Everyone makes mistakes. It’s how they respond to the mistake that matters. Ryan Blaney has certainly passed that test in the past few weeks.
While Blaney is not running a full-time schedule in any of the top three NASCAR series in 2015, he is running a limited schedule in all three – the Camping World Truck Series, Xfinity Series and Sprint Cup Series after competing full-time in the Camping World Truck Series the past two seasons.
Blaney looked strong in his 14 starts in the Xfinity Series in 2014, picking up a win with 10 top-5s and 13 top-10s while posting an average finish of 5.8. He looked to regain that form in 2015, picking up two runner-up finishes and a 5th-place finish along with another top-10 in his first five races of the season in the series.
And then it happened. The mistake that could have been make or break for Blaney’s confidence going forward.
Blaney looked poised to win his first NASCAR Xfinity Series race of 2015 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway towards the end of July when Kyle Busch went under him on the final lap to steal away a win from the 21-year-old. Blaney was quick to take responsibility for allowing Busch to win, even if the loss wasn’t really his fault. After all, how many young drivers would have been able to hold off a driver like Busch in that situation?
Luckily for Blaney, his next scheduled race in the series happened to be the next week. He would get a chance to quickly try and put what happened at Indianapolis in his rearview mirror as he headed to Iowa Speedway, where he had finished 5th earlier in the season and had tallied a top-10 finish in all four Xfinity Series races in which he had competed.
And bounce back he did.
Not only did Blaney make up for his mistake from a week earlier, but he dominated the race, leading 252 of 260 laps. After holding off the field on late restarts and green-white-checkered scenarios, Blaney was in victory lane for the first time this season and his third time in his career in the Xfinity Series.
But then déjà vu hit.
In his next Camping World Truck Series race, Blaney led with just four laps remaining at Michigan International Speedway. Guess who was right behind him and passed him on lap 97 of 100 to take the win and give Blaney a runner-up finish? Yep – Kyle Busch.
Wednesday night, Blaney had a chance once again to avenge a late race loss as the Camping World Truck Series headed to Bristol Motor Speedway for a midweek night race under the lights. And unlike the race in Iowa, Kyle Busch would be at this race as well.
Blaney led the first 37 laps of the race after passing pole sitter Busch on the initial lap. It looked like it was going to be another night of domination for Blaney like he had at Iowa in the Xfinity Series. And then, another mistake. During the restart on lap 38, Blaney was determined by NASCAR to have jumped the start and was assessed a black flag. The penalty meant Blaney had to come down pit road and went a lap down, putting himself in a tough position.
That didn’t stop Blaney, however.
After getting a free pass on the second caution of the race after NASCAR determined that he was in the free pass spot when the caution flew, Blaney just kept racing. When rain hit the track with just 39 laps remaining, Blaney had worked himself up to 6th place and it looked like that’s where he would finish. Thankfully for Blaney, NASCAR was patient and didn’t call the race immediately. By doing so, it gave NASCAR a chance to allow the rain to pass, and then NASCAR was able to get the track dry to finish the race.
Once the track was dry, Matt Crafton led until the final lap and probably would have won the race had a caution not come out with four laps to go. On the ensuing restart in a green-white-checkered finish, Crafton got a bad restart and Blaney took off – this time legally. Blaney drove off into the night for his first win in the Camping World Truck Series in 2015, giving him one win in each of the last four seasons.
The driver who finished second? None other than Kyle Busch.
That’s twice within the span of a month that Blaney has made an in-race mistake and was able to put it behind him. One move cost him the race and he came back to win the next one, while one mistake happened early in the race and he just kept plugging away instead of giving up. It’s that kind of mental strength Blaney will need as he moves ahead in his NASCAR career.
That move may come in the form of a huge jump, as reports surfaced earlier in the season that Roger Penske would like to see Blaney run a full-time Sprint Cup Series schedule in 2016 for the Wood Brothers. There is already a partnership in place between the two, as Blaney and Wood Brothers are running a number of races in the Sprint Cup Series in 2015. So far, Blaney has run in nine Sprint Cup Series races with a best finish of 4th at Talladega.
One thing is for sure – no matter where Blaney is racing in 2016, he won’t be intimidated. And he won’t allow disappointments to ruin his season. That’s half the battle for young a driver, putting Blaney ahead of the curve.