The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season will go down as the breakout campaign for the driver formerly known as “Young Ryan Blaney.” Blaney graduated from NASCAR young gun status and became a serious championship contender in the No. 12 Menards/Advance Auto Parts/BODYARMOR Ford Mustang on the strength of three victories in the regular season. It marked the first time the High Point, N.C. native won multiple races during a single season in NASCAR’s premier division.
The 2021 campaign featured challenges still tied to the global COVID-19 pandemic, limiting practice and qualifying to only select, new venues added to the schedule: Circuit of the Americas, the Bristol Motor Speedway Dirt track, Nashville Superspeedway, Road America and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course. Nevertheless, the No. 12 Ford team continued to produce solid results as they worked towards a playoff run.
While Blaney had won a race in each of the past four seasons, high atop his list of goals entering the 2021 season was winning multiple events. Not only did Blaney accomplish that, winning first at Atlanta Motor Speedway in March, he won back-to-back events to close out the regular season at Michigan International Speedway and Daytona International Speedway. Adding fuel to Blaney’s fire for a stellar season was the announced impending retirement of crew chief Todd Gordon.
“I was put with a great team in 2020,” said Blaney. “The team that Todd built had won a championship with Joey (Logano) and they were basically all intact still through our time together. Todd, along with that group, helped me to continue to develop as a driver and a person. I cherished that time with Todd and the four wins we captured along the way.”
In addition to his three wins, Blaney established a new career high in top-10 finishes with 20, leading 423 laps of competition along the way. Blaney tied his previous career high of 11 top-five results, which he accomplished in each of the past three seasons.
Blaney made the most of the three regular season wins and total of 24 playoff points to advance in the playoffs through the Round of 16 and Round of 12, reaching the Round of 8 for the second time in his six-year, full-season Cup Series career. He was in a comfortable points position entering the second race in the Round of 8 at Kansas Speedway, but a late-race accident as a result of contact with another competitor put the team in a must-win situation entering the penultimate race of the season at Martinsville Speedway. At Martinsville, Blaney and the No. 12 Ford team fell just short of advancing to the Championship 4.
The team ultimately finished the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season ranked seventh in the point standings, as the No. 12 crew is even more motivated to make it to the championship round in 2022.
For the upcoming NASCAR Cup Series season, Blaney will return with the majority of his No. 12 Ford team intact, welcoming new crew chief Jonathan Hassler atop the pit box. Hassler has been with Team Penske for 15 years, serving as a race engineer for Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski and most recently as a crew chief for the No. 21 Ford for the second half of the 2021 season. A graduate of Purdue University, Hassler will look to build on the 2021 achievements of the No. 12 Ford team and help Blaney mount a charge for the 2022 Cup Series championship as NASCAR ushers in the era of the Next Gen race car.