The tricky old Darlington Raceway has a well-deserved reputation of being the “Track Too Tough To Tame” but rookie Ryan Blaney and his No. 21 Snap-on Ford team are doing a commendable job of figuring it out.
In their first try at Darlington in the Sprint Cup Series, Blaney and his crew chief Jeremy Bullins nailed down a top-10 starting spot for Sunday night’s Bojangles Southern 500. To do so, Blaney and his Snap-on Ford Fusion had to advance through the two opening rounds of knock-out qualifying.
For a team like the Wood Brothers, whose part-time status means there is no provisional starting spot to fall back on, the primary focus is securing a top-36 position in the first round of qualifying. Once that’s accomplished, the pressure is off and the team can really press hard to advance through the remaining qualifying rounds and get a great starting spot.
After advancing through all three rounds, Blaney’s qualifying lap of 176.195 miles per hour earned him the ninth starting position and backed up his performance in Friday’s opening practice, where he was equally as impressive, and his debut in a Cup car no less.
Over the years, the Darlington track, built in 1950 for 1950s speeds, has been a challenge even for the best of race drivers. This weekend, there’s a new challenge as NASCAR has mandated a lower-downforce package including a shorter rear spoiler.
Historically, no matter what the rules package, the best drivers seem to take to the egg-shaped oval from the beginning.
Team co-owner Eddie Wood said the Snap-on team’s performance in practice and qualifying is a testament to the talents of Blaney and Bullins.
“As a team we haven’t been here in several years, and this is the first time here for Ryan and Jeremy,” Wood said. “Their performance here so far shows how talented they both are.”
Saturday’s qualifying session also was a successful one for Team Penske, which has an alliance with the Wood Brothers and the Snap-on team. Brad Keselowski won the pole, and Joey Logano qualified fourth.
“It was a good day for Ford Motor Company,” Wood said. “We’re looking forward to Sunday night and being back in the Southern 500.”
Wood Brothers Racing PR