Fresh off their best finish of the young 2016 NASCAR season, Ryan Blaney and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Racing Team are riding a wave of momentum into this weekend’s Good Sam 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.
Blaney and the Wood Brothers’ iconic No. 21 Ford Fusion started 14th, spent most of the race among the top 10 and took the checkered flag in sixth place last Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the first leg of NASCAR’s West Coast swing.
It was the rookie driver’s best result since Talladega last spring and his best ever on an intermediate track. The performance moved the rookie-of-the-year contender into the 14th spot on the drivers’ points chart (seven rookie points ahead of other prime contender Chase Elliott) and Wood Brothers Racing into 15th in owners’ points.
“The morale of this team is up, especially after a good day at the racetrack,” Blaney said of the effects of the strong Las Vegas showing. “Obviously it helps confidence.”
Crew chief Jeremy Bullins also is encouraged by the Las Vegas finish. “I feel like it was the first race where we finished where we raced all day,” he said. “Daytona we ran higher than we finished but were stuck in the top line which didn’t go, and obviously getting wrecked on the last lap at Atlanta ruined an otherwise solid day for Ryan’s first trip to Atlanta. The other good thing about Vegas was we were able to learn from running there last year, and every time we’ve gone back somewhere we’ve been better, so that trend continued.”
Although this weekend will be Blaney’s Sprint Cup debut at Phoenix, he has run four races at PIR in the Camping World Truck Series (3) and the XFINITY Series (1), and scored top 10 finishes on each occasion. His most impressive Phoenix performance was in the 2013 truck race when he started 26th and finished 7th.
“It'll be my first time in a Cup car there so there will be a learning curve,” Blaney said. “The track changes a lot during the Phoenix race. It’s very temperature sensitive so that makes the track pretty difficult.”
Bullins explained some of the challenges the team faces this weekend at PIR.
“From the technical side it’s difficult at Phoenix to get both ends of the race track as good as you want,” the crew chief said. “Typically if you’re good in turns one and two you might be too tight in three and four or vice versa. The dogleg on the back stretch also creates some setup changes as it’s the highest loaded area of the track (which is typically the corners at most tracks) so you have to make some compromises to keep your car from bottoming out through that section.”
The team will begin working on its setup when practice sessions for Good Sam 500 qualifying begin at 12:30 p.m. ET on March 11 and can be seen live on FOX Sports 1 (FS1). Qualifying will take place at 6:45 p.m. ET on March 11 and will be broadcast live on FS1. The practice sessions for the race will be shown on FS1 at 10:30 a.m. ET and 1 p.m. ET on March 12. The Good Sam 500 begins on FOX at 2:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, March 13.
Ford Performance PR