AVONDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Ryan Blaney knows all about NASCAR's version of the "Silly Season," the time during the schedule when free-agent drivers are looking for a deal, rumors are flying and surprises abound.
He is happy he won't be part of that discussion this year.
The future of NASCAR's current points leader was secured Friday as Team Penske rewarded the 26-year-old driver with a multiyear extension. He goes into's Sunday's race at Phoenix Raceway only needing to worry about finding victory lane instead of a new ride.
“It's nice to have our deal so I'm out of that conversation,” Blaney said.
There are still plenty of talented drivers who are searching for long-term security. Alex Bowman won last week at Fontana, Brad Keslowski is a former Cup Series champion, Kyle Larson is an up-and-coming driver and others like Erik Jones and Corey LaJoie could also hit the market.
“I look for tweets from y'all to figure that stuff out, you guys usually know it before I do," Blaney said while grinning at reporters. “But yeah, there's a lot of great seats open, lot of things up in the air, whether drivers are retiring or their deals are up."
The extension with Penske caps an emotional few weeks for Blaney, who finished second at the Daytona 500 in February but was involved in a harrowing accident on the final lap that involved fellow Ford driver Ryan Newman. Blaney was trying to push Newman to the win and instead hooked the car, resulting in an airborne, fiery crash.
Newman walked out of the hospital less than 48 hours later and was at the track Friday, though he doesn't know when he will be able to return to racing. Blaney saw Newman on Thursday for the first time at a Ford team-building event at Arizona State and said there was a good conversation about everything from Newman's recovery to the crash to how to keep improving safety in NASCAR.
He also went camping in a teepee in the desert between the Las Vegas and Fontana races, which helped ease his mind.
“Go hiking a little bit. Cook by the fire. Clear your head,” Blaney said last week. “It is just relaxing. I've always kind of been that way. It was nice to get out there.”
Blaney has three career Cup victories and has qualified for the playoffs three times. He finished seventh in the standings in 2019 and is off to an even better start so far this spring.
He has thrived in the early going with new crew chief Todd Gordon. Blaney followed his second place finish in Daytona with an 11th in Las Vegas and 19th in Fontana, though he was running close to the front in all three races.
“It's been nice to start off the year good,” Blaney said. “Haven't always had the finishes that we've wanted, but to have been running in the top three pretty much every single race, while working with a new team, that's just great. You know you're going to build off that as Todd as I get used to each other.”
Team owner Roger Penske said Blaney has “a long runway ahead of him.”
“Since joining our team, Ryan has developed into a championship caliber driver and his personality and engagement with fans has made him a terrific ambassador for NASCAR," he said.
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