Did Ryan Blaney Just Cement Wood Brothers Racing in NASCAR History?
by Scores & Statson
By Kent Whitaker
When NASCAR announced its Team Charter System in 2016, a collective uproar from race fans occurred. A storied name left off the list of “charter” teams was the legendary team of Wood Brothers Racing. Fans decried the omission as NASCAR found itself in defensive mode as they tried to recover from a PR fumble.
NASCAR tried for weeks to explain how a team that helped build a sport could be left off the list while a team that was out of business could be awarded one. Social media erupted, print articles slammed the decision, and one race team remained incredibly calm. During a press conference in 2016, Eddie Wood, Len Wood, and Jon Wood sat at a media table in Daytona and calmly stated that things would be “OK.”
Talk about hitting the nail on the head! Now, Ryan Blaney may have helped wash all of that away for race fans with his victory in Sunday’s 400-mile thrill ride at Pocono Raceway. The young driver, son of former Cup driver Dave Blaney, expressed his feelings about the landmark win.
“I think it exceeds the dream a little bit,” Blaney said. “I grew up watching my dad race on this race track and it’s so cool to get the Wood Brothers in Victory Lane, number one, and to do it here at a race track that is really close to Ohio – a home to me – is pretty awesome.”
An Incredible Story
NASCAR is a sport built on many things including a good story. The combination of Wood Brothers and Ryan Blaney is now one of those stories. Sunday marked the first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series checkered flag for the 23-year-old driver of the No. 21 Motorcraft / Quick Lane Ford Fusion. It was the 99th win for the famed Wood Brothers team. The last win came at the Daytona 500 in 2011. Prior to that you must look back to 2001 and driver Elliott Sadler.
Blaney became the full-time driver for Wood Brothers in 2016 having run a partial schedule in 2015. In fact, that’s where much of the modern story of Wood Brothers Racing begins. During an owner’s meeting the team saw the beginning framework of the Charter system being laid out.
Instantly they understood that their part time schedule, over the last several years, would leave them off the list of owners guaranteed a starting spot in every race. The Charters were given to teams that had competed full time over the past several seasons. That’s where the “OK” statement comes in after the announcement of their return to Cup racing full-time was overshadowed by the Charter news.
Apparently, the team decided to not worry and simply roll up their sleeves. Their young driver in the form of Ryan Blaney, fresh from racing for Brad Keselowski in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, took a leadership role with a post to social media. Len Wood noted as much during the 2016 press conference. “I think Ryan Blaney said it best on Twitter.” Len Wood said
“What are the Wood Brothers going to do now? We’re going to go race. That’s starts with the Daytona 500.” - Ryan Blaney – Twitter 2016
Nailing Down the First Win
Blaney scored his first Cup victory in dramatic fashion by passing one of the strongest cars in the field with only a handful of laps to go. Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 Toyota from Joe Gibbs Racing, surrendered the front spot to Blaney after holding him off with several blocks.
Blaney finally pushed in front while Busch immediately tried to regain the lead with a quick pass. Blaney held his ground and powered on while quickly putting some distance between the two cars. Busch, after leading the most laps in the race, eventually finished in the 9th position.
The closing laps saw Blaney show some veteran moves as he kept his car in front of Kevin Harvick, and his No. 4 Ford Fusion, for the final 8 laps around the massive speedway. Harvick, also called the “closer,” tried to reel in Blaney but fell short as the No. 21 car hit its marks flawlessly heading on to cross the finish line first.
The fans in the stands, and those on social media, relished in the victory as well as did fellow drivers. Drivers such as Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch, Erik Jones, Chase Elliott, and others posted took to their social media outlets to send their congratulations. And, in victory lane, Jamie Little, reporter for FOX, handed over her microphone to Brad Keselowski for a movie script moment.
One day prior, Blaney serving as a FOX pit reporter, had the opportunity to interview Brad Keselowski after he won the Xfinity race on Saturday. Keselowski was the one who put Blaney in a NASCAR ride behind the wheel of a BKR Truck. The two have been friends since. Now, it was Keselowski who had the honor of interviewing Blaney after his first Cup Series Victory.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kent Whitaker, often called 'the Deck Chef,' is a sportswriter, culinary writer, and cookbook author with fourteen titles. He covers NASCAR, racing in general, Football, barbecue, grilling, and tailgating. You can visit him on www.thedeckchef.com."