Defending Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart and 2007 Daytona 500 winner Kevin Harvick are two of the more notable figures in NASCAR's upper echelon that have noticed Ryan Blaney.
But it's hard not to be impressed by the accomplishments of the son of their fellow competitor Dave Blaney, as he inexorably moves toward NASCAR's premier division.
Mere hours before the younger Blaney -- who turned 18 years old this past New Year's Eve -- scored a moving-forward, seventh-place debut Nationwide performance last Friday night at Richmond International Raceway, Stewart was singing his praises.
"He does an awesome job," Stewart said. "His racing family tree is pretty strong, got pretty good roots between his uncle Dale and his dad, Dave. [Ryan] does an awesome job and he's a smart racer. He thinks about what he is doing and thinks about the scenarios he puts himself in."
Blaney's debut far outdid those of contemporaries Austin Dillon, Ryan Truex, Trevor Bayne and defending series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. It was also roughly equivalent to those of standouts Joey Logano (sixth at age 18 in Dover), Denny Hamlin (eighth at 24 in Darlington) and series' point leader Elliott Sadler (eighth at 20 in South Boston), and was outshone only by Kyle Busch, who finished second at 18 in Charlotte.
Harvick -- who ran in the top three all night in comparison to Blaney, who very impressively was scored in the top 10 for about two-thirds of the race -- said it was no surprise to him.
"Anything that Ryan does is not a surprise," Harvick said, laughing. "I think that Ryan is a tremendous talent and once he gets just a little bit of experience -- he doesn't have a lot of experience, obviously -- but he's got a good feel for the car and understands what he needs to do to race and go fast.
"Obviously you've got to have the things around you, but it's pretty obvious that his talent shows up, whether they have bad [pit] stops or good stops, good cars or bad cars -- on the race track, he does what he needs to do and he's just a good kid. So, that makes it a lot of fun to watch."
Blaney's accomplishments in Quarter Midgets, Legends Cars and Super Late Models prove the third-generation racer hasn't veered far from the path set by grandfather Lou, uncle Dale and his father. Ryan won Super Late Model championships both at ages 16 and 17, and won in his K&N Pro Series West debut, at 17, in front of a crowd of NASCAR stars at Phoenix International Raceway.
And despite the solid and secure racing future he seems to be fashioning for himself, Blaney has remained very well-grounded.
"[The debut] exceeded my expectations a little bit," Blaney said during his first trip to a Nationwide Series post-race media briefing. "I knew we had a really good car coming here [because] the guys at Tommy Baldwin [Racing] have done a really good job getting it put together.
"We thought coming out of here with all the race car still intact and a top-15 finish would be real nice. So, it did exceed my expectations a little bit, especially how good we were -- 40 laps into a run, I think we were faster than anybody -- and it's too bad we weren't closer to the top guys for the final green-flag run."
Maybe the biggest attribute the younger Blaney has displayed in abundance is respect. And to his benefit, he's learning that giving respect brings it back to him.
"The biggest thing I appreciated was the respect they gave me," Blaney said. "Being my first race, they gave me a lot of respect out there -- a lot of give-and-take -- and that really makes you feel good as a driver, inside, especially in your first start where guys will let you go if you're way faster than them. I come from Late Model racing, where they'll race the [heck] out of you for 30 laps."
Remember, this kid is only 18, and don't forget to enjoy the ride. He certainly is.
Stewart had his head on straight
Carl Edwards, his spotter Jason Hedlesky and even some of NASCAR's officials seemed as if they might've been a little confused on a restart with less than 100 laps to go at Richmond. In the end, Edwards -- who dominated the first three-quarters of the race only to be black-flagged for jumping the restart in which his team thought they were leading -- had every right to be a lot more upset than he was when all was said and done.
Stewart, who WAS the leader for that restart and in the end was as frustrated as Edwards after his pit crew let him down on their final stop and relegated Stewart to third (versus Edwards' 10th), said he had no question about the restart status.
"Well, we were the first one to line up and we were the leader on the board, so I don't know how much clearer it could be that we were the leader," Stewart said. "If [Edwards was the leader] then they should have put the caution out and given him the opportunity to choose the lane that he wanted.
"It's a miscommunication between upstairs and the drivers."
Stewart had every reason to be upset, as he had the best car -- or at least the best track position, out front -- and posted the best final lap of the race, more than a tenth of a second better than everyone else in the top 10.
*Video: Edwards black-flagged
Edwards on Talladega
Edwards said last week at Richmond he wasn't surprised at how excited his Roush Fenway Racing teammate Matt Kenseth was about going to Talladega this weekend. Beyond that, Edwards said he had very little idea what to expect at NASCAR's largest track.
"Well, winning the [Daytona] 500 will make you feel that way," Edwards said of Kenseth's buoyant feelings. "I would say if we can go there and work together the way we have, and do the things we have been doing at the superspeedways, then we will be good.
"It is still that bottleneck in the season where anything can happen. We don't have any points to give up, so we will go with a different attitude, I am sure, than Matt [Kenseth] and Greg [Biffle, their teammate who's leading the standings]. They can go there and have a bad race and be OK."
Biffle has a five-point cushion over Dale Earnhardt Jr., while Kenseth is fourth and Edwards ninth -- 51 points out of the lead and 24 points from dropping out of a qualified position in the Chase for the Cup.
"[Talladega] is one that scares our team because we don't want to be 15th in points right now," Edwards said. "We want to be up there marching toward the top five. If we can run there the way we have the last six or eight restrictor plate races then we will be OK."
Junior: "A tandem will win" at 'dega
Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s had seven top-10 finishes in nine races this season and, despite coming off a second-place finish last weekend, he said that has nothing to do with how he might run this weekend at Talladega --- a track at which he's won five times in 24 starts.
"I don't think momentum is a real thing," Earnhardt said. "The team is confident, we're feeling good, we feel like we're competing well -- really close to winning a race. We ain't really raced for a win yet and lost one, but we're getting better at running the top five and top 10s. We'll just try to keep doing that [but] there's too many variables going into races at Talladega, whether you feel confident [about] winning or not. There's just too much going on there."
And NASCAR striving to eliminate tandem drafting, which they virtually did with a new rules package for the Daytona 500 that'll be in place again at Talladega, only adds to the fray.
"I think to win the [restrictor] plate races you are still going to tandem at the end," Earnhardt said. "We can still tandem and we will develop and work on our cooling systems. Every team in the garage will work toward the same goal and that is to get it back to the tandem, because that is the fastest way to go. Even though I don't like the tandem, it is the fastest way to run around the track.
"Every team in the garage is thinking, working and engineering toward, 'how can we get to where we can tandem the whole race.' NASCAR will have to continue to do whatever they need to do within the rulebook to keep eliminating that or keep that to a minimum like we had at the [Daytona] 500. The way we did it in the 500 was nice, but the tandem is going to win the race -- which is fine to me."