Legacy, family stands out for Ryan Blaney with the Wood Brothers

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Perhaps it’s fitting Ryan Blaney turned 21 on Dec. 31, as he will make his first real voyage into the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series aboard the Wood Brothers’ iconic No. 21.

Yes, Blaney has a handful of Cup starts, but an increased 18-race schedule with the Wood Brothers will mark his first time running so many races in NASCAR’s top series.

Blaney has been around cars since birth, thanks to his father Dave and uncle Dale’s racing careers. The Woods, from Glen and Leonard Wood and on down the line, are celebrating their 65-year anniversary this year.

This pretty much makes the two racing families a perfect match.

“You’re not a fan or a racer of NASCAR and don’t know the Wood Brothers,” Blaney said during the NASCAR media tour. “I didn’t need to research. I know them. Names like Cale Yarborough, David Pearson, Bill Elliott, Tiny Lund… they’re all really iconic in NASCAR. Most guys have driven for the Woods.

“When you drive for an iconic team, it’s amazing. For the family lineage in racing, it meshes. Their family is a long line of racers. It’s neat how that twists together. It gives us a great relationship. They’re a great group of guys, and we want to be successful for them.”

Success will be a hard term to define for Blaney and the Wood Brothers this year, although he’ll come with crew chief Jeremy Bullins, who has spearheaded some of Team Penske’s recent success in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

With Blaney only running an 18-race schedule, there’s no points to worry about, which should allow for both driver and crew chief to be more aggressive more often than not.

But as Blaney admitted, he’s a Cup rookie, even though he won’t be running for rookie-of-the-year honors. He’ll need to earn that respect at the Cup level.

“There’s actually a fine line there,” he explained. “So OK, the benefit of a partial schedule is you don’t have to worry about points so you can be more aggressive on pit calls or driving style. But you’re new, and have to earn respect.

“I’d compare it to being a high school senior then going to college and being a freshman. You’re new, and you’re moving from being a big bad senior to nothing! That’s kinda me right now. I was good in the Truck Series… now you’re nothing in Cup. It’s a balancing act between being on the aggressive side since you have to learn, but you have to give a lot to gain respect.”

Bullins, who’s come a long way over 15 years since starting as a car chief and engineer with the Wood Brothers in 1999, said the increased Cup schedule will help serve both of them better in the long run.

“Adding to the schedule is better; it gets us in a better rhythm as a team,” Bullins said. “Now it’s about how fast we get there. The goal for him is to be a full-time Cup driver, and my goal is to be a full-time Cup crew chief.”

Blaney was effusive in his praise of Bullins, who has worked with several drivers at Penske and helped steer the No. 22 team to the last two owner’s championships.

“I think we had four different drivers in ’13 and ’14,” Blaney said. “That speaks to his character and commitment to racing. Not all drivers drive the same. For him to adjust and know what they like, and be successful at it, is amazing. He adjusts so well, and we’re fortunate we got him for this Cup program.

“We’ve created a good bond. We’re both building our careers at the same time. Drivers talk about a personal language you have with your crew chief; we have that, and it’s beneficial.”

With the Wood Brothers at 98 career Cup wins, two more will take them to 100. The goal for the Daytona 500 – assuming the team qualifies for the race – is to emulate Trevor Bayne’s 2011 upset victory, the team’s most recent win.

“We’re gonna try to make that happen!” Blaney said. “We’re expecting we’ll have a very fast car for the 500 and this year overall. They’ve worked really hard on our speedway car for the 500.

“Hopefully we can do it… this car, that race, the history… hopefully we can pull a ‘Trevor Bayne moment.'”

Winners and losers from Las Vegas

Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images
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WINNERS

Paul Wolfe — Great call to have Joey Logano not pit before the final restart. Of course it helped that six other cars stayed out. Still, the top two cars came down pit road and Logano, running third, stayed out and won.

Matt DiBenedettoFinishes second in his second race with the Wood Brothers.

Jimmie JohnsonScored his first top-five finish since last summer’s Daytona race.

Bubba Wallace Decision not to pit allowed him to finish sixth, giving him his best Cup finish on a 1.5-mile track.

LOSERS

Todd Gordon and Greg Ives— For every high, there is a low. Gordon apologized on the radio to Ryan Blaney for calling him to pit road while leading before the final restart. Blaney finished 11th. Ives called Bowman to pit road while running second before the final restart. Bowman finished 13th. Ives tweeted that he was “VERY frustrated with my call at the end not to game on old tires, especially in Vegas.”

19 pit crew — Martin Truex Jr.’s pit crew got him into the lead under caution after Stage 2 but he had to return to pit under that caution to tighten loose lug nuts. Said Truex after the race: “We just need to quit having mistakes on pit road.”

William ByronLined up second on the final restart but contact with Matt DiBenedetto led to a tire rub and Byron falling back before he was involved in the crash that ended race. He finished 22nd.

Ross Chastain says his finish ‘unacceptable’ in place of Newman

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He scored a 10th-place finish in the first stage and ran as high as fifth Sunday in a car he never raced before.

Ross Chastain still had a harsh evaluation of his 27th-place finish at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the No. 6 Ford, which he drove in place of an injured Ryan Newman.

Chastain finished two laps down after causing the final caution on a Lap 262 spin, which he judged “unacceptable,” along with his restart performance (“guys kind of ate me alive”) as a substitute for Roush Fenway Racing.

“It’s hard to get out of the car after you have a top-10 car, and you go and run into people and pick the wrong lanes on restarts and then spin it out at the end,” Chastain said. “That’s pretty silly. Just a lot of mistakes on my end and then at the end just overdriving and for one position to be the first car a lap down. That’s unacceptable.”

Chastain had an average running position of 16.87 over the 400-mile race, which went south after he pitted under green from 15th on Lap 217 of 267. The yellow flag flew five laps later, and Chastain took a wavearound to restart 21st.

(Photo by Will Lester/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

On the restart, he made contact with Kurt Busch and pitted under green to fix a tire rub, which left him a lap down when he spun with five laps remaining.

“There were a lot of small mistakes on my end, but I learned a ton,” he said. “The car deserved a lot better finish.  Obviously, we showed that early and I just didn’t have great restarts. I just have to be better.

“RFR and everybody puts so much into these cars, and ultimately I’m the one holding the wheel.  We had such a good first stage and had so much confidence and from there I just started making mistakes.”

Chastain, who finished 10th in Sunday night’s rain-delayed Xfinity race, will be driving the No. 6 for Roush while Newman recovers from his Daytona 500 crash. In a statement from the team Sunday morning, Newman indicated he plans to drive again this season, but no timetable has been provided for his return.

Chase Briscoe wins rain-delayed Xfinity race in Las Vegas

Chase Briscoe
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Chase Briscoe won Sunday’s rain-delayed Xfinity Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, beating fellow Ford driver Austin Cindric by almost three seconds to claim his third career Xfinity win.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver led 89 laps in the race, which began late Saturday afternoon but was red flagged on Lap 51 due to rain.

Briscoe and Cindric were the only Ford drivers in the field.

Ryan Sieg placed third to earn his sixth career top-five finish and his first on a 1.5-mile track.

The top five was completed by Daytona winner Noah Gragson and Harrison Burton.

“That was really a team win,” Briscoe told Fox Sports. “We were really good, then as soon as the sun went down when we were in dirty air, we just weren’t really good. In clean air, obviously there at the end we were really good. … This is something I feel we can do all year long.”

STAGE 1 WINNER: Chase Briscoe

STAGE 2 WINNER: Justin Allgaier

More: Click here for race results.

More: Click here for the point standings.

WHAT’S NEXT: Production Alliance Group 300 at Auto Club Speedway at 4 p.m. ET Feb. 29 on FS1.

Chevy drivers positive about new Camaro body after Las Vegas

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Positive reviews are in from a few Chevrolet Cup drivers after their first race on an intermediate track with the updated Camaro ZL1 1LE body, which was introduced this year in an effort to improve the manufacturer’s performance after two lackluster seasons.

Those reviews are backed by the final results for Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

After the chaos created by a last-lap crash, six Chevrolets finished in the top 10. They were led by Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Austin Dillon and Jimmie Johnson placing in the top five.

That followed Chase Elliott leading 70 laps and winning both stages before his one-car incident in the middle of the final stage.

In last year’s spring race on the 1.5-mile track, only two Chevys – Kurt Busch (fifth) and Elliott (ninth) – finished in the top 10. Three Chevy drivers combined to lead 23 of the race’s 267 laps.

“We’re trying to just understand this new Camaro body and the setup that needs to go with it,” said Johnson. “We’re close, but there’s still a little bit more work for us to do on our car to get the balance between the clean air and the traffic closer. But for the first try on a downforce track, the guys did a really nice job.”

Johnson earned his first top five since last July’s race at Daytona. He placed 19th in this race last year.

“It’s really rewarding to see,” Johnson said. “Last year when we left here, we had quite the opposite feeling and were pretty worried about what the year was going to hold for us. So, it’s really nice to have that change of perspective now. There’s a lot of Chevys up front, one of our Hendrick cars led for a while. So, we’re going the right way.”

Johnson’s teammate, Alex Bowman, was running in second when the final caution came out inside 10 laps to go. After his team chose to pit, Bowman placed 13th.

“This new Camaro, for its first time on a downforce track, I’m just really pleased with it so far,” Bowman said. “I think it’s going to be really good for us. Obviously, I’m bummed out to finish 13th after staring at a second place or a win. But it’s part of it; it’s how racing goes. We win as a team and lose as a team. It just didn’t go our way there at the end.”

Last year, Chevrolet only earned seven wins, with two coming on 1.5-mile tracks. Bowman claimed one of those at Chicagoland Speedway.

Added Bowman: “Compared to how we started the last two seasons, I think we’ve got something for them this year.”

One Chevrolet driver said it was “still early” for assessing the new bodies.

“I think the Hendrick cars were really good,” said Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kyle Larson, who placed ninth. “I felt about the same as last year. So, we just have to continue to get better.”