Kobe Bryant: NASCAR Star Ryan Blaney Reveals What Lakers Icon Means to Him

NASCAR driver Ryan Blaney will be taking the track on Sunday with the intention of simultaneously winning the Auto Club 400 and honoring the life of Kobe Bryant. The latter goal will be achieved through a custom tribute paint scheme on his No. 12 Ford Mustang. Blaney previously met the late NBA icon, and the interaction left a lasting impression on him.

Speaking with reporters on Friday, Blaney revealed the impact that Bryant made on his life. Their interactions were brief but memorable. However, his admiration for the longtime Los Angeles Lakers star began much earlier in life.

"I think he meant a lot to a lot of young kids growing up trying to be either not only in basketball but be successful in their sport," Blaney said to reporters. "I got the very fortunate chance to meet him in 2018 and talk to him for 20 minutes or so. I'll never forget that experience. It was really really cool."

As Blaney continued to explain, he grew up adoring Bryant and admiring him for the work ethic that he displayed during his career with the Los Angeles Lakers. This topic was discussed during their brief interaction, as well as the complexity of stock car racing.

Having a custom Bryant paint scheme may not have been the easiest for some NASCAR drivers, but Blaney had one minor advantage in that Body Armor is one of his sponsors. Bryant was involved in the sports drink company, which made it easier for the design to come to fruition.

Blaney will get behind the wheel of his Bryant tribute car on Sunday with decent odds overall to win the Auto Club 400. According to CBS Sports, he is facing 17-1 odds to secure the victory, which is ninth-best in the field.

Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick are co-favorites as of Saturday afternoon, each sitting at 4-1 overall. Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, and Chase Elliott are viewed as more likely options. Martin Truex Jr. entered the weekend with 7-1 odds to win at Auto Club Speedway, but he will be starting from the last position due to failing inspection.

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The NASCAR Cup Series Auto Club 400 will be televised on FOX starting at 2:50 p.m. ET. The green flag starting the race is set to be waved at 3:30 p.m. ET.

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