This is a very big weekend for Wood Brothers Racing at Martinsville Speedway.
It’s the first time the Wood Brothers, whose operation began 66 years ago in nearby Stuart, Virginia, have competed in a Sprint Cup race at their home track since 2011.
And it’s also the first time Ryan Blaney will drive a Sprint Cup car at the half-mile bullring.
“It’s nice to be back at Martinsville with the Wood Brothers team,” Blaney said during a Friday morning news conference at the track. “It’s nice to be back at pretty much their home track.
“Stuart (VA) is only 20 miles away from here, not even, so it’s cool to be back here and with those guys and kind of have everybody out and see everything.”
Team patriarch Glen Wood, 90, is expected to attend Sunday’s race, Blaney said.
“It’s really going to be nice to get him to another race, so hopefully that will go well for him,” Blaney said.
And Blaney hopes things will go well for him in Sunday’s race. While this will be his first Cup race at Martinsville, he has five previous starts in a Truck there, with three fifth-place finishes, as well as an eighth- and 16th-place finish.
So, in a way, he kind of feels right at home, both with his past experience there, as well as his own personal legacy at Martinsville.
“I remember growing up watching my dad race here,” Blaney said. “I grew up 45 minutes away in High Point, North Carolina, and I would come to this race every year and watch my dad and watch the trucks.
“I just thought it was such a cool place. It’s really neat to be able to run a Cup car, let alone the 21 car over here. That just kind of adds to the special factor, but it’s nice to be back and cool to be making my first Cup start here.”
Blaney has performed well at times in the first five races of the season. He finished sixth at Las Vegas and 10th the following week at Phoenix.
But he also struggled at Daytona (19th), Atlanta (25th) and two weeks ago at Fontana (36th).
“It’s good to have a couple top-10s and have some strong runs,” Blaney said. “I always say there are some races you wish you could take back, like Atlanta and Fontana a couple of weeks ago.
“We blew a tire (at Fontana), but those are just problems you have to minimize, and it stinks you have two of them early off in the year, but you try to learn from them as much as you can and try to grow from them and try to not have those happen again.”
This is the first full-time season in the Sprint Cup Series for the Wood Brothers since 2008.
“I honestly get that question every single weekend – if there’s pressure with the Wood Brothers going back to this track they haven’t been to in a while,” Blaney said. “It’s been a lot of fun to drive for them and be here every week and work with everybody on this race team, whether they’re new or veterans of the Wood Brothers team.
“It’s just cool to be at the track and be around everybody, so there’s definitely no pressure. We’re just out here trying to relax and have fun, and it’s just kind of a bonus that we’re here in their home state and their home track, where we’re going to have a lot of fans.”
But there’s also a lot of comfort in knowing how good the Ford Fusion he’s driving is, as well.
“It’s nice to know we have fast race cars,” Blaney said. “We’ve had fairly good cars every single weekend and we’re just getting better every single weekend.
“As we work together, as this team kind of bonds – this is a fairly new team. … We kept most of the Wood Brothers personnel that has been there for a long time, but we brought in some new people just to help out with the full-time gig because it’s a lot more work.
“They’re just kind of getting acclimated to each other. … The more they work together, the stronger that relationship is going to be, and I think it will get a lot smoother from there on out, but it’s been a good start to the year so far.”