Ryan Blaney, who will be racing in his third Coca-Cola this Sunday (5:30 p.m. ET on FOX), still remembers his first effort in NASCAR's longest race.
"I was go from the moment of the green flag dropping and had a couple close calls with the fence and I look up and they’re like, ‘Alright, we’re halfway. Lap 200,' " Blaney said. "And I’m like, ‘Oh man, I’ve got to do this for another 300 miles,’ and I think I ended up knocking the fence down a few times."
Blaney did end up out of that race after Lap 281 because of engine issues. On Thursday, he talked about his preparations for this Sunday's race and much more during an entertaining session with the media at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Here are the highlights:
Blaney has been known to down a few beers with his buddies, including Dale Earnhardt Jr. But that hasn't been the case this week.
“I don’t drink as much beer as I usually do, so that probably helps," said a laughing Blaney in response to a question about whether or not he prepares any differently for NASCAR's only 600-mile race.
On a more serious note, he added: "No, I don’t really do anything different week to week. You stay hydrated the best you can and try to eat well. I’ve never really had an issue in 600 miles. There are some people who do special things to try to prepare themselves, but I just kind of stick to what I know. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it."
A self-described Star Wars nut, Blaney admits he sometimes goes overboard in search of T-shirts relating to the long-running popular sci-fi movie franchise.
“You don’t really find a lot of old Star Wars T-shirts," he said. "It’s not like racing stuff. They used to make tons and tons of old racing T-shirts and you could find your favorite driver (years later), but I haven’t really found a lot of old Star Wars shirts.
"I just try to collect them when I can whenever I go to Disney or something like that. I was walking through the Concord Mills Mall (near the Charlotte track) and I passed a Disney Store and I didn’t know what was in there, so I was like, ‘Well, maybe they’ve got either a Cars 3 shirt or some Star Wars stuff,’ and when I walked in I didn’t know the max age limit in there was like seven, so, one, I felt really weird.
"I was in sweat pants and a T-shirt with all these kids in there, searching and looking. I would even take like a kids' XL. I felt like that would fit me, but they didn’t have any of those, so that was a little weird."
Speaking of Cars 3 ...
Blaney is in the new Disney movie and attended a premiere of it last week in the Charlotte area.
“It was fun," Blaney said. "I can’t say anything about the movie or I’ll get in really big trouble, but that was really neat to be part of Cars 3.
"The first one came out, I believe, when I was 11 or 12 and that was really neat. I enjoyed that movie as a kid and it was really, really special to be a part of one now."
Honoring the military
Blaney said he really enjoys honoring the military by racing with the name of fallen U.S. Army Sgt. Gregory Belanger on his No. 21 Ford this Memorial Day weekend.
“He was a friend of my engine tuner, Darren Russell, and it means a lot," Blaney said. "NASCAR does a great job supporting the troops every single weekend. I feel like we do the best in all of sports of showing our support to the military, but this weekend is something just a little bit extra."
NASCAR via Getty ImagesRainier Ehrhardt
On the offensive
As usual, Blaney expects restarts to play a key role in who runs up front and ultimately wins the 600.
“They’re hectic, for sure," Blaney said. "If you’re not aggressive on these restarts nowadays, you’re gonna get passed and probably by two or three cars. So I feel like if you’re playing defense on restarts, you’re already behind. You kind of have to be on the offensive on all those restarts."
Clean and fast pit stops will be critical in the 600 as well. While it's true there will be more of them and more time to make up for it if a team suffers through a bad one, it also means there are more stops that can go awry.
“Pit stops are huge," Blaney said. "They’re the easiest spots, to be honest with you, to gain or lose. We talk about restarts being an easy spot to get spots or lose spots. Pit road is very easy as well because we’re all bunched up just like a restart and it comes down to a small point of how you get in your box, but the pit crews are a big point. If you lose a second on pit road, that’s two or three spots and that’s big. That can win or lose you a race."
Once a true test of man and machinery, the Charlotte 600-miler now will be broken up into four 100-lap stages. And Blaney said he's fine with that.
"It’s not only long for us to drive, that’s a long time sitting in the stands or watching on TV," he said. "I think that’s gonna benefit and, one, you’ll see more restarts, which fans like, and things like that. You kind of have a little break to talk to your family or something like that, so that will be nice, too."
Getty ImagesDaniel Shirey
The last time a Wood Brothers Racing entry won the Coca-Cola 600 was in 1987 with Kyle Petty as the team's driver.
The 24-year-old Blaney wasn't born yet, so he's well aware of how special it would be to put his No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford in Victory Lane this Sunday.
"The Wood Brothers are all about history,' Blaney said. "We broke a 13- or 14-year drought of them getting a pole at Kansas. I’d love to break another drought of their last 600 win. ... Doing it on the 30thanniversary of when Kyle won it would be even more special."
Getty ImagesJerry Markland
Why Charlotte's special
Blaney added that winning at Charlotte Motor Speedway, his home track, also is high on his racing bucket list when it comes to helping the Wood Brothers get back to Victory Lane.
"There are three racetracks where I really want to win at for them -- and it’s Daytona, here and Darlington," Blaney said.