LONG POND, Pa. – For Ryan Blaney, coming back to Pocono Raceway for this weekend’s Pocono 400 is a feeling unlike any other he’ll experience on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series circuit this season.
After all, it marks the one-year anniversary of his first Cup Series victory, which came last June for the legendary Wood Brothers in a thrilling finish.
Blaney passed Kyle Busch with 10 laps remaining and then held off a hard-charging Kevin Harvick to secure the breakthrough win, the 99th of the Woods’ tenure as team owners at the Cup level.
Now, a year later, a year wiser and with a new organization in Team Penske, Blaney hopes he can replicate his 2017 success with another big victory on Sunday afternoon.
“It is always nice to come back to a place you have had success at and won at. It gives you confidence as a driver and as a whole team, everyone’s confidence is up,” said Blaney. “Obviously you want to repeat that. You want to win every week, but when you come back to a place where you have had success that definitely is nice, especially after the last couple of weeks that we’ve had.”
Blaney’s wish for positive momentum comes after rough outings at both Kansas Speedway and Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, where he crashed and had an engine expire, respectively.
“We have struggled the last couple of races after having fast cars. That is almost like an extra slap in the face when you have fast cars and have problems like that,” noted Blaney. “It just makes it that much worse. The good news is we do have fast cars right now and it’s just a matter of putting everything together, from not getting into accidents to breaking. We need to get on the right track here and we are poised to do that. … It’s just a matter of getting the monkey off our back.
“We have two good tracks for us in Pocono and Michigan where we typically run pretty decent and have fast cars,” he added. “Hopefully we can have two strong runs and maybe get a win before the break.”
Blaney’s love for racing in the Pocono Mountains comes in part from his past success at the 2.5-mile, three-turn triangle, where he’s been victorious in both the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series as well as the Cup Series.
He also has many fond memories from his childhood of the facility as well.
“I have always enjoyed this place. We won a truck race here in 2013 and I have always liked coming here. I think it is really unique,” shared Blaney. “Then you jump in the Cup car and it is even more special, because you are shifting a couple times a lap … and that makes it more unique in how you shift and where you do it. It makes it more difficult, but I have always enjoyed the challenge.
“I came up here and watched my dad run a lot throughout the years growing up. I made my first start in a race car at the dirt track out there outside of turn three. That is where I made my first quarter midget start,” Blaney added. “This place has always been special. We always have a lot of family at this race. I have enjoyed it for a long time and it suits the way we like to setup the race car and the way I drive. It seems to come together and we seem to be able to put together some decent runs.”
What would a repeat win mean on Sunday for Blaney?
“It would be big,” he said. “Winning for Roger (Penske) … that’s a huge thing that I’ve been fortunate to accomplish already in the Xfinity Series, but to do it at the Cup level would be something really special. We’re working hard to get there, that’s for sure.”