Long: A celebration worth savoring for Ryan Blaney, Wood Brothers

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Ryan Blaney wasn’t supposed to be here.

Neither were the Wood Brothers.

Yet, there they were celebrating Sunday at Pocono Raceway after a momentous win for a storied organization and a storied family.

The Wood Brothers trace their history to NASCAR’s early days when the only Petty racing was Lee (Richard’s dad) and the fastest siblings were the Flocks. The Woods later dominated with David Pearson driving the No. 21 Ford.

“Our dad and uncles back in the ’60s and ’70s, they were almost unbeatable and built those wins up,’’ co-owner Len Wood said.

The Woods’ success faded. There were special moments, such as Dale Jarrett’s first Cup win in 1991, Morgan Shepherd’s last win in 1993 and Elliott Sadler’s first Cup victory in 2001, but there were struggles between those special days.

The family’s darkest period was from 2008-10. The team failed to qualify for the 2008 Daytona 500, marking the first time since 1962 the “Great American Race” was held without the Woods.

They missed four of the first five races in 2008. The family business teetered.

It seemed as if Wood Brothers Racing would follow the fate of so many mom-and-pop businesses that were gobbled up by bigger competitors. Just these competitors weren’t Wal-Mart but Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing.

After Petty Enterprises closed its shop at the end of 2008, the question became if the Wood Brothers would do the same.

With Ford’s support, the team survived, running select races. It wasn’t even half a season but it kept the family business alive.

“You just take it one day at a time and one situation at a time and one crisis at a time,’’ co-owner Eddie Wood said of the struggles. “There’s always something going on or changing in racing, and you just have to adapt and figure out a way to make it work. 

“You have a day like today, you don’t even remember the tough times.’’

The team provided a feel-good moment in 2011 when Trevor Bayne won the Daytona 500 but the Woods hadn’t won since. It seemed only a matter of time, though, with the team’s affiliation with Team Penske and 23-year-old driver Ryan Blaney.

While some might recall Blaney as the son of driver Dave Blaney, Ryan Blaney is actually a third-generation racer. His late grandfather, Lou, raced as early as 1958 and amassed more than 600 wins, driving sprint cars and modifieds.

Dave Blaney was inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 2014, joining Lou, who was inducted in 2013. Dave Blaney didn’t enjoy the success in NASCAR he did in sprint cars, winning one Xfintiy race, but the family’s racing gene was passed on to Ryan.

It was on a trip to watch his dad race in NASCAR when Ryan’s career began. He raced a quarter midget at age 8, making his debut at a dirt track not far from Pocono Raceway.

As Ryan Blaney’s success grew, he moved through the ranks and began gaining attention of Cup drivers.

In a 2012 marketing video, Tony Stewart said of Blaney: “I won’t try to sell him to anybody because I want him eventually. I want him in our organization. I think the world of him. I think he’s going to be the next great star.’’

Also providing a testimonial was Kevin Harvick, the driver Blaney held off in the final laps to win Sunday.

In that 5-year-old video, Harvick said: “Ryan just understands how this sport works. He understands how he’s supposed to be off the race track. In the race car, he’s just a great competitor and understands what he’s supposed to do. It’s very rare that you see somebody that far ahead of their time.’’

The youngster held off the 2014 Cup champion Sunday by not making any mistakes. Harvick never got to the rear bumper of Blaney’s car to make a move.

With that, Blaney became the 18th different driver to win for the Wood Brothers.

Blaney joined the family in 2015 and their time together was expected to be short.

“It was actually kind of understood that he was going to be moving on probably the next year, and then it didn’t happen,’’ Eddie Wood said.

Instead, Blaney is with the Wood Brothers, merging future with past.

In a serendipitous nod to when the Wood Brothers were among the dominant teams, Blaney’s radio malfunctioned and his crew couldn’t hear him. They had to resort to the hand signals used back when David Pearson drove the No. 21 for them. Hand to the roof meant the car was loose, hand on the door meant the car was tight.

Still, if only the radio had worked. Blaney wanted to go back in time in a special way.

“I wanted to pick Eddie and Len up,’’ Blaney said. “I wanted to find them and pick them up.’’

And drive them to Victory Lane. Just as they used to do back when the Wood Brothers won so often.

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NASCAR America: Should penalty for failing inspection be more severe?


After 13 cars failed qualifying inspection last Friday at Auto Club Speedway, NASCAR America’s analysts addressed the current state of rules that resulted in all thirteen teams not getting to make a qualifying attempt.

While Kyle Busch said the issues are “not that big deal,” especially with the new scanning system still in its infancy, Jeff Burton disagrees. Burton points to how much engineering has become involved in the sport and trying make cars better with NASCAR’s rules.

“It’s snowballed into this great big bag of rules,” Burton said. “We have all these rules that the teams have forced NASCAR to create. I don’t know the way out of it. There’s two ways to do it. You make the penalties harsher, with the theory being they won’t do it if the penalty is so harsh, or you have less rules. The problem is if you have less rules you’re going to have more cars that aren’t within those rules as they are.”

After the issues in Cup qualifying, NASCAR told Xfinity Series teams on Saturday that any team that did not attempt a lap in qualifying would start from the rear of the field and be required to serve a pass-through penalty once the green flag waved.

“It is a mess, but I disagree with Kyle (Busch), it is a big deal,” Burton said, citing fans who don’t get to see their favorite driver qualifying. “That’s not good. That’s not good for sponsors, that’s mainly not good for mainly race fans. If race fans tune in and their guy isn’t on track, why are they going to tune in next week? They deserve to see their guy on track. It’s got to get fixed.”

NASCAR announced Monday that inspection this weekend at Martinsville Speedway would take place after qualifying and would also serve as pre-race inspection.

Jarrett, who said there are too many rules, agreed with Burton.

“The only way of fixing this is making the penalty so severe that these teams aren’t going to take any chances,” Jarrett said.

Watch the above video for more.

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Auto Club Speedway recap, West Coast Awards

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN and looks back at the weekend’s racing at Auto Club Speedway.

Rutledge Wood hosts with Jeff Burton, Kyle Petty and Dale Jarrett from the “Big Oak Table” at NBC Charlotte.

What to expect from the show.

  • Martin Truex Jr. flashed his championship form from last year and earned his first win of the 2018 season Sunday in Fontana. We’ll recap the last race of NASCAR Goes West from around the “Big Oak Table” at our NBC Sports studios in Charlotte. Plus, Rut and the gang will hand out the West Coast awards, honoring the best moments from the Vegas-Phoenix-Fontana run.
  • NASCAR is a sport built on families, and it’s seen lots of kids grow up at the track through the years. We’ll spend time discussing the next generation to catch the racing bug – including Harrison Burton, son of our Jeff Burton.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, you also can watch it via the online stream at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com.

If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Landon Cassill gets Cup ride for Martinsville, Texas

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Landon Cassill will drive the No. 00 for StarCom Racing in the next two races, Martinsville and Texas, the team announced Monday.

Cassill replaces Jeffrey Earnhardt. StarCom Racing and Earnhardt parted ways after Sunday’s race at Auto Club Speedway.

Sunday’s race at Martinsville Speedway will mark Cassill’s first Cup race of the year. The 28-year-old has 259 career Cup starts and a career-best finish of fourth at Talladega in October 2014. He drove for Front Row Motorsports the past two seasons but was not retained after last year.

Cassill’s sponsor the next two races will be the United States First Responders Association, a non-profit, professional and social network of fire, EMS, rescue, law enforcement and military personnel, as well as civilian support teams.

StarCom Racing was privileged to acquire a new partnership with USFRA and Landon Cassill behind the wheel,” said Derrike Cope, team manager, in a statement. “I’m optimistic that his knowledge and experience will only help our efforts as well as the growth of our team.”

Said Cassill in a statement: “I love working with new teams. I feel like that is one of my strengths. StarCom Racing looks like they are in it for the long haul, and I am thrilled to be a part of it.” 

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Hendrick Motorsports withdraws appeal of Phoenix penalties against No. 9 team

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Hendrick Motorsports has withdrawn its appeal of penalties against Chase Elliott‘s N0. 9 team from last weekend’s race in Phoenix, NBC Sports confirmed.

NASCAR found a L1 infraction on Elliott’s car in the rear-suspension after the race at ISM Raceway.

NASCAR stated that the team’s truck trailing arm spacer/pinion angle shim mounting surfaces must be planar and in complete contact with corresponding mating surfaces at all points and at all times.

NASCAR fined crew chief Alan Gustafson $50,000, suspended car chief Josh Kirk two races and docked Elliott 25 points and the team 25 owner points. Elliott’s third-place finish in the race will not count toward any tiebreakers.

Following Sunday’s race at Auto Club Speedway, where Elliott finished 16th, he is 21st in the point standings.

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