Ryan Blaney found himself like many race fans last weekend as he watched the NASCAR debut of iRacing from the grandstands. And while he enjoyed the view, he’s used to being part of the action.
So when Fox Sports hits the airwaves on Sunday from the virtual Texas Motor Speedway, Blaney will be behind the wheel of his familiar No. 12 Team Penske Ford Mustang in the O’Reilly Auto Parts 125 (12 Noon CT on FOX, FS1, FOX Sports App).
“I’ve never been a big iRacing person for multiple reasons, but it just looked like it was a lot of fun,” said Blaney, who won at Talladega Superspeedway’s fall NASCAR Cup race in dramatic fashion by .007 second over Ryan Newman. “The thing that pushed me into making it want to happen was seeing how the fans enjoyed it. Social media was blowing up and people really enjoyed just watching some form of racing again, which is nice. I saw their support and their push for me to try to get in, so I was happy we were able to make it happen.”
Blaney has internet connectivity issues from his home, one of the few drawbacks he finds living in the North Carolina wilderness, so he’s joined forces with his spotter, Josh Williams. A noted iRacer himself, Williams is opening his house and loaning his rig so Blaney can compete.
“I practiced on Monday and Josh has kind of been helping me out,” said Blaney, whose only real simulator experience has come at the Ford Performance Technical Center in Concord, NC. “I’m not the biggest tech savvy person out there, especially when it comes to that stuff, but it was neat watching everybody on there again. There were a lot of Cup guys and XFINITY guys and some Truck guys doing it, but it’s something I’m pretty green at, so we’ll see how it goes.”
Last Sunday’s race at Homestead featured nine cautions as a mix of experience led to some major wrecks, but, thanks to their handy reset button, everybody was able to finish. Blaney is hoping he doesn’t need that this weekend, but he’s glad it’s there, just in case.
And despite his relative lack of iRacing laps, Blaney says his goal for Sunday is the same as if he were going to be buckling into his real stock car.
“You want to win the race. Competitors are competitors no matter what they’re playing,” he said. “You want to win, so that’s why I’m practicing on Josh’s rig a little bit during this week to try and get a feel for it. You don’t want to go in there not knowing anything and make yourself look silly.
“You want to have a shot at it, so you want to try to win the race, but it’s also about having fun and hoping you don’t wreck anybody,” continued Blaney. “The stakes aren’t as high, but, at the end of the day, I believe it’s a good time for everyone.”