Wood Brothers Racing

Late surge has Ryan Blaney, Wood Brothers contending for spot in championship round

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AVONDALE, Arizona — Ryan Blaney and the Wood Brothers have done something the past three weeks they hadn’t done all year.

Score consecutive top-10 finishes.

For Blaney and the Woods to have a chance to win the Cup title next weekend in Miami, they’ll have to extend that streak to a fourth consecutive race Sunday at Phoenix Raceway.

One spot remains in the championship round. Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. already have secured spots.

Brad Keselowski holds the final transfer position. He leads Denny Hamlin by 19 points, Blaney by 22, Chase Elliott by 49 and Jimmie Johnson by 51.

MORE: Wood Brothers’ lifeline started with a phone call

Keselowski starts 16th Sunday — lowest among the remaining playoff contenders — while Blaney won the pole.

Blaney is in position to contend for that final transfer position because of the team’s recent surge. A third-place finish at Kansas was followed by an eighth at Martinsville and a sixth last weekend at Texas. It’s a big change from earlier this year.

“We’ve had great weekends and then we can never seem to really back it up,’’ Blaney said of the struggles to score back-to-back top-10 finishes until this month. “That’s something that’s frustrating. I think we’ve had mostly good cars all year, and I feel like what’s changed in the past few weeks is multiple things. 

“I think we’re getting better as a team. I think our cars are getting to where they need to be and we’re just cleaning up races, whether it’s on pit road or on the race track. We’re getting those better and we’re able to finish a lot better. 

“I think it’s just everybody working well together and things finally coming together for us, which is the right time for things to come together. It’s just been nice to kind of see these weekends get a little bit more steady and be able to put together these 400- or 500-mile races.’’

Blaney, though, says he doesn’t feel pressure with his situation.

“If we were like in a spot where we could get bumped out, that would be pressure,’’ Blaney said. “We really don’t have much to lose just because we’re not in a position to where we’re already locked in. I just think we’re up for the challenge. I think that’s when real teams show what they’re made of.”

That Kansas race was pivotal because Blaney had to relinquish his third starting spot and take the green flag at the rear of the field because his car failed inspection after qualifying. To come back and finish third was significant for the team.

“I thought the situation at Kansas was a big challenge for us,’’ Blaney said. “I thought the way that we handled it in overcoming it was a big statement for our team and a big realization for us that we can come from the back, we can race with the best teams and cars and we deserve that right.’’

They’ll have to do it again if Blaney hopes to lead the Wood Brothers into the title round and have a chance to win their first Cup crown since 1963 when they won the owner’s championship.

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Keep up with all the Silly Season changes for 2018 with this scorecard

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Aric Almirola became the latest driver to secure a ride for 2018 when Stewart-Haas Racing announced Wednesday that he’ll drive the No. 10 car.

Even with that announcement, more questions remain on which drivers will be in what rides next season.

Here’s a look at where Silly Season stands as Cup teams head to Phoenix Raceway for Sunday’s playoff race.

ANNOUNCED RIDES FOR 2018

— Aric Almirola will join Stewart-Haas Racing and drive the No. 10 car. (announcement made Nov. 8)

Darrell Wallace Jr. will join Richard Petty Motorsports and drive the No. 43 car. (announcement made Oct. 25)

Kasey Kahne will join Leavine Family Racing and drive the No. 95 car. (announcement made Sept. 19)

Ty Dillon signs a multi-year contract to remain at Germain Racing and drive the No. 13 car. Sponsor Geico also extends its deal with the team (announcement made Sept. 5)

Chris Buescher signs a multi-year contract to remain at JTG Daugherty and drive the No. 37 car. (announcement made Aug. 18)

Matt DiBenedetto will remain with Go Fas Racing in the team’s No. 32 car (announcement made Aug. 12)

William Byron will drive the No. 24 at Hendrick Motorsports, replacing Kasey Kahne (announcement made Aug. 9)

Paul Menard moves to Wood Brothers Racing to drive the No. 21 car (announcement made July 26)

Ryan Blaney moves to Team Penske to drive the No. 12 car and signs a multi-year contract extension (announcement made July 26)

Brad Keselowski agrees to contract extension to drive the No. 2 car for Team Penske (announcement made July 25

Alex Bowman will drive the No. 88 at Hendrick Motorsports, replacing Dale Earnhardt Jr. (announcement made July 20)

Erik Jones will drive the No. 20 at Joe Gibbs Racing, replacing Matt Kenseth (announcement made July 11)

OPEN RIDES

— No. 27: Richard Childress Racing states it will announce plans for a third Cup team at a later date with Paul Menard joining the Wood Brothers for next season. Key will be sponsorship money on what happens with that car.

— No. 34: Front Row Motorsports informed Landon Cassill on Oct. 9 that he would not be returning to the team next season. The team has not announced its driver lineup for next season. 

— No. 41: Stewart-Haas Racing declined to pick up the option on Kurt Busch’s contract for next year on Aug. 1. Even so, the team tweeted that it expected Busch back with sponsor Monster Energy for next year. Busch said Nov. 3 that “we are in negotiations’’ to remain in the No. 41. Co-owner Tony Stewart said Nov. 5: “That’s our goal, is to have Kurt back in that car for next year.’’

AVAILABLE DRIVERS

Matt Kenseth: He said Nov. 4 on the NASCAR on NBC podcast that he has “decided to take some time off” after the 2018 season. Kenseth isn’t using the word retirement but says he has no ride for 2018.

Kurt Busch: With Stewart-Haas Racing declining to pick up his option for next year, Busch is a free agent. Even with Stewart-Haas Racing’s action, there’s still a good chance Busch signs a deal to remain with the organization.

Danica Patrick: She will not return to Stewart-Haas Racing after this season. Patrick has not announced any plans for next season. She’s not looking for a ride in the Xfinity Series. “Cup only,’’ she said.  

Michael McDowellWill not return to Leavine Family Racing with Kasey Kahne joining the team next season.

Landon CassillSearching for a ride after being informed he will not be back at Front Row Motorsports. He said Oct. 10 that he did not have sponsorship to bring with him at the time.

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Cup test begins today at Homestead-Miami Speedway

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Eight teams, including five in the playoffs, are scheduled to take part in an organizational test today and Thursday at Homestead-Miami Speedway in preparation for the Nov. 19 race that will crown the Cup champion.

Each organization is permitted to have one team at the test. Not all organizations are participating.

Scheduled to test are:

Martin Truex Jr. (Furniture Row Racing)

Denny Hamlin (Joe Gibbs Racing)

Jimmie Johnson (Hendrick Motorsports)

Brad Keselowski (Team Penske)

Ryan Blaney (Wood Brothers Racing)

Kyle Larson (Chip Ganassi Racing)

Clint Bowyer (Stewart-Haas Racing)

Trevor Bayne (Roush Fenway Racing)

Each manufacturer will have its own car. Alex Bowman will drive the Chevrolet car, Landon Cassill will drive the Ford car, and Drew Herring will drive the Toyota car.

Testing is set to go from noon – 7 p.m. ET today and 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Thursday.

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Ryan Blaney advances in playoffs after best result in four months

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Ryan Blaney‘s day started with his No. 21 Ford in last and uncertainty surrounding his chances of advancing in the Cup playoffs.

Blaney started 40th after his car failed post-inspection qualifying Friday.

The day ended with the Wood Brothers Racing driver earning his first top five since June and securing a spot in the Round of 8.

Blaney placed third, his best result since winning at Pocono Raceway on June 11.

“We had a good car right off the bat,” Blaney told NBCSN. “We weren’t the great at the end before the competition caution (on Lap 30).”

Blaney went from 40th to 17th by the time the competition caution waved. Following another caution on Lap 48, Blaney kept his car on track and only fell to fourth by the end of the first 80-lap stage. He placed eighth in the second stage.

“Then there was a mixup with some strategy stuff and pit calls and it felt like we were kind of at the back part of that but we were able to recover and miss that (14-car) wreck (on Lap 198) which was big for us,” Blaney said. “We ran strong enough all day that we should have been in with where we ran. I am really proud of my team for the effort and we will move on to the next round and Martinsville.”

Blaney’s result is also just his third top 10 in the last eight races. The result keeps hope alive for the Wood Brothers, who are seeking their first Cup championship since winning the 1963 owners title.

He heads to Martinsville Speedway seeded seventh in the eight-driver field with 4,009 points.

Ryan Blaney’s car fails inspection after qualifying

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KANSAS CITY, Kansas – Playoff contender Ryan Blaney’s car failed inspection after qualifying third Friday night at Kansas Speedway, NASCAR announced.

NASCAR stated that the car’s package tray did not maintain its original shape. That is the metal that holds the rear window in place.

Blaney will start last in the 40-car field and have the last pick of pit stalls this weekend and next weekend at Martinsville Speedway. There will be no further penalties.

Team co-owner Eddie Wood said:

“The rules are pushed to the max in every area, and today the NASCAR officials found something they didn’t like about our car. We’re not disputing their decision. We’ll own it and move on.

“We’ll work on our car in Saturday’s practice, line up in the back on Sunday and look forward to watching Ryan drive his way to the front.”

Blaney enters Sunday’s elimination race two points ahead of Jimmie Johnson, who holds the eighth final transfer spot for the next round. Kyle Busch is nine points behind Blaney and Matt Kenseth is 10th.

Four of the 12 playoff contenders will be eliminated after Sunday’s race.

By starting at the rear, Blaney will be challenged to be in the top 10 by Lap 80 to score stage points. If he doesn’t, he could fall behind Johnson and Busch after the first stage.

Below is Section 20.4.17.8 of the Cup Rule Book, which features a diagram of the package tray

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