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Ryan Blaney, Ford Performance Eyeing First NASCAR Victory of 2024 at Talladega

Photo Credit: Ben Earp, NKP, Courtesy of Ford Performance

In the first nine weeks of the 2024 NASCAR season, Ford Performance, the manufacturer responsible for winning the last two NASCAR Cup Series titles, hasn’t made a single trip to Victory Lane across NASCAR’s National Series.

It’s the furthest into the season Ford has gone without a NASCAR-sanctioned win since 2010 when it took until the middle of June for the automaker to collect its first win of the season when Carl Edwards won the NASCAR Xfinity Series event at Road America.

While the struggle of adapting to the new Ford Mustang Dark Horse has impacted several organizations, there remains a bright spot on the horizon this weekend, as the NASCAR Cup Series visits Talladega Superspeedway for its second traditional superspeedway race of 2024.

If you’re looking for a safe bet at Talladega, look no further than defending NASCAR Cup Series champion Ryan Blaney, the most recent winner at the 2.66-mile superspeedway, who in the last five years has celebrated three different victories at the largest oval track in NASCAR.

“The speedways have been pretty good for the Fords for a while,” Blaney said Tuesday when speaking to the media. “Ever since I’ve been in the Cup Series, I feel like we’ve always been super strong and really been able to compete and try to control the race. That’s one thing we’ve always talked about is how we can control the race, whether it’s with our numbers in the Ford camp, the strategy, how can we just control the first handful of rows.”

Although it may sound simple, controlling the race at NASCAR’s most unpredictable racetrack is something that teams have worked diligently on in previous years, making it an art form that often can’t be executed. The best example of field control was in 2018, when Stewart-Haas Racing combined to lead 153 of 193 laps, while placing its four entries at the front of the pack late in the going, allowing Aric Almirola to capture the win.

“It helps when you have fast cars, and Ford has brought fast cars,” added Blaney. “Roush-Yates has done a good job on knowing what we need at those racetracks. All of the Fords were strong at Atlanta. I thought we were really strong at Daytona, and I’m sure Talladega is going to be the same way. We’ll all be really strong, so you just hope that you can be there at the end of the race and have a shot to win it.”

Earlier this season, teammate Joey Logano and alliance partner Michael McDowell managed to sweep the front row for the opening two races of the season, both on superspeedway and superspeedway-adjacent facilities of Daytona and Atlanta. However, Blaney knows that like any other NASCAR Cup Series race, all the pieces have to fall together perfectly to park it in Victory Lane.

“I have no doubt in the speed, it’s just about how you execute and try to get through the day. But I think we’ve been creeping up on it. It’s obviously not the performance like we would have wanted to have so far this year, even on the other tracks, but we’ve put together some pretty good runs on our side.”

Entering Talladega, Blaney sits seventh in NASCAR Cup Series point standings – the highest position by a Ford Performance driver – with the next-closest driver from the Ford stable, Chase Briscoe, sitting 12th. It hasn’t been the start to the year the manufacturer has wanted with the debut of its new body, but the defending champion feels like there are gains being made.

“I thought we were great at Martinsville, but we just needed track position. At Texas, before we got mixed up with pit strategy at the end of stage two, I thought we were one of the best cars that could have competed for it, but we just got behind on pit strategy and never was able to finish it. We’re creeping up on it, so hopefully we can put one together at Talladega and get a Blue Oval in victory Lane. We need that pretty bad, and I couldn’t think of a better place to try and get one.”

Aside from the typical off-the-handle challenges that Talladega presents, Blaney will be working with his new spotter, Tim Fedewa, for just the second time on a traditional superspeedway. Ironically enough, Fedewa worked last season for Kevin Harvick, who Blaney passed on the final lap to get the win.

Blaney and the former Xfinity Series veteran have been working together well in preparation for the challenge this weekend, as the 30-year-old hopes to win his fourth race at the Alabama superspeedway.

“[Fedewa] and I have watched it. I think one of the big things when we started working together is we would sync up SMT and race footage and radio communication and kind of just listen to him and how he would talk to Kevin,” Blaney said. “We would listen to Josh [Williams] of how he relayed information, and we would just work off that. It’s, ‘Hey, here’s what I like that Josh did that I thought was really good.’ What Tim does on his side of it and how we kind of combine the best of both worlds, so we’re just working together. That’s one of the first things we did. We got to play around with it at Daytona.

“That was the first clip I asked for them to sync up because I’m like, ‘Oh, we’re racing each other. This is great. What would you have done different here, Timmy. This is kind of where I was thinking.’ We just kind of ping ponged off of each other, so it’s pretty neat to work with Timmy. He’s been great this year and it was fun the last time we were at Talladega. We were racing them for the win and just edged them out. Hopefully, we can get our first win together this weekend. He’s been great and we’ve been close. It’s just a matter of closing it out.”

To score what would be his 11th NASCAR Cup Series win on Sunday, Blaney will have to survive the chaos that is guaranteed to be thrown at the field and hope that with his speedway racing skills, and of course, a little bit of good luck, that the No. 12 Wabash Ford Mustang Dark Horse finds itself in contention for the victory.

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