Ryan Blaney introduced himself to NASCAR fans in a big way on Friday night, driving to a surprising seventh-place finish in his first-ever Nationwide Series start.
Blaney, the son of Sprint Cup Series driver Dave Blaney, showed poise, patience and speed throughout the 250-lap race at Richmond International Raceway, demonstrating why garage insiders are high on his talent and potential.
It was a fantastic performance for a series debut, but one Blaney didn't necessarily expect.
"This does exceed my expectations a little bit," he said, trying to suppress a smile. "We were going to pass for third there on that first green-flag run. It's incredible we can come out here with a small team like Tommy Baldwin (Racing) and run with all the big teams and be competitive."
Blaney is a cool customer and his demeanor made it seem as if he'd just climbed from the car after a routine race. But was he really that calm on the inside?
"I told (the team) I couldn't believe I was almost about to pass Denny Hamlin for third place," he said, grinning. "It was a privilege to come out here and run with these guys as good as we did."
The 18-year-old said he was "a little timid" at the start of the race because he wanted to show respect – and earn respect – in his first race. But after about 75 laps, Blaney said he started to notice the regular Nationwide drivers were giving him racing room because he was running so well.
That meant more than anything to a young driver who just wanted to make a positive impression in his debut.
"That really felt good to know they kind of welcomed me in to the Nationwide Series, I guess you could say," he said.
After that performance, it's easily to get the feeling he'll be welcomed in NASCAR for years to come.