Ryan Blaney and the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane crew equaled their fifth-place qualifying effort of a year ago at Michigan International Speedway on Friday, but this year’s run came with a new aerodynamic package.
That lower-downforce package challenged drivers and crews up and down pit road, but the rookie Blaney and his young team, led by crew chief Jeremy Bullins, overcame a disappointing opening run in the first of three qualifying sessions to secure their first top-five start of the season.
Blaney used a late run in the first session to post the fourth-best lap of 198.648 miles per hour.
Then he was 10th in the second session with a lap at 198.145 mph before turning a lap at 198.588 in the third round to secure the fifth spot, which is his fourth top-10 start of the season.
Blaney said that while he was proud of his team’s comeback in the first round of qualifying, it had him wondering “what if” about the later rounds.
“We were really loose the first run, just really, really free, and that hurt us a lot,” he said. “They got it a lot better the second run out. They did a good job of getting us better throughout the day.”
“Unfortunately we had an extra lap on our tires. Who knows what would have happened with one less lap on the tires in the final round.”
Blaney said that while it’s still unknown how Sunday’s Firekeepers Casino 400 will be affected by the lower-downforce package, he does know that he’ll have an advantage over most of his peers due to his qualifying success.
“You get a good pit stall, and that can't hurt," he said. The pit stall selection process in NASCAR is based on qualifying positions with the pole-sitter’s team choosing its spot first, followed by the teams next in line in qualifying.
Eddie Wood, co-owner of the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Fusion, said he’s glad to be off to a fast start at a track that is historically one of his team’s best venues.
“It’s always good to start the weekend out well,” he said. “It especially true here at Michigan, which is the home track for Ford Motor Company and therefore a home track for us too.”