind of culminated into this moment, this weekend.
It's one of those things that, like, you try and try to do every year, but it's hard to do. It's hard to get all those pieces together where everyone is running on all cylinders.
Our group is definitely firing on all cylinders right now. Proud of them for that, for sure.
Feeling confident is one thing, coming through and winning on the biggest stage is another thing altogether. Blaney says that he and his crew chief Jonathan Hassler have been going through every little detail in their prep work leading into Sunday's big race. They usually do, but this time, it's much more extensive, Blaney noted on Thursday.
A championship is on the line, and it's on the line at a place where Team Penske, and Blaney in particular have been so good at in the Next Gen car. Through three starts at the 1-mile oval in the desert, Blaney has an average finish of 2.7 in the Next Gen car. A win is coming.
"Yeah, this track kind of fits what we do in this car especially," Blaney stated. "Even in years past we've been strong here in the older generation car. But especially this Next Gen car, we've been really strong. Had a great shot to win this thing in the fall last year. Had a good shot to win it in the spring this year. Hopefully, you can bring that same speed and build on what you learned.
"But, yeah, whatever we do at our shop just kind of fits this place. I feel like we've always done a really good job no matter what size track. If two different ends of the speedway are very different, we do a good job of making both pretty good."
Blaney continued by saying, "Yeah, just fits kind of our thought process. That's pretty nice. Hopefully, we can finally win one here. We've been close a couple times."
Another thing that Blaney feels is in his favor for this weekend's race is the extended 50-minute practice session for the event.
"It's nice to have more practice somewhere we're not really used to. It reminds me of the old days," Blaney said. "Three sets of tires, 50 minutes. You can make three runs on a new set every time and kind of really get a good read. That's what we did last year. That was kind of our plan. We did three 20-lap runs on our sticker set, you get a great read on how your stuff is, how it fires off, where it goes."
He feels being allotted time to experiment on his car, and get things fully dialed in really suits his style, and the style of his crew chief Hassler.
"I think the longer practice does help. Gives you more freedom to kind of change more stuff up in the garage area," Blaney added. "So you have to open that box back up from what we're used to doing week in, week out, being limited on changes on pit road. Now with this practice, you have more options to change. You have to come up with a little bit different notebook of how you plan on going, what changes you want to try.
"That part switches it up a little bit from my standpoint of, hey, we can actually try these things. When I talked to Jonathan about it, that switches up Jonathan's thought process, too. We have this option now."
If Blaney could pick up the win, and the championship on Sunday at Phoenix Raceway, it would mark the second-consecutive NASCAR Cup Series championship for Team Penske, something the organization has never accomplished in its storied history.