DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney has led laps, won stages and contended to win in each of his last three Daytona 500 appearances.
He was the runner-up to Kurt Busch in 2017, led the most laps in 2018 before crashing out late in the race and he won the second stage last year before, again, being wrecked out in the waning laps.
In short, Blaney has done everything in the Daytona 500, except win the race.
And while he’s hoping to change that on Sunday afternoon during the 62nd edition of NASCAR’s Super Bowl, the 26-year-old was quick to note he doesn’t necessarily feel a sense of urgency just because he’s yet to hoist the Harley J. Earl Trophy.
“We’ve had a couple decent runs here, but honestly it’s almost a luck of the draw type of deal as far as if you’re going to get to the end or not,” Blaney told SPEED SPORT during Daytona 500 Media Day on Wednesday. “We ran second here once and led a bunch of laps in ’18, but you never know what can happen. We got tore up in this race with 10 to go last year, just being part of the mess and getting plowed into it. It is a really big toss up of the hat, especially now.”
Why does Blaney feel this year’s 500 is more of a wild-card race than ever before?
He drew his answer back to the revamped NASCAR Cup Series superspeedway package, implemented for the three draft races outside of last year’s Great American Race, which has served up more lead changes and bigger runs from behind in the draft than many of the years prior at Daytona and Talladega.
“I feel like the leader can’t control the race as well as they used to. We talked about that last year with this package; it is really hard to control the race,” Blaney noted. “I think it will be even more of a difficult thing to find yourself in the right spot this year, but I think our car has been pretty decent … and we’re just trying to get ourselves to the end of the race to have a shot at it.
“You want to get towards the end and see the front and have a shot at the win; that’s all you can ask for when you come to these (superspeedway races).”
Blaney feels the newer package has somewhat lessened the advantage for an organization like Team Penske, traditionally known for building bullet-fast cars for races at both Daytona (Fla.) Int’l Speedway and its sister track, Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.
“You used to be able to see a dominant car for the day that could get out front and block lanes and lead. Penske was a big part of that,” Blaney said. “I feel like when Brad and Joey won all those speedway races a handful of years ago, we had great speedway cars … and we still do, but it is so hard to block lanes now. The runs are so big and there is no air bubble anymore. It is tougher to find a dominant car out there.
“There were a couple cars I saw in the Clash that were really fast … but if they got to the front I don’t know if they could have held (the lead) because the runs are so big. We’ll find out on Sunday, but it’s harder to control a race now like that.”
That doesn’t mean his goal has changed, however. Armed with new crew chief Todd Gordon, who led Joey Logano to the 2015 Daytona 500 victory, Blaney will chase his maiden win in the event on Sunday.
“It’s our biggest day, and certainly our biggest race,” he said. “It’s one that we all want to win, and hopefully we can be that team at the end of 500 miles on Sunday afternoon.”
The 62nd annual Daytona 500 takes the green flag Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET, live on FOX, the Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.
Stay tuned to SPEED SPORT for all the latest Daytona Speedweeks news.