Ryan Blaney carrying Ford banner with solid execution so far in 2024

Ryan Blaney carrying Ford banner with solid execution so far in 2024

RICHMOND, Va. — Ryan Blaney sits third in the NASCAR Cup Series standings after six races this season, but his Ford’s blue oval is on an island in a sea of Chevrolet bow ties and Toyota ellipses in the top portion of the points so far.

Ford aims for its first Cup Series win of the year in Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400 (7 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN Radio, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at Richmond Raceway, and Blaney — the defending Cup champion — figures to be a likely candidate for making that breakthrough happen. Ford teams are currently in an adjustment period with their new Mustang Dark Horse body for the 2024 season, but Blaney and his No. 12 Team Penske group have separated themselves from the rest, keeping up their pace from last season’s title-winning finish.

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Austin Cindric, Blaney’s teammate in the No. 2 Penske Ford, offered a candid explanation for why that is.

“I think Ryan and his team, you guys all saw it at the end of last year, execution, confidence in the packages that they bring,” Cindric said after Saturday’s qualifying session at the 0.75-mile track. “Execution, I say it twice — it is so critically important and I would say, quite frankly, that used to be one of Ryan‘s weaknesses. He‘s always been extremely fast and now I think it‘s one of his strengths and he‘s probably better than most in the field at doing it. Between him and that team — that pit crew has gotten a lot of criticism over the years and those guys are executing probably better than most on pit road.

“I don‘t want to jinx anybody, but they set a great example for us within the team as far as what it takes to be the best and consistently do that each week.”

After crashing out of the season-opening Daytona 500, Blaney strung together three consecutive top-five finishes to briefly hold the Cup Series points lead. Other Ford drivers — notably, fellow Penske driver and two-time Cup champ Joey Logano — have made slow starts to the year. RFK Racing’s Chris Buescher is the only other Ford campaigner among the top 15 in the series standings.

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Blaney says there’s still room for growth to make the Mustang Dark Horse more competitive as the season progresses.

“It’s a place we got to improve a little bit, just kind of overall,” said Blaney, who will start 12th in Sunday’s 400-lap race. “Toyota has done a good job of having a new car and figuring out what they need to do right away to be competitive. We did a lot of hard work in the winter trying to figure out, ‘OK, where’s the maximum potential of this new car,’ and we just haven’t quite hit that yet, and we’re working on it. I mean, you’re trying and it’s hard to do, especially when there’s no testing or anything like that. You don’t know where you’re at until you unload at the race track.

“There’s a handful of things I think we can improve on, but they’re all little. Little things go a long way, so I think we’re close as a group. It’s just a matter of ironing out a few things — car, engine — and I think we’ll be right there.”