Blaney does rare burnout to celebrate sliding into next round of NASCAR’s playoffs


Early in his NASCAR career, Ryan Blaney didn’t do a celebratory burnout following a victory, a decision that caught the attention of Hall of Fame crew chief Dale Inman.

“Dale Inman pulled me aside one day, and he said, ‘Hey, you don’t see the winner of the Kentucky Derby get off his horse and start beating the (crap) out of it,’” Blaney recalled. “So that’s why I don’t do burnouts. I didn’t do a burnout after one race, and he was like, ‘I like how you don’t do burnouts.’ And then he told me that story.”

Blaney expects a tongue-lashing this week from Inman when he speaks to the crew chief who led Richard Petty to a record seven NASCAR championships. After all, Blaney did a burnout on Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway.

Couldn’t help himself.

“You know what that means?” spotter Josh Williams radioed Blaney.

“Round ’o eight, baby,” Blaney replied, dragging out the syllables.

Blaney’s win at Talladega, where he held off Kevin Harvick in a drag race to the finish line by 0.012 seconds, took all the pressure off headed to this Sunday’s elimination race at The Roval at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Four drivers will be cut from the playoff field, and Blaney joined William Byron as the only two drivers already locked into the round of eight. Blaney did it with a third career victory at Talladega, which tied him with NASCAR Hall of Famers Cale Yarborough, David Pearson and Davey Allison as well as Penske teammate Joey Logano.

It marked just the second time in eight full Cup Series seasons that Blaney has won multiple races in the same year. He now gets a week on cruise control while six other drivers are fighting to keep their seasons rolling.

Byron, who dates Blaney’s youngest sister, gloated to Blaney ahead of Sunday’s race that he had no stress for the first time ever at the always unpredictable Alabama track. Byron bragged about how much fun he planned to have.

“You kind of just feel free,” said Blaney, who is in the round of eight for the fifth time in eight years and is Team Penske’s only championship contender after 2022 champion Joey Logano was eliminated in the first round.

Blaney is indeed free in how he races on Charlotte’s hybrid road course/oval, where he won the 2015 inaugural race. Blaney is really good on The Roval, with four top-nine finishes in five races, but he and the No. 12 Ford team can attack the race any way they want, a strategy he will develop with crew chief Jonathan Hassler this week.

“You go try to win the race next week for sure, but maybe you can be a little bit more aggressive on stages. Maybe you flip to stages and try to go win the race instead of having to go get points in the stages,” Blaney said. “I feel like a lot of guys are going to have to do that if they’re on that agenda of being close to the cutline, so it just kind of changes the way you approach it.”

The four drivers below the cutline are Tyler Reddick and Bubba Wallace, both of 23XI Racing, Ross Chastain, the championship runner-up last year to Logano, and Kyle Busch, who likely needs to win Sunday to avoid elimination.

Although Reddick trails Brad Keselowski by only two points for the eighth and final spot in the next round, 23XI finds itself in a disappointing spot after getting both of its cars into the playoffs. It is the first playoff berth for Wallace, who was frustrated with his 23rd-place finish at Talladega.

Wallace said “I fumbled the bag” following his underwhelming session. The stress was evident and Wallace engaged in a lengthy conversation with Michael Jordan, co-owner of 23XI Racing. The global superstar was clearly trying to encourage his drivers: Jordan grabbed Wallace behind his neck, placed his hand on his shoulder, and later pulled him in for a hug.

Blaney gets a week of respite from that sort of tension. But then it’s right back on because Blaney has never before made it to the championship round.

And this is a weird season for Penske’s last standing car. Blaney has just five top-five finishes this season, his lowest total in six years. But, two of those finishes are wins and victories trump all, especially at this time of the season.

Hassler said the No. 12 Ford has lacked speed all year but he believed progress has been made. He’s excited, he said, for the opening race of the round of eight at Las Vegas.

Hassler finds Vegas to be very similar to Charlotte’s oval, where Blaney won earlier this season in NASCAR’s crown jewel Coca-Cola 600. That flash in Charlotte and now his win at Talladega have given Blaney a chance to look ahead at Las Vegas as the track that makes him a true contender.

He’s not really shown to be one of NASCAR’s dominant drivers this season — Byron, for example, has triple the amount of wins as Blaney with a series-best six — but should he break through one more round, Hassler believes the No. 22 team has a chance.

“We’re just going to keep working and if we have a chance to get to Phoenix, Ryan is as good there as anybody else,” Hassler said.

Should he do it, Inman should probably expect another Blaney burnout.

Image credits: AP

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