Tire strategy and applying lessons learned so far this season will be keys to Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion driver Ryan Blaney’s first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series run at the Texas Motor Speedway in Saturday’s Duck Commander 500.
“Similar to a few other intermediate tracks, it’s definitely a place with fall off in tire performance and generally you fight being loose in the race,” said Jeremy Bullins, crew chief of the iconic No. 21 Wood Brothers entry. “I’d say it’s somewhat similar to Chicago and Atlanta, although not as bad on tires as Atlanta.
“Texas will see a couple seconds of fall off in the tires throughout a run,” Bullins continued. “I definitely think it will be four tires in most strategy situations.”
It’s been four weeks since Blaney, Bullins and company finished 19th at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The long layoff gave the Wood Brothers contingent a lot of extra time to prepare for this weekend’s race, but it also presents challenges.
“The biggest thing you fight with a partial schedule is finding a rhythm, so we’ll feel like we are at the track for the first time all over again,” Bullins explained. “The good news is the schedule adds a lot of prep time so hopefully we can take advantage of that. I feel like we as a team are capable of performing well.”
Despite being Blaney’s first Cup run at Texas, the 21-year-old does have some experience at the Fort Worth circuit, all in Brad Keselowski’s No. 29 F-Series truck in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. His first run in Texas, in 2012, ended in a wreck after starting 16th. Last year he started in 3rd and finished 4th.
“Running the truck race there last year was definitely a big help for us,” Blaney said. “Even though the Cup cars and the trucks are extremely different, you can really notice things that the racetrack does from day to night. You can really help your car set up during practice.”
Bullins and Blaney agree that the 19th-place finish at Las Vegas, while not as good as hoped, provided a lot of valuable lessons for the team and driver, lessons that were added to at the March 11 NASCAR open test in Charlotte.
“At Vegas during the last couple stints of the race we were competitive and capable of running top 10 lap times,” Bullins said. “Then at Charlotte we settled on what we felt like was a decent balance, and I felt we were competitive there as well. It’s just important that we keep pushing forward, build on that and get some good results in the next few events.”
“Being able to run Vegas and test at Charlotte has really helped, both me as a driver and our team as a whole,” Blaney said. “It just gave us that much more experience with these cars. We’ll go to Texas with everything we’ve learned at Daytona and Las Vegas, and what we learned at the test and try to run up front,” Blaney said.
Practice sessions for the Duck Commander 500 begin at 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. ET on Friday, April 10 and can be seen live on FOX Sports 1. Qualifying will take place at 6:45 p.m. ET on April 10 and will be broadcast live on FOX Sports 1. The Duck Commander 500 begins at 7:30 p.m. ET on April 11 on FOX.
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