HAMPTON, Ga. – Even though he entered Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points leader for the first time in his career, Ryan Blaney isn’t worried about being on top of the heap.
Blaney, who moved over to Team Penske during the offseason after driving for the legendary Wood Brothers for three years, led the most laps and won a stage during the season-opening Daytona 500 on Feb. 18.
Combined with his Can-Am Duel win (which paid 10 points) and a seventh-place finishing position in ‘The Great American Race,’ Blaney’s overall performance through the week allowed him to escape Daytona Int’l Speedway with a total of 58 points, despite the fact that he was involved in the ‘Big One’ with two laps to go that set up overtime.
That placed him eight markers clear of Penske teammate Joey Logano, but when Blaney was told of that fact, he shook his head in surprise before responding that he “didn’t really care all that much.”
“I’ll be honest with you, I haven’t even looked at the points. If you wouldn’t have told me, I wouldn’t even have known I was the points leader,” Blaney admitted. “(The points lead) isn’t somewhere you’re gonna be sitting for 37 weeks. You just try to go out there and do the best you can.”
Blaney added that part of the deception of being the points leader after the Daytona 500 is the fact that restrictor plate racing can be a lottery at times due to the draft, meaning that the upcoming stretch of downforce race tracks will give a better indication of who the early-season contenders will be.
“We haven’t really raced yet. We haven’t gone to a track where you’re working on your car throughout practice to try to get it to handle and handle on long runs,” said Blaney. “At Daytona you do a little bit of that, but it’s not like here or Vegas or Phoenix, so I haven’t even paid attention to that. I’ve just tried to focus on how we can go to Atlanta and have a good run, and go try to win the race. That was really my main focus (this week).”
“I want to win races, and the points thing is really last on my mind for now, unless we get closer to playoff time and I don’t have a win. That’s when you start focusing on the points, but definitely early in the season you just want to get a win and try to start the season off on the right foot.”
Blaney struggled in qualifying and will start 26th, but was eighth-fastest in final practice Saturday in Atlanta.