Wood Brothers Racing

NASCAR America: Ryan Blaney’s confidence has grown in sophomore Cup season

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Ryan Blaney is sixth in the NASCAR Cup standings heading into Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

With his performance, it’s pretty clear that Blaney is on the cusp of his first career Cup win. Plus, that performance has brought about a big resurgence for one of NASCAR’s most revered teams, Wood Brothers Racing.

“It’s just a matter of finishing out that second half of the race,” Blaney said during an interview with NBCSN’s Marty Snider that aired Thursday on NASCAR America. Blaney also discussed the improved confidence that comes with no longer being a rookie.

 

Blaney, Wood Brothers head to Martinsville for homecoming, hope to leave with win

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It’ll be a big homecoming this weekend at Martinsville Speedway for Wood Brothers Racing.

The Wood Brothers began their legendary NASCAR racing career in Stuart, Virginia, about 30 miles from the Speedway.

Driver Ryan Blaney grew up in High Point, North Carolina, which is about 45 miles from Martinsville. And crew chief Jeremy Bullins grew up in Walnut Cove, N.C., about 40 miles from Martinsville.

That’s why Blaney, Bullins and the Wood Brothers are primed for what they hope will be a strong showing for the No. 21 Ford team in Sunday’s STP 500.

“This is kind of a home track for me,” Blaney said of the .528-mile paperclip-shaped oval. “I have a lot of friends and family that come back and watch this race.

“I’ve been coming here ever since I can remember. This is probably the race I came to most as a kid just because it was so close to our house where I grew up and my dad was racing, so I do consider it a home race as well just because I grew up down the road, so that’s pretty neat.”

Since it was formed in the early 1950s, Wood Brothers Racing has competed in 111 Cup races at Martinsville, earning two wins, 28 top-fives and 42 top-10s.

Not coincidentally, Martinsville Speedway will celebrate its 70th anniversary this weekend, having opened in 1947 and has been the oldest operating track in NASCAR.

And the Wood Brothers have been there for virtually every race since, either racing on-track or watching as spectators.

Glen and I were standing on the backstretch over here at the very first race ever run here 70 years ago, so I think it would be really cool for us — 70 years later — for us to be sitting right here Sunday evening after the race and put that Ford Fusion and Motorcraft Ford in front,” team co-owner Leonard Wood said.

That’s why this weekend has such great significance and importance to the No. 21 team. Blaney sits seventh in the Cup point standings, will make his 60th career start in NASCAR’s premier series and would love to earn his first career Cup win at a track that means so much both to him and the Wood Brothers.

“It would be really big,” Blaney said. “Historically, this hasn’t been my best race track, but it means a lot. For the Wood Brothers, it’s a home race for them and it’s my crew chief’s favorite race track, so that’s given a lot of extra incentive.

“I thought we’ve gotten a lot better here over the last couple of years. I know what we need and we’ll try to run up further toward the front, so it’s just all about putting 500 laps together, saving the car and just trying to stay out of trouble the whole race. It would mean a lot (to win), for sure, and it would be a really good feeling to try to make that happen.”

Blaney has two career Cup starts at Martinsville. Both came last season and both ended in 19th place finishes.

Meanwhile, the Wood Brothers – Eddie and Leonard – would love to earn their first win at Martinsville since NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson visited victory lane there 44 years ago in spring 1973.

“It’s a big race for us,” Eddie Wood said. “We live 25 miles from here. We’ve known Clay Campbell’s (Martinsville president) family all my life.

“We used to hang out with his grandfather (track founder H. Clay Earles). He was always out promoting the race and he would come to our shop in Stuart and we’d have lunch and play cards and do all kinds of things. It’s just great to be racing back here.

“Probably the most special thing for us is to be back racing here. This is home. It’s a hard race to do well in. Like Ryan said, you have to put together 500 laps and stay out of all the calamity that happens and not try to create any of your own, so I’m looking forward to it.

“Like he said, our crew chief, Jeremy Bullins, loves this place and so do we. Ryan’s got two races under his belt, plus Truck races, so I think he’s underestimating his track time here. I think he’ll be just fine.”

The 23-year-old Blaney has matured and improved as a driver since making his first Cup start in 2014. He’d love to add a win at Martinsville to his best Cup finish to date: runner-up in this year’s Daytona 500.

But to do that, Blaney knows he’ll have to maintain his composure at a place where it’s very difficult when you constantly bang fenders with nearly 40 other drivers for 500 laps.

“That’s one of the biggest things you fight here is staying calm and patient,” Blaney said. “All drivers at some point in the race will get frustrated and whether they act upon it or not is up to them.

“We try to stay as emotionless as possible. I think that’s the best thing to do and try and keep a cool head. Granted, that really hasn’t been the case before. I haven’t really gotten emotional here before. It takes you a while to calm back down, but you can never really calm back down when you get like that, hot in the head.”

As Eddie Wood says, what better way to come to Martinsville for a homecoming, and to leave with a victory celebration.

“It’s been a great experience coming over here, close to home and we always want to win here more than anywhere because it was your hometown,” Wood said. “We’re looking forward to coming over here and watching Ryan win this next race. I just think 70 years later would be a really good time to win.”

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Runner-up Ryan Blaney earns best result for Wood Brothers since 2011 Daytona 500 win

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Following the 59th Daytona 500, a race held on a 2.5-mile superspeedway, Ryan Blaney shared a thought with AJ Allmendinger.

“Looks like everyone ran a race at Martinsville,” Blaney said, referring to the half-mile track in Virginia that chews up race cars and spits them out. “Everyone’s stuff was tore up. Only a handful of cars left at the end.”

Blaney was one of them.

The 23-year-old driver took his beat-up No. 21 Ford – but not as beat up as race winner Kurt Busch‘s No. 41 – and survived multiple wrecks and a fuel-mileage battle to finish second in The Great American Race.

It’s the best result in Blaney’s first 55 NASCAR Cup Series starts and his fifth top-five. All of those have come with Wood Brothers Racing, which earned its best result since winning the Daytona 500 in 2011 with Trevor Bayne.

With just under 10 laps to go, Blaney was running in the back of the lead pack with little hope of winning the biggest race of the year. Yet he was still in an enviable position after being involved in a five-car crash on Lap 136 that dinged up his Ford.

“I tried to make a move with 10 to go to see what would happen,” Blaney said. “No one really went with me. (Joey Logano) tried to. It really wasn’t happening. I was kind of worried it was just going to end that way.”

But Blaney’s prospects rapidly began changing. With two laps remaining, leader Chase Elliott pulled up lame on the backstretch as his No. 24 ran out of gas. The single-file line that had inhabited the top of the track began dissolving. As the field came down to the white flag, Blaney finally received a productive push from Logano.

“We were able to lay back to him and get a huge run into (Turn) 1,” Blaney said.

Martin Truex Jr. was also out of gas and had lost the lead, which now belonged to Kyle Larson — but not for long. In Turn 1, Kurt Busch went outside and passed Larson’s No. 42, which was running out of fuel.

“(Busch’s move) kept my run going, all the way up to second,” said Blaney, who took his place in the waiting line for history.

Down the backstretch, Blaney saw AJ Allmendinger in his rear-view mirror and expected the No. 47 to attach itself to his bumper and push them toward Busch. Help never got close enough.

“I just wasn’t very fast,” Allmendinger said. “I was still wide open. … That was all we had.”

The No. 21 began “sputtering pretty bad” in Turn 3, a sign Blaney also would be out of gas soon. However, there was enough for Blaney to earn the best finish of his Cup career, 0.223 seconds behind the biggest win of Busch’s career.

All that was after Blaney started at the rear of the field in a backup car following an accident in his Can-Am Duel on Thursday.

“Our backup car was honestly, I felt, like just as good,” Blaney said. “I think our car had enough time to stay up there, too. We could never grab the lead at the time being the one car up front trying to block lanes. We could never get the right push at the right time. Probably something I was doing wrong not to get the right run.”

Blaney led two laps Sunday, the 49th and 50th, as he clashed with Kyle Busch.

The son of former Cup driver Dave Blaney now has two top fives at restrictor-plate races. The first came at Talladega in 2015 as a rookie. Sunday’s Daytona 500 was his first race without the neon yellow rookie stripes on his rear bumper.

“The yellow things on the back bumper helped not being there any more,” Blaney said. “Really, you can talk all about people not going with young drivers or whoever. Really at the end of these things you’re kind of forced to go with whoever wants to go. Today, luckily we had a teammate with Joey behind us who would go with us.”

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Fords fast in Daytona 500 practice session

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Joey Logano posted the fastest lap in Saturday’s lengthy practice session at Daytona International Speedway.

Fords went 1-2-3 in the session, which lasted 3 hours, 55 minutes.

Logano led the way with a lap of 193.116 mph. Aric Almirola piloted his Richard Petty Motorsports ride to a lap of 193.054 mph. Logano’s Team Penske teammate, Brad  Keselowski, was third on the speed chart at 193.046 mph. Kyle Larson was fourth at 193.034 mph. Ryan Blaney completed the top five in his Wood Brothers Racing Ford at 192.980.

“In all honesty, I’ve never been that fast in qualifying here in Daytona in my whole career,” Logano said. “I feel like I’ve never had a shot at it, but now I feel like I’m closer than ever. I feel like I’m kind of in new territory, plus I think some of these other guys sandbag a lot, so (Sunday) will be the telltale sign.”

Qualifying is Sunday.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., making his return to racing after missing half of last season because of concussion symptoms, was 11th on the speed chart at 192.670 mph.

“It felt good to just get out there and get to work a little bit and be with the guys and see all the familiar faces in the garage, other drivers and team members and so forth,” Earnhardt said. “Yeah, just trying to put as many laps as I can behind me and get further and further into this deal to where the events from last year become more of a distant memory and don’t define me as who I am so much anymore.”

Martin Truex Jr. ran only one lap Saturday. His team struggled to get through inspection and missed most of the session. His teammate, rookie Erik Jones, had similar issues and ran only nine laps. Kyle Busch ran the most laps at 32.

Click here for results of practice

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Wood Brothers give a tour of new race shop

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The Wood Brothers begin this season not only with a charter but with a new home.

The team had shared a building with JTG Daugherty in Harrisburg, North Carolina, but moved after last season to a shop in Mooresville, North Carolina. The move puts the Wood Brothers closer to Team Penske. The two organizations are aligned.

The Wood Brothers will again have Ryan Blaney as driver. The team also has a charter, leasing it from Go Fas Racing. That means the Wood Brothers team is guaranteed a starting spot in every Cup race this year, unlike last year when they did not have a charter.