Wood Brothers Racing’s iconic No. 21 Ford has been to victory lane at the Daytona 500 five times in the team’s 66 years of NASCAR competition.
Can their second-year driver, Ryan Blaney, behind the wheel of the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Fusion, chalk up the Woods’ sixth win in The Great American Race?
If so, it would be Blaney’s first win in the newly minted Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and the second Daytona win for Motorcraft/Quick Lane–the first being Trevor Bayne’s improbable 2011 rookie win.
“Obviously it would be huge,” Blaney said. “There would be no bigger feat than being able to win the 500 for the Wood Brothers.”
The young driver is making progress at the speedway. In 2015, despite having a fast car, engine problems ended his day early. Last year, Blaney and company recovered from early race handing issues and a loose wheel to post a 19th-place finish.
A Blaney win in the Daytona 500 would put him in an elite club of former Wood Brothers drivers who have piloted the No. 21 to victory in stock car racing’s most prestigious race. He would join Bayne and Tiny Lund (1963), Cale Yarborough (1968), A.J. Foyt (1972) and David Pearson (1976).
To join that fraternity, Blaney and the Wood Brothers will have to navigate NASCAR’s new race format, which breaks each event into three segments, the first two resulting in points for the top 10 finishers and the last receiving the appropriate race points.
“I think the new rules will add some excitement to the races,” Blaney said. “And I like that the bonus points benefit us throughout the playoffs.”
Crew chief Jeremy Bullins also is looking forward to running under the new format.
“It will certainly change the (pit) windows concerning getting to the end of the segments, but it’s a challenge I’m looking forward to from the strategy side,” Bullins said. “I think it’s great to mix it up a little bit and create new strategies, but at the end of the day, you’ll still want to be up front all race which is what we would like to be doing anyhow. If you qualify well and have fast cars, hopefully we can be in position to take advantage of the points that will be awarded.”
Bullins said his team is ready for Daytona and the coming season.
“We feel like it’s all out in front of us and we just have to do our jobs and keep bringing fast cars to the track and capitalize when we do,” he said. “We know this team is capable of doing good things, and we need to prove that.”
Blaney, now with a full season of experience under his belt, will be driving for the first time minus the yellow rookie stripe on the rear bumper.
“I believe it’s a big deal getting the yellow bumper off,” he said. “It makes you feel like a full-fledged part of the series rather than just a rookie.”
The Daytona 500 begins at 2 p.m. ET on Sunday, February 26.