Team Penske development driver Ryan Blaney’s journey to the team’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series program will be complete in 2018, when he joins the team’s newly-formed #12 car. The news was announced on Wednesday morning.
“For some time now, we have wanted to bring Ryan in to run a third car for us, but things just needed to make sense from a timing and business perspective,” Roger Penske said. “We have been working on making this a reality and 2018 is the right opportunity to make this move and return our organization to a three-car team.”
“Really excited, it’s something we’ve been working on, really ever since I got to Team Penske in 2012,” Blaney commented in a NASCAR Twitter video uploaded shortly after the news. “It’s what the main goal was, and whatever steps we took from Brad (Keselowski)’s trucks to the Xfinity program to being at the Wood Brothers and now, to be in the #12 car, it’s definitely really neat, it’s nice to see something kind of work out the way we planned it five years ago.”
Blaney, who currently drives the #21 for Penske affiliate Wood Brothers Racing, sits 12th in points with seven top-10s and three top-5s. In June, he won his first career Cup race at Pocono Raceway. He joined the Wood Brothers in 2015, replacing Trevor Bayne, who moved to fellow Ford team Roush Fenway Racing that year. Since joining WBR, Blaney has 18 top-10s, seven top-5s and a pole (2017 Kansas race).
2018 will not be the first time Blaney has driven the #12 car. In 2014, he drove two races in the part-time car at Kansas and Talladega, finishing 27th and 22nd, respectively. The car was also driven by IndyCar Series veteran Juan Pablo Montoya. Prior to its part-time schedule, the #12 was last driven by Brad Keselowski in 2010. The number has been with Penske since 1998, when Jeremy Mayfield drove the car for what was then known as Penske-Kranefuss Racing. Mike Wallace, Ryan Newman, David Stremme and Sam Hornish Jr. have also raced with the #12. Since its debut with Penske, the number has gone to Victory Lane 16 times, with Newman scoring its most recent win at the 2008 Daytona 500.
Prior to joining WBR, Blaney drove for Penske affiliate Brad Keselowski Racing in the Camping World Truck Series from 2012 to 2015, winning four races and finishing 2nd in the 2014 championship battle to Matt Crafton. During his first Truck season, the 18-year-old also ran a part-time Nationwide (now Xfinity) schedule for Penske, and won his first series race in 2013. He continues to drive for the Penske #22 Xfinity car to this date, winning four times in the car (and a fifth in the #12).
With Blaney moving to the #12, Paul Menard will take over the #21. Menard, who drives the #27 for Richard Childress Racing, returns to Ford for the first time since 2010, when he drove the #98 for Richard Petty Motorsports. He is expected to bring sponsorship from family-owned Menards to the Wood Brothers, with the home improvement chain appearing on the #21 in 22 races. Assuming they remain in their respective rides for 2018, Menards will be featured on each manufacturer across all three NASCAR national series next year (Menard in a Cup Ford, Brandon Jones in an Xfinity Chevrolet, Crafton in a Truck Series Toyota).
“It’s fantastic to have the ability to continue to race in the highest level of motorsports full-time and something we look forward to doing with Paul for years to come,” WBR owner Eddie Wood commented. “I know this will allow us to continue to perform as an organization and will give Paul a great opportunity to go out there and compete for wins. Paul is not only a great driver with a lot of experience in the Cup Series, but he’s great with partners, which is a big part of what we do these days.”
Menard is 23rd in the 2017 Cup standings with three top-10s and two top-5s. He joined RCR in 2011, also the year in which he recorded his first Cup victory at Indianapolis. Although he has yet to win a second race, he qualified for the Chase for the Cup in 2015; he finished a career-best 14th in points.
“Paul Menard and Menards, Inc. have had a partnership with RCR for seven years,” an RCR press release stated. “Together, we have enjoyed a tremendous amount of success, including Paul’s emotional win at Indianapolis in 2011. He is a very talented driver and a good friend. Everyone at RCR wishes both Paul and Menards nothing but the best in the future.”
A former Dale Earnhardt, Inc. driver, Menard began racing full-time in the Cup Series in 2007, driving the #15 Chevrolet. He moved to Robert Yates Racing and the #98 in 2009, remaining in the car when the team merged with RPM in 2010. In NASCAR’s second-tier series, he ran three full seasons and finished in the top-10 in points all three years (including a 5th-place finish in 2010). He has won three times in the Xfinity Series, including a 2015 triumph at Road America after holding off Blaney. Menard will run a limited Xfinity schedule for Penske in 2018.
Featured image courtesy of John Wiedemann