NASCAR 2018 – When Team Penske driver Ryan Blaney takes the checkered flag, kids win too

NASCAR


Ryan Blaney swears he isn’t channeling an inner Cam Newton with the victory celebration tradition he has started.

Blaney certainly wouldn’t mind the type of reaction the Carolina Panthers quarterback gets when he scores a touchdown and droves of kids scream at him to give them the football, but his gesture was more of a quick thinking kind of idea that has turned into an expectation each time he earns a checkered flag.

It all started a little more than a year ago at Dover International Speedway, when Blaney won an Xfinity Series race. Last year, NBC began interviewing the winner on the front stretch immediately after a burnout, instead of waiting for Victory Lane.

We’ll let Blaney take the story from there:

“The fans are right there, and that’s a really cool interaction,” he said last week. “It was kind of spur of the moment. I saw a kid. It looked like he was having a fun time at the fence.

“I figured I’d give him a flag.”

Blaney had no idea if the kid was his fan. He just saw a kid and gave him the flag. The track finagled getting the youngster to Victory Lane for some photos.

When he won an Xfinity race at Texas earlier this year, Blaney did the same and never saw the kid again. When he won the Cup race Sept. 30 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, he gave a flag to a kid who was wearing a Kyle Busch shirt.

“People are giving me a hard time just because he was wearing a Kyle Busch shirt, [as in] were you trying to convert him?” Blaney said. “He just happened to have a Kyle shirt on. I’m just trying to find a kid.”

The boy and his parents came to the Team Penske shop the next day, and someone in the shop texted Blaney, who met them that afternoon.

“It’s cool to meet the families and the kids after the race,” Blaney said. “You can’t really talk. You give them a fist bump and go on your way.”

While some series use two checkered flags when waving for the winner, NASCAR uses only one. Several teams and drivers like to keep those flags. But Blaney pretty much has set a precedent that he will never own one of his checkered flags again.

“I used to collect all the flags when I was younger, but honestly we get a trophy, we get photos to remember it,” Blaney said. “I think I can spare a flag for somebody. … I figured I should do that from now on.

“It’s pretty neat. It’s a little thing we can do to try to make their day.”

When Newton scores a touchdown and gives a football to a kid, it creates a scene in which kids run to the edge of the stands, all hoping to get the football. Many leave a little disappointed.

Blaney isn’t worried about having to choose if he starts earning that type of reaction.

“That would be the least of my worries at the time,” Blaney said. “You don’t pick anyone out in particular. It’s usually the first kid I see and try to give it to them.”

What if another driver wants to duplicate such a celebration?

“I’ve seen a couple of other drivers do it. … It’s not mine,” Blaney said. “It’s just something I did. Whether you do it first or not, you can’t claim it.

“It’s encouraging for everyone to do. It’s a neat deal.”





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