The NASCAR Cup Series returns to Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 20 (3 p.m. ET, FOX). Ryan Blaney, the winner of the 2021 Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500, will aim to defend his previous victory at the track while showcasing a brand-new BODYARMOR scheme.
BODYARMOR and Team Penske showed off the new look on March 16. The red and white stock car bears similarities to the vehicle that reached Victory Lane twice in 2021, but there is a noticeable difference. There are now three massive bottles of BODYARMOR situated behind the door numbers.
“It’s been awesome to kind of grow together,” Blaney told Heavy ahead of the trip to Atlanta Motor Speedway. “It’s been great to see what their accomplishments have been. It was awesome to finally get them in Victory Lane as the primary on our car and then to do it again in Daytona later that year. That was even better. So it’d be nice to get them back in Victory Lane.”
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The driver of the No. 12 Team Penske Ford Mustang first showcased the sports drink as a race partner during the 2018 season with two races. Though Blaney had a relationship with the company dating back to 2017. The company made its debut at Daytona International Speedway before returning for the trip to Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
BODYARMOR has continued to support Blaney with multiple races each season, resulting in two trips to Victory Lane in 2021. The first took place at Atlanta Motor Speedway when Kyle Larson led 269 laps, but Blaney took the lead for the final nine and punched his ticket to the playoffs. He then captured the regular-season finale at Daytona International Speedway.
“It’s great to be back with them and they’re such a great company,” Blaney added. “They’ve done so much for me and my life. It’s been an awesome partnership. I don’t know if I could have a better sponsor than those guys, you know, what we do from the hot races and hydration standpoint, it’s second to none.”
The Return to Atlanta Motor Speedway Will Not Be Simple
Blaney and Larson will enter the weekend tied for the best odds to win at Atlanta, but this Cup Series race will be one of the most unpredictable of the year. The reason is that the track underwent a major reconfiguration to make it more like a superspeedway while the teams switched to the Gen 7 cars.
Blaney and crew chief Jonathan Hassler will not simply be able to look at their old notes from the 2021 season and achieve the same level of success. They will have to start from scratch and gain as much knowledge as possible during the limited practice session on Friday, March 18. Though they will have some information available from the latest Daytona 500 when Blaney finished fourth overall.
“It’s completely different from the track to the car,” Blaney said. “You really can’t use any notes from last year, won’t be able to really compare anything. So that’s something interesting, we’re kind of starting over.
“We’ve kind of been starting over all year. You know, you haven’t really been able to take many notes from last year’s car and apply it this year and into these tracks. So that’s been a little different. But at the same time, I think it’s neat to kind of rechallenge yourself and try to learn it faster than everybody else.”
One of the unique changes will be the addition of the double yellow line rule, which NASCAR uses at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway. If drivers go below the line and try to improve their position, they will receive a black flag and have to leave the track. They will also receive a black flag if they force a driver trying to pass them to drop below the yellow lines.
“It’s gonna be tough because it’s a lot narrower than Daytona will be,” Blaney said. “So it’s probably a good call that they put that double yellow line rule in place. It only comes into play on the backstretch. The front stretch has grass in the infield, so you wouldn’t really be able to use that.
“But yeah, I think it’s good to kind of set that boundary. If you’re gonna set the boundary, you’ve got to do it early. And they did that, so it’s just something that has to put your mindset in a speedway mindset knowing that you can’t go below the yellow lines.”
The 2022 Season Has Featured a Ford Resurgence
While Ford drivers combined for a mere seven wins in 2021 — Blaney had three of his own — the early portion of 2022 has told a different story. Two Ford drivers have each won a race with Austin Cindric capturing the Daytona 500 and Chase Briscoe winning the Ruoff Mortgage 500.
There are also six Ford drivers in the top 10 in points. Joey Logano leads the championship standings while Briscoe, Aric Almirola, and Blaney sit in fifth, sixth, and seventh, respectively. Cindric is eighth while Kevin Harvick rounds out the list in 10th place.
“It’s nice that we’ve really put a lot of work in to make sure we fire off this year strong, and you just keep building off of it,” Blaney explained. “So I think we’re really competitive right now, Ford as a whole. And you just try to keep up with everybody else and try to learn things faster than everybody. So that’s been nice to see. There’s still work to be done, but I think I think we’re in a good spot right now.
“…I mean, we do things a little bit differently than Stewart-Haas and RFK [Racing], but at the same time, Ford as a whole seems to be really strong between all their teams right now. So just a matter of communication with Ford and what we need and what we need to be competitive. And they do a great job of noticing where we’re lacking also compared to Chevy’s and Toyota’s. And that communication side has been really strong.”
Blaney and the rest of the Ford drivers will push for even better performances as they learn more about the Gen 7 cars. The next step will be the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, followed by a return trip to Circuit of the Americas on March 27.