The next installment of a weekly series with members from Team Penske.
As part of Motorsport.com’s content partnership with Team Penske, we will provide fans with exclusive content each week from the organization’s drivers, crew members and staff throughout the 2017 season.
This week, we talk to Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Ryan Blaney, who will make his season debut for Team Penske in the Xfinity Series this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway.
Q: Now that you are full-time in the Cup series, what are the benefits of driving in the Xfinity Series?
Blaney: I think what any driver wants is more track time and that’s why a lot of Cup drivers want to run Xfinity and Trucks is to help prepare them for Sunday. At a place like Phoenix, I think it’s a great place to start. I can’t say the Cup and Xfinity cars drive very similar but it’s nice to know ow the track is and you might pick up something in the race that can help you. It’s nice to get some more track time, more seat team and more experience is always a benefit.
Q: You have never run a full season in Xfinity, but you have been a part of Team Penske winning owner’s championships. What was that like for you?
Blaney: I got started in 2012 and in 2013 was the first year we won the championship. It was just really special to be a part of it. I didn’t do that many races that year, but I was able to contribute more in 2014 and 2015, that makes you feel pretty good. To share the titles with Brad (Keselowski) and Joey (Logano) – that was neat to get their take on things and see how they like their cars. That helped me out a lot when I was just running part-time in Xfinity. We were strong at that time period, I was just getting started (in my NASCAR career) and it was awesome to be a part of an organization like that. It kind of spoiled me to be honest.
Q: You first worked with your current Cup crew chief, Jeremy Bullins, while you were running in Xfinity. How did that time together help develop the relationship you have in the Cup series today?
Blaney: It’s helped a ton. Any driver will tell you that communication between themselves and their crew chief is a huge deal. Being with Jeremy since I’ve been with Penske, and really in the NASCAR ranks, it’s been a big benefit on the Cup side. Granted, it’s a lot more work and it’s different but being able to become friends with him off the track – that’s a big part of it, too. It kind of makes you be honest with him and it helps make it feel less like a job. It feels like something that’s a lot of fun.
Q: Team owners like Roger Penske and Joe Gibbs have pointed out how important their Xfinity programs are to developing talent, whether it’s crew members or drivers. Now that you’re in Cup, can you see where that commitment adds to the organization?
Blaney: It certainly does. Jeremy came from the Xfinity side and now he’s a Cup crew chief. Andrea Mueller, she was an engineer on the No. 22 Xfinity car for a while and now she’s a Cup engineer. We grow a lot of people from the Xfinity side and sometimes even from Brad’s Truck teams. That’s where we really build and mold personnel. It’s a great starting point for them.
Q: Penske has had Discount Tire as an Xfinity sponsor since 2010 and all four of your series wins have come with them as sponsor of your car. How special would it be to win at Phoenix, their home track?
Blaney: The relationship with Discount Tires has been great and it’s been amazing to get to know those guys over the years. They are a very unique company. They put an event in Lake Tahoe once a year and they invite 300 to 400 employees out there and treat them for three or four days. I don’t know a lot of companies that do that. They have shown a tremendous commitment to the racing industry and especially to the Penske group. You see that a lot with Penske, with sponsors like Pennzoil and Miller Lite. They keep their sponsors for a long time. It means a lot that they continue to stick by us and it would be really cool to get them a win at their home track.