Ryan Blaney encouraged as NASCAR goes unmasked, gets closer to normal


There is something about 2020 in NASCAR that now seems wholly distant and almost the stuff of a bizarre fever dream. One year ago, the resumption of stock car racing’s season after a two-month lockdown due to the outbreak of COVID-19 brought with it a number of practices — racing without spectators, racing on weeknights, and wearing masks simply to go to-and-fro — which were deemed necessary even if they were unheard of.

Even as NASCAR was able to have an uninterrupted springtime again in 2021, some elements of “COVID era” racing persisted. But in the month of May, NASCAR has made several great leaps forward in leaving COVID behind: Specifically, a revision of the sport’s mask protocols to no longer require competitors to wear masks in outdoor spaces.

Beginning at Dover, drivers and their teams were once again free to roam pit road and the garage area without masks. A development was very much welcomed by NASCAR Cup Series star Ryan Blaney.

“I’ll be honest with you, we’ve been wearing masks for so long it felt kind of weird not to wear one outside at the racetrack. That’s just the world we were living in for a long time,” Blaney said in a one-on-one sitdown with CBS Sports. “Not having to wear a mask outside was just refreshing to kind of see everyone’s faces again, because it was sometimes hard to tell who was who with the mask on.

“It was just really, really refreshing to do that. That, to me, was a big sign of a turning point in ‘Hey, it’s getting back to where the world’s healthy again and getting there.’ That was a really neat step in the right direction that we were finally able to have that, and hopefully it keeps trending in that direction.”

NASCAR’s update to their mask protocols was just one of several very encouraging steps the sport has taken towards having “normal” race weekends again, which they have not truly had since March of 2020. At Darlington, NASCAR began allowing guests in the infield and garage area again, and multiple tracks have announced they will host full-capacity crowds — including Charlotte Motor Speedway, which hosts this weekend’s Coca-Cola 600.

Allowing non-competitors back in the infield is important, as among those affected are the families of drivers who have not been availed the normal level of access they’ve had to their loved ones. This includes the Blaney family, which was kept at a distance earlier this season when Ryan scored a meaningful victory for their household.

In the Spring race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 2001, Dave Blaney led 70 laps and appeared to have the best car in the field before a tire malfunction near the late stages of the race cost him the best chance he ever had to score a Cup Series victory. The elder Blaney had brought that memory up to his son before this year’s Spring race, and Ryan — recounting the story to reporters — told his father he’d try and win one for him.

Ryan Blaney made good on his son-to-father promise, passing Kyle Larson with nine laps to go to win Atlanta’s 500-miler. But instead of being in victory lane with their son, Blaney’s mother and father both had to settle for being in the grandstands.

“It was unfortunate they couldn’t be with me at the race, in the infield, and things like that,” Blaney said. “But whether it’s from having your family back in the infield to having partners back in the infield with you that are a huge part of our team, sponsors and things like that and just giving their full experience again, that’s huge for us and then for all parties involved. Especially the family thing.

“My Dad and my family’s been a huge part of my racing life ever since I started. To be able to get them back – It’s been killing my Dad to not be in the infield and kind of be there and be a part of it like he’s used to – it’ll be great to get everyone back inside, especially people who have children and wives and things like that. To get them back inside and have that quality time with your whole family is great, and I’m looking forward to having that with my family here soon.”

As NASCAR and other leagues begin to soften their COVID protocols, the sights of the 2020 season are starting to become contained to a particular point in history. And one of the “highlights” of the era of mask-wearing came from Blaney, who decided to give his sponsor BODYARMOR an extra bit of publicity with a stunt following one of NASCAR’s first races back from lockdown.

After finishing third in a makeup race at Charlotte last May, Blaney capped off his post-race interview by squirting a bottle of BODYARMOR right at his mask, drenching it and lightening up what was otherwise a grim situation.

“I wanted to make sure I had BODYARMOR in there, especially because they were on the car as the primary for that race. And we were not supposed to take our masks off at that time, and I was like ‘Well, I think it’d be funny to kind of do a little squirt bottle going through the mask,'” Blaney recalled. “I will say none of it got through. Zero percent of actual liquid got through my mask, and I’m happy that people got a kick out of that.

This year, Blaney will once again be representing BODYARMOR at Charlotte as he debuts a brand new paint scheme to promote the launch of BODYARMOR EDGE.

With three of his five career wins having come in 500-mile races, Blaney is looking to add a Coca-Cola 600 title to his growing resume as a big-race hunter. Blaney’s best showing in the 600 came last season when he finished third.





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