"I hate that people caught that. Sometimes I have a short temper and it sort of bursts in the car," Blaney says
“I might have … briefly,” Blaney, 29, laughs during an exclusive interview with PEOPLE about the gesture, which was caught on his in-car camera during the season-ending race at Phoenix Raceway.
“Am I ashamed of it? Yes. I hate that people caught that. Sometimes I have a short temper and it sort of bursts in the car," he says. "I just got to get it out and then I feel better about it."
Blaney ultimately ended up coming home as the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series champion for the first time in his racing career on Nov. 5. But in the days following his achievement, much of the focus has been on the temper the North Carolina native sometimes displays once he’s strapped into his race car.
“I'm similar to my father in that aspect,” says Blaney, whose father, Dave Blaney, found himself racing full time on the NASCAR circuit starting in 1998, when his son was just 4 years old. “He and I are very close in terms of our personalities. We are pretty quiet guys most of the time, but we're fiery about what we do. When you're passionate about what you love, sometimes that boils over.”
It’s a trait that Blaney says he’s trying to rein in a bit.
“It's just one of those things that I try to get better at,” he explains. “It's hard to do for me. I just care about it so much... it’s something I'm working on, but it's hard to get those things out of you.”
However, there is a softer side to Blaney, which was evident when he realized he was a NASCAR champion.
“Yeah, I cried, and that was a surprise,” he says. “I was just overcome with it, and that's pretty rare for me to get to that emotional standpoint, but I’m just so proud of the effort of so many people. You get to thinking about those folks and all they've sacrificed to put you in this spot. It was definitely an emotional time.”
At least some of Blaney's newfound emotional side is thanks to his girlfriend of more than three years, Gianna Tulio.
“It’s been fun to explore that [softer] side ever since she's brought it out in me,” Blaney says of his former Hooters model girlfriend.
“She didn't know anything about the sport when I met her, and it's been fun to teach her about it and her to get involved with it," he says. “It's cool that she's taken such a liking to it.”
And when asked if he will pop the question anytime soon, Blaney says it could be coming. “It's one of those things that you're planning on, and you hope happens sometime soon.”
But first, the two plan to take some time to enjoy themselves.
“We love going to Washington State every year,” Blaney says. “We have a little town out there that we love going to, so we already had that planned for December."
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