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Blaney Relishes Unique Challenge of Road Racing at IMS

When analyzing Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course, most drivers highlight the thrill of charging down the long front straightaway and braking hard into Turn 1. The thrill that Ryan Blaney singled out: the quick back-and-forth esses behind the IMS Museum.

“My favorite section is those corners – 7, 8 and 9 – they’re pretty neat,” he said. “They’re flowing corners, and you have to cut through the rumble strips and there’s all the switchbacks and the weight transfer (of the car) to deal with.”

Blaney said a driver must consider the positives of challenging that section for a short-term gain versus saving the tires and the rest of the equipment for consistency over the long run.

“You can’t push it too much,” he said of that section of the track. “How much are you willing to do it?”

Blaney will certainly be one of the drivers to watch in Sunday’s Verizon 200 at the Brickyard (2:30 p.m., NBC), even as he has won only one road course race in his NASCAR Cup Series career – the inaugural Charlotte Motor Speedway roval race in 2018 – and hasn’t won a Cup race this season.

But Blaney enters this event third in the point standings amid the most consistent Cup season of his career. He is solidly in the hunt for a playoff position based on a qualifying average (9.0) that is the best of his nine seasons, and his averaging finishing position – 13.2 – is just off his mark of last season (11.9).

The driver of Team Penske’s No. 12 Ford won the pole at three of the season’s first seven races, including the March 27 event at Circuit of The Americas, the first of the three road course circuits for the Cup Series so far this season. Three remain.

NASCAR switched to a new car this season, and Blaney said the changes – better brakes, wider tires, a sequential gearbox – has made for interesting races, particularly on the road courses.

“Obviously, you can push (corner) entry a little bit deeper into the braking zone,” he said. “It’s something you can lean on … and you can miss some trying to find the limit.”

The sequential gearbox has limited the wheel hop that once was prominent in these cars.

“The best (drivers) have figured it out,” Blaney said.

There was a time when the Cup Series was dominated by the top road course drivers – Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart in the early 2000s, Marcus Ambrose, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski, among others, in the first half of the 2010s. Chase Elliott is the most decorated of the current crop of Cup Series regulars, earning seven of his 17 career series victories on road courses.

Blaney also singled out Tyler Reddick and Kyle Larson as favorites to win this weekend’s race, and he said he has learned a lot from Team Penske teammate Austin Cindric, who won last year’s Pennzoil 150 at the Brickyard, the Xfinity Series race at IMS. Former INDYCAR SERIES driver AJ Allmendinger won last year’s Cup Series race at the Speedway.

“There are so many road course races on the schedule now that you can see everyone having to put emphasis on getting better at the craft,” he said. “It used to be with two races a year (Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International), you’d show up and try to do your best. You can’t do that now.”

This weekend’s action features the NTT INDYCAR SERIES along with NASCAR’s Cup and Xfinity Series. The Verizon 200 at the Brickyard for the Cup Series will be held Sunday at 2:30 p.m., with live coverage on NBC. Tickets can be purchased at IMS.com.

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