What Ryan Blaney said about George Floyd’s murder was rare in NASCAR. Why he spoke up

Alex Andrejev
·4 min read

While Talladega promises to provide superspeedway drama, it also brings a reminder of events that occurred off the track around last year’s Geico 500.

NASCAR made national news when what was believed to be a noose was reportedly found in the garage stall of the sport’s only Black full-time Cup driver, Bubba Wallace, before the rain-postponed event at the Alabama track. The FBI later determined that the act was not a hate crime, based on the timing of when Wallace was assigned the garage stall. The grid rallied around Wallace in the wake of the incident, but one driver has emerged as a more consistent public ally over the last year.

Ryan Blaney recently expressed his solidarity with the Black community in response to the verdict earlier this week that found former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty on all charges for the murder of George Floyd, a Black man whose death set off nationwide protests against racism and police brutality last year.

Cup driver Blaney reiterated the sentiment of an earlier tweet by Wallace, one of Blaney’s close friends, after the verdict was announced Tuesday.

“Justice served on all counts. Good. Still a ton of work to do. Continue to rest peacefully #GeorgeFloyd,” Wallace tweeted.

“Justice for the Floyd family. Rest easy #GeorgeFloyd. Still work to do my brother,” Blaney wrote, retweeting Wallace.

When speaking to reporters Thursday, Blaney was asked why he felt it was important to publicly comment on the verdict, as most other drivers remained quiet. He was one of just two Cup drivers to acknowledge the verdict almost a year after releasing a collective video about vocally combating racism together. His response was simple.

“Because I think it was the right thing to do,” Blaney said, describing how he’s “not a big social media person” but felt the need to note the original injustice.

“You’re never going to be able to repay a life to that family, to the Floyd family,” Blaney said. “But the best thing you can do is have someone who is held accountable for their actions like that officer was, and that was just what I wanted to say.”

A Talladega favorite

Blaney’s last NASCAR win didn’t come at Talladega, but his next one could this weekend. In his last four races at the superspeedway, the No. 12 Ford driver twice snagged a photo-finish victory. His other two tries over the last two years at the track, however, have resulted in a 20th place average finish.

“You love it when you win there and run good and survive it, and you hate the place when you get wrecked,” Blaney said. “You kind of can get mixed feelings every time you go back.”

He returns to the 2.66-mile asphalt track as the defending Geico 500 winner. The race is 2 p.m. Sunday on FOX.

Blaney scored last year’s win with a last-lap push to the lead from third place. He peeked to the outside lane, edging past Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and behind Kevin Harvick, who then drove high as Blaney dipped low. The field wrecked behind them but the leaders kept pace. Erik Jones broke through off Turn 4 to move up to second place. Blaney blocked, and Jones was sent into the wall just before the checkered flag. Blaney finished a nose ahead of Stenhouse for first, and Aric Alrimola spun into third place for a chaotic close.

“I’ve always enjoyed speedway racing,” Blaney said. “You go into those races, any speedway race — Talladega, Daytona — understanding what can happen.”

Blaney has one win this year (Atlanta) and is seeking to bounce back from two 11th-place finishes in a row, at Martinsville and Richmond, but superspeedways have been a bright spot for the 27-year-old driver. He has four top-10s at Talladega out of 13 starts and four top-10s at Daytona out of 12 starts.

Although his best lead-lap percentages are at Bristol (9.3%) and Texas (12.3%), Blaney’s strong suit has been finishing out front at the end of races at longer tracks. If he’s able to make it that far, that is. He was caught up in the “Big One” at the Daytona 500 earlier this year. He said he watched the remainder of the race on television.

The Daytona 500 ended with a tough blow to Team Penske when teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano wrecked on the frontstretch, allowing Michael McDowell to scoop the victory. Blaney said that the Penske drivers, including Matt DiBenedetto, as well as team owner Roger Penske, communicated this week about how the teams would approach the upcoming weekend of superspeedway racing differently. Teamwork and communication will be the motto.

“Hopefully we have a good plan and hopefully we find ourselves in that spot again,” Blaney said. “To where we have teammates lined up at the end of this thing and we’re leading to try to work together and win the race.

“That’s the ultimate goal.”