Ryan Blaney and the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane team get a big test this weekend as they head to the road course at Sonoma Raceway. It’s a track the rookie Blaney has never raced on before, and it’s a place the Wood Brothers team hasn’t competed at since 2008.
But that doesn’t mean the team is dreading the weekend.
“Sonoma is a race we’ve had circled on the calendar for a while,” crew chief Jeremy Bullins said.
“We know it’s going to be a huge challenge for us for a number of reasons, but we are all looking forward to testing ourselves.”
While Blaney has never raced at Sonoma, he does have two starts in other NASCAR divisions on other road courses, with great success. In 2014, he drove Brad Keselowski’s Ford to victory in a Camping World Truck Series race at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park and last year he drove a Team Penske Mustang to a runner-up finish in an Xfinity Series race at Road America.
Still, there’s a big difference when it comes to racing in the Sprint Cup Series, where the cars are faster and the competition is more intense.
“We know it will take some getting up to speed, but I know he’s looking forward to it as well,” Bullins said, adding that he too is anxious to test his crew chief skills at Sonoma. “After working with some great road racers on the Xfinity car for Team Penske, I really grew to love the strategy side of road courses, and that gets me fired up to try to help our team out from that standpoint as well.”
Thanks to some ultra-modern technology available to the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team from Ford Motor Company, Blaney won’t arrive at Sonoma without a good idea of how he needs to drive the course.
“Fortunately as part of the Ford Performance umbrella we have the ability to use their state-of-the-art driving simulator, and we’ve definitely taken advantage of that,” Bullins said, adding that the simulator is as close to being there in a real car as possible. “We’ve made several trips to the Ford Tech Center getting ready for Sonoma, not only trying to learn what kind of set-up variables Ryan might be sensitive to, but also to learn shift points and braking points that hopefully speeds up our education when we start making laps there this weekend.”
On Monday night, as Bullins and the crew loaded the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion for the cross-country trip to Sonoma, he said he was confident the team had done a good job of preparing both driver and car.
“We’ve put in a lot of work, and we have solid expectations for a good weekend,” he said.