When driver Ryan Blaney sees the green flag at Daytona International Speedway Feb. 21, he’ll be beginning his first full season on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit and Wood Brothers Racing will be kicking off its first full season of competition since 2009.
Both driver and team are looking to improve on last year’s finish in the Daytona 500 when Blaney’s Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion suffered engine problems that ended his day early. The Wood Brothers’ iconic No. 21, however, had been strong up to that point as evidenced by the young driver battling back into the top 15 after early race contact with Tony Stewart and the wall sent him back in the pack.
“We had fast cars at both Daytona races last year but had our fair share of troubles,” Blaney said. “That just gives us something to look forward to coming back. Our speedway cars have always been fast, and I think we've just gotten better.”
Second-year crew chief Jeremy Bullins also says the team is ready for the Daytona 500.
“I feel like we’ve done what we needed to do to improve on our performance last season,” Bullins said. “Hopefully, we have that type of speed again and can execute a good race and get a strong finish.
“The difference in the 500 is the qualifying races, which create the opportunity for things beyond your control to influence your position,” he continued. “At the end of the day, we will give the same effort no matter what, to put ourselves in the best position to control our own destiny.”
Blaney, too, noted the difference of having to race into the Daytona 500.
“Racing in the duels is a huge amount of pressure, more than actually racing the 500,” he said. “The unknowns in that race are pretty nerve-racking.”
Once in the race, the 22-year-old, third-generation driver will use the experience he gained in his first try in NASCAR’s biggest showcase. “The biggest thing I learned was to be patient,” he said. “It's a very long race and a lot of things play out.”
Bullins says he’s looking forward to the chance to see what the new Fusion body style, making its competitive debut at Daytona, has to offer.
“I think the key part of having a new body style is that we have the opportunity to find gains, and any time you have that it’s exciting,” Bullins said. “I’m sure we will be better than we were, and we have the opportunity to improve over the course of the season.”
Practice sessions for Daytona 500 qualifying begin at 10:30 a.m. ET on Feb. 13 and can be seen live on FOX Sports 1. Qualifying will take place at 1:15 p.m. ET on Feb. 14 and will be broadcast live on FOX. Practice sessions for the Can-Am Duels will be shown on FOX Sports 1 at 5 and 6:10 ET on Feb. 17 and at noon on Feb. 18. The Can-Am Duels will air on FOX Sports 1 at 7 p.m. ET on Feb. 18. Practice for the Daytona 500 airs on Feb. 19 at noon and 2 p.m. and on Feb. 20 at 12:15 a.m. ET on FOX Sports 1. The Daytona 500 begins on FOX at 1 p.m. ET.
Ford Performance PR