NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The playoff beard had been shaved off well before fresh-faced Ryan Blaney arrived in Nashville to celebrate his first NASCAR championship.
The coiffing was probably the smart move for the newest Team Penske champion, who at the same time became the first to drive for Roger Penske with a full beard — one that IndyCar teammate Josef Newgarden found befitting of “an 1800’s US president.”
“I'll tell you what, how Blaney gets away with that, I have no idea,” NASCAR teammate Joey Logano said Thursday. “The guts he's got to even try — I don't think anyone in our company has even tried to do that. So more kudos to him.”
As fun as the beard was for Blaney, there was no way the boss was going to silently sit by if it still covered his face as Blaney collected his first Cup trophy Thursday night at the Music City Center in NASCAR's annual season-ending awards ceremony. But just being able to race the final three months of the season with the bushy locks covering his face made Blaney an anomaly in the Penske Perfect world of freshly shaved faces and starched shirts.
That's a bit fitting, though, as Blaney this year also contributed to two new marks on Penske's impressive motorsports resume. He and Newgarden in May became the first Team Penske drivers to win the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 on the same day, and then he followed Logano as Cup champion to give Penske the first back-to-back NASCAR titles of his career.
Penske now has a graphic that outlines the organization's global success the past six seasons. It includes 12 championships, 148 race wins and 139 poles. The graphic ends with one of Penske's trusted mantras: Effort Equals Results.
“That graphic is pretty amazing when you go look at what he’s succeeded in and all the different motorsports around the world,” Blaney said. “And to be a small part of all that success is great. We did two firsts for Roger this year, which was win the Indy 500 and the 600, which is fantastic. And then back-to-back Cup championships. You don’t get to do that often, do something for Roger that he hasn’t done before. To bring that to him is definitely very special.”
Penske still recalls when journeyman NASCAR driver Dave Blaney showed up at his motorhome at Richmond Raceway in 2012 with his 19-year-old son as the father tried to help the young racer find a seat with a big team.
“We talked to this young guy, lots of passion, wanted to be a champion. We bought into that,” said Penske. “We saw that he knew how to be a winner. I think that's one of the first things we do, is figure out if you can be a winner. Then you've got to gel with a team.”
The breakthrough came in 2017 at Pocono when Blaney beat Kevin Harvick for his first Cup win for Penske.
“He won the race at Pocono, it's ironic, racing Harvick and Harvick is retiring now and Blaney is now champion,” Penske said. “But that really showed us that he had the mettle to be a winner.”
Blaney revealed Thursday that his father had him on a 2012 tour of all the big teams in search of his next move in NASCAR. He spoke with JR Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing, but already had an in of sorts at Penske, where Brad Keselowski that year won Team Penske its first Cup championship.
Blaney had driven nine Truck Series races that year for Keselowski.
“However they convinced them to give me a shot, it’s been pretty spectacular,” Blaney said. “And not only give me a shot, but stick with me 10 years, it just says a lot about Roger’s character and his trust in people.”