Ryan Blaney has raced at Martinsville Speedway before in the Camping World Truck Series, but Sunday will mark his first Sprint Cup start at the half-mile track. That’s a big deal for Wood Brothers Racing, which has competed in 109 races there.
The rookie driver’s entry into the STP 500 marks the Wood Brothers’ first race at Martinsville since 2011.
It will be a homecoming for the team that was based out of Stuart, Virginia, 30 miles west of Martinsville.
“It’s home and it just never really sounded right when everybody was racing there and we weren’t there,” said team president Eddie Wood in a release from Martinsville Speedway. “We’re really looking forward to it.”
The return is made possible with the team competing full-time for the first time since 2008 thanks to a partnership with Team Penske and additional sponsorship. A milestone already accomplished with Blaney is recording consecutive top-10 finishes at Las Vegas and Phoenix. They were the first back-t0-back top 10s for the team since 2005 when Ricky Rudd drove for the team.
Martinsville is home for many reasons besides its proximity to the team’s shop.
Team founders Glen and Leonard Wood were in attendance at the first Martinsville race in 1947, two future NASCAR Hall of Famers in a sea of about 9,000 spectators.
Martinsville was the site of Glen Wood’s – Eddie Wood’s father – first Sprint Cup start in 1953.
“(The fans) come in here and they’re just all hung up about us running Martinsville again this year,” Glen Wood said in the release. “It would be nice to run well down there this year, and if it happens to be in front, it would be great.”
A win would all but lock the team into the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
“For your hometown fans, you always want to win,” Leonard Wood said in the release. “A win puts you in the Chase, so a win would be big time no matter where we won it with Ryan, but it would be very rewarding to get a win at home, at Martinsville.”
Blaney joins the ranks of Cale Yarborough, David Pearson, Buddy Baker, Donnie Allison, Curtis Turner and Dale Jarrett as drivers who have raced for the team at Martinsville. Pearson and Yarborough each earned one win.
“I know the Wood Brothers are very much looking forward to racing so close to Stuart,” Blaney said in the release. “I’ll go up there just to check out the museum itself. You always find new things that you didn’t notice last time.”
The last visit to Martinsville by the team in 2011 was with Trevor Bayne in the wake of his surprise win in the Daytona 500 two months earlier. Bayne finished 35th, 40 laps down in the race.
“I could tell it was a special place for them when we were up there for an autograph session at the museum that was supposed to end at 8 o’clock and didn’t end until midnight,” Bayne said in the release.
Blaney enters the weekend 16th in points through five races. In his five Martinsville starts in the Truck series, Blaney has finish fifth three times.