Saturday April 20th, 2024 1:41AM

DAYTONA 500: 2023 NASCAR champ sets eyes on 500

By Dan Gelston AP Sports Writer

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Ryan Blaney hugged and kissed his now-fiancee moments before he slid into his Ford for a NASCAR playoff race last October at Martinsville Speedway.

Gianna Tulio gave the standard goodbye most significant others offer to drivers on the grid, “Good luck, be safe, I’m proud of you.” Tulio threw in one more tip before they parted.

“And remember,” she said, “ be Ryan (Bleeping) Blaney.”

Her quip was caught on camera as part of the Netflix NASCAR “Full Speed” documentary that chronicled an inside look at drivers and their personal and private lives during the championship races.

It’s one Tulio can’t live down.

“She was mortified when that was caught on microphone,” Blaney said, laughing. “When we watched it a few days before it came out, she was like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe they put that in there.’ And it was on the trailer. I was like, ‘That’s bold putting it on the trailer.’ But it was fine. I think she’s gotten over her embarrassment of that, and she’s embraced it.”

Like any moment that goes viral, the couple might even cash in on the profane motivational push.

“Maybe we’ll make some shirts,” Blaney said. “I can’t have the full wording on the shirts, but we’ll bleep out some letters.”

Coming soon on a Blaney T-shirt to a NASCAR retail shop near you, #RFB.

“That was the cheesiest, dumbest line, but the absolute best line in that whole thing,” cracked Blaney’s best friend, Bubba Wallace. “Every time I see him now, I’m just, ‘Hey man, I’m just going to go out and be Ryan Effing Blaney tonight.’”

There are Blaney T-shirts out there, only with a more G-rated caption: NASCAR champion. Blaney was indeed “Ryan Bleeping Blaney” that day and won Martinsville to advance to the championship race. He clinched his first Cup Series title a week later at Phoenix Raceway and enjoyed the spoils that followed, like an appearance on the “Today” show.

Has championship success gone to Blaney’s head?

“Man, we don’t even talk anymore. He’s big-time,” Wallace joked. “I have to call his assistant to even just get a phone call with him. He’s out playing golf right now, and I’m sitting here talking to you guys. He called and said, ‘Move Bubba’s media day schedule so he can’t golf with us.’”

Kidding aside, Wallace was in a good mental space after admitting he wrestled with depression and jealousy over Blaney’s triumph. Wallace and Blaney even hit New York in the offseason -- though you might have missed the moment on social media. Blaney was cropped out of a photo of him and Wallace at a Knicks game, with the team’s social media account writing, ”@bubbawallace in the house tonight.”

“I guess you don’t want to be Ryan Effing Blaney in that moment,” Wallace said.

The 30-year-old Blaney enjoyed every moment as he followed teammate Joey Logano’s path and delivered team owner Roger Penske a second straight NASCAR championship.

Blaney turned up his performance in the No. 12 Ford in the playoffs. Over the final six weeks, Blaney racked up two wins and two runner-ups and didn’t finish lower than 12th. Blaney’s first career title was the fourth Cup championship for Team Penske and 44th overall for the storied organization.

“We can lead as peers together,” Logano said. “There’s not one above the other. It seems like we’re pretty comparable drivers and strong in different areas, which is good, and I think leading Penske together, we can do that.”

Blaney intends to use his stature as NASCAR champion to do just that -- lead, both at Penske and in the Cup Series. A proud "Star Wars" geek who once named his podcast “ Glass Case of Emotion ” in a nod to “Anchorman,” Blaney said he’s already broached NASCAR with proposals on topics of importance to him. Blaney said he was never the driver to raise his hand and speak up on industry business, but admits as champ, “I need to pay attention a little bit more to issues.”

Appearing clean-shaven after he grew a bushy playoff beard -- the unkempt look usually a no-no at Penske -- the blue-collar Blaney is trying to become the sixth driver to follow a championship with a Daytona 500 victory the next season. The feat hasn’t been done since Dale Jarrett won the 1999 title and then enjoyed the last of his three Daytona 500 wins in 2000. Blaney has a pair of runner-up finishes in the Daytona 500, losing to Kurt Busch in 2017 and Denny Hamlin in 2020.

“I remember every little detail of how you run second,” Blaney said. “Drivers obviously remember it. You remember the ones you lose. The ones that sting, I feel like you remember those even more.”

Blaney is set for his 10th Daytona 500 start, and winning the race is now the one glaring omission on his NASCAR resume.

“You just try to be rolling at the end of it, and hopefully you’re there,” Blaney said.

He just might win Daytona — as long he remembers what Tulio told him.

That he's Ryan Bleeping Blaney.

  • Associated Categories: NASCAR News, NASCAR Cup, SpeedWeeks
  • Associated Tags: nascar, Auto Racing, daytona 500, NASCAR Cup Series, Ryan Blaney, stock car racing, Daytona International Speedway
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