The Motorcraft/Quick Lane Racing team and its rookie wheelman Ryan Blaney face a couple of obstacles as they go for their third consecutive top-10 finish this weekend in the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.
The first hurdle is that Blaney has never run at the California track and the Wood Brothers’ historic No. 21 hasn’t been there since 2011.
“It makes you a little cautious the first handful of laps having no experience on a track,” Blaney said of going to a new venue. “So it will take a few runs to get comfortable. Most drivers seem to love Fontana. It's a very wide racetrack with multiple options and that's what drivers like.”
Crew chief Jeremy Bullins will help get his 22-year-old driver acclimated to the Fontana circuit as quickly as possible.
“We just have to use the resources we have,” Bullins explained. “We will watch old race footage, look at old setups from the Penske cars, things like that. We will try to look at tracks that have similar characteristics that we have been to and try to establish some common trends. It’s a challenge, but we feel good about it.”
Another obstacle is Auto Club Speedway’s older racing surface, which can cause some setup issues for teams.
“Fontana is one of the two biggest intermediate tracks we go to,” Bullins said. “It’s two miles in length just like Michigan, but it’s much rougher and has a much older surface.
“The big challenge is getting the aero platform of your car where you want it and still getting through the bumps without wearing your splitter out,” the Wood Brothers’ sophomore crew chief said. “You see a lot of cars finish the race with the left side of the splitter worn completely away.
“The seams between the lanes are also a challenge for the drivers as they get very slick when the track temperature goes up,” he continued. “You don’t want to cross them on entry or exit or you will lose a lot of grip. You’ll see cars running the top line make sure they stay above the seam for the entire corner.”
Regardless of the challenges placed before them, Blaney, Bullins and the entire Wood Brothers Racing Team are feeling pretty confident sitting in 12th place on the points chart after a sixth-place finish in Las Vegas and a 10th-place in Phoenix last weekend.
“Our run at Phoenix was a very hard-fought top 10,” said Blaney who leads the NASCAR Rookie-of-the-Year race by four points going into Fontana. “We had to work our butts off all day to get in position to finish strong. It gives us confidence having a couple strong runs for sure.”
Crew chief Bullins predicted before this season that the team’s performance would improve – from how it sets up the garage and pit box to pit crew efficiency to Blaney’s driving – when it ran a full-time schedule. His prognostication appears to be spot on.
“You’ve seen Ryan battle through adversity during the last two races and end with solid finishes,” Bullins said. “A lot of that is indeed the product of experience. Very few races play out perfectly. There is usually something to overcome, and we did that the last two weeks.”
The Motorcraft/Quick Lane Team will try to steer clear of adversity when practice sessions for Auto Club 400 qualifying begin at 1:30 p.m. EDT on March 18 and can be seen live on FOX Sports 1 (FS1). Qualifying will take place at 7:30 p.m. EDT on March 18 and will be broadcast live on FS1. The practice sessions for the race will be shown on FS2 at 11 a.m. EDT and on FS1 at 2:30 p.m. EDT on March 19. The Auto Club 400 begins on FOX at 3:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, March 20.
Ford Performance PR