Ryan Blaney talks NASCAR Playoffs, ratings spike and gives his Star Wars prediction

Ryan Blaney is one of NASCAR's top up-and-coming drivers. The 23-year-old sits seventh in the standings heading into the NASCAR Playoffs Round of 12 cutoff race at Kansas.

We caught up with Blaney on a variety of issues including last week's 'Big One' at Talladega, his previous success at Kansas and television ratings in NASCAR. Blaney calls himself an "aspiring Jedi" so we made sure to also get his wildest Star Wars The Last Jedi predictions including a shocking twist for protagonist Luke Skywalker.

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On racing and winning a stage at Talladega

Q: Excellent. So let's get right to it. Talk about your experience at Talladega last week. Not the finish you were hoping for but you still came out of there with a stage win. Can you elaborate on that experience as a whole from the boulevard to 'The Big One'?

A: "I always look forward to going to (Talladega) a couple times a year. Whether it's the racetrack, I enjoy racing speedways, or all the fans that come out to that race. Just enjoying the boulevard. Friday nights are usually really fun for a lot of people when we do the parade and things like that. But not the finish we wanted for sure but we did a good job in the stages I thought. We got a lot of those points and even though we finished 18th we're still above the cutline for the next round. That part is pretty nice and hopefully we can go and do a good job at Kansas this weekend and try to advance to the Round of 8. That'd be a pretty great accomplishment but I had a lot of fun in Talladega and I can't wait to go back there next year."

Looking ahead to the Round of 12 cutoff race at Kansas

Q: And being above the cutline, they have you in seventh place. But you can never feel to safe with former champions Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch breathing down your neck. What do you have to do at Kansas this weekend to advance to the Round of 8?

A: "Just have a solid day really. We ran really great there at Kansas in the spring race earlier. We were able to sit on the pole and win a stage and run fourth. I think if we can have a day like that again we'll have a good shot at advancing. I think no mistakes and just going to do the best that our team can like I know we can do week in and week out. I hope that we can have a good run but you never know what can happen. The playoffs are a very unpredictable thing and hopefully we have nothing unpredictable happen to us but just have a solid day. No mistakes from anyone from myself to pit road or anything like that. Hopefully we can do well enough and that'll be enough to move on."

Blaney's thoughts on the direction of NASCAR as a sport

NASCAR: Daytona 500-Media Day
NASCAR Cup Series drivers Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott talk during 2017 media day USA TODAY Sports

Q: Well we certainly saw the unpredictability of NASCAR last week at Talladega and as a NASCAR fan who grew up watching guys like (Tony) Stewart, (Jeff) Gordon and (Dale) Earnhardt I swear I had chills last week watching you and Chase Elliott go at it in the final laps there. And I'm sure you know this but you guys are the future of the sport. I'm just curious to know what direction would you like to see NASCAR go moving forward?

A: "I think it's in a good direction right now. It's pretty unique timing right now. There's a lot of veterans who have been in the sport for a long time who are winning races still on the biggest stretch for the championship but there are some young kids in the sport as well who are just coming up. They're either in their first or second or third years. You know, Chase (Elliott) and (Kyle) Larson, Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez to a great job. There's kind of a cool feel going on so I think it's on the right track. It's been a lot of fun to be a part of it. Be a part of the growth of NASCAR trying to have this younger tide come about. It's just nice to be mentioned in the same category as those guys. I think they're on the right track for sure. We're definitely on the incline. That's where we want to be and that's where it should be."

On joining Team Penske next season and making rivals in the sport

Q: Well you seem like a nice guy Ryan but you're joining Team Penske next season. Obviously one of the top teams in the sport. What has your experience been like with your future teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano and are you not afraid to make the rivalries like they have? Keselowski with (Kyle) Busch and Logano with (Kyle) Busch, are you prepared to make those rivalries on the track?

A: "I don't really try to make rivalries. You know things happen a lot of times that are maybe sometimes out of your doing or you do on purpose that end up making rivalries but that's not my goal. My goal is to just try to win races and do the best I can. I don't really like being in too much of the spotlight, especially the rivalry spotlight. But I'm excited for the move to Penske next year though. They're a great team and to be able to drive a Cup car for Roger is going to be really special to me. He's someone I look up to a lot in the sport and he's been a huge pioneer of motorsports for a really long time. So to work with Joey and Brad, they've been great to me. I drove trucks for Brad. He gave me my start pretty much. So Brad is a great mentor to me but as far as rivalries that's not my main goal. If that happens it happens but I'm just gonna try and win races and whether you gain a rival from doing that or not is kinda unpredictable. You never know what can happen."

What leads to strong TV ratings in NASCAR?

Q: Well eating that humble pie is going to serve you well over the course of your career. You talk about the rivalries right? That's something that fans like to see and that often impacts the ratings in the sport. The Round of 12 in particular has shown really good numbers especially with the major spike (2.84) at Talladega last week. Why do you think that is and what does NASCAR and the drivers have to do to continue that momentum?

A: "I mean just making the racing competitive and having good finishes. That's what fans want to see. They want to see good finishes and good hard racing and that's what the playoffs do. Playoffs make for really hard racing. They know drivers have to perform well throughout the stages at the end of these races. It's the season on the line and if you don't do well in these three races you're out and your season is over pretty much. At least your championship run is over. I think that's what makes it exciting. I think the playoffs are a great deal that NASCAR has implemented over the past few years. You know, knocking people out. That's what is exciting to me to watch and it's just as exciting to be a part of. It's nerve wracking for sure. If you're close to the cutoff line and you make some desperate moves. That's what it's all about. That's what sports are all about. I think (NASCAR) is doing a great job of growing it again and it's nice to be a part of and seeing it grow. Seeing all the fans come back to the sports and to meet all of them. Where they've come from, where they've been. That part is pretty neat. So it's on the rise as I said and that's a good place to be."

Blaney's wildest Star Wars 'The Last Jedi' predictions

Q: I'm a huge Star Wars geek and I cannot let you get away without talking about Star Wars with you man. I'm really anxious to hear your predictions for 'The Last Jedi'. If you could, just give me your wildest prediction for what's going to happen in the next movie?

A: "Wildest prediction. Well I'm excited for the movie. I think it's going to be really great but I think Luke's bad. He turns to the dark side. And then Rey and Kylo join up, join forces and go try to beat Snoke. That's my wildest prediction for you. It's probably a little bit out but we'll find out."

Q: No I don't think it's out there. I think it's actually right on. I saw something last night they were comparing the scars of Snoke and Anakin Skywalker. So there's a chance that Snoke is actually Anakin or Vader's reincarnation. That's a crazy one I saw but what I really want to know as well, who do you think Rey's parents are?

A: "I don't know man. I've heard so many things from she's Kylo's sister and I don't know. A lot of people think she's Luke's daughter but that's too predictable. So it might just be a random person or something like that. I don't know. I can't even begin to guess and it's probably going to be wrong whatever I guess. I'm excited to see where they go with it though.

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