The No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford Fusion, with Ryan Blaney at the wheel, will hit the track at Richmond International Speedway this weekend with a new look representing technical partner SKF, the leading global supplier of friction-reducing solutions for industrial and transportation applications.
Saturday’s Federated Auto Parts 400 is expected to be one of the more dramatic races so far this year as it’s the finale of the 26-race regular season and the last chance for teams like the SKF Ford team to earn a berth in the championship-deciding Chase for the Sprint Cup.
For the team’s crew chief, Jeremy Bullins, a trip to Richmond brings mixed emotions.
“It’s been a place of both triumph and struggle for me,” he said. “As a race engineer and crew chief, I’ve probably been a part of more wins there than any other track, but there have been plenty of races that were struggles, and I left scratching my head.”
The spring Richmond race with Blaney and the No. 21 Wood Brothers team was no exception there.
“We felt like we had a good car in Happy Hour, but it just didn’t translate into the race for us,” Bullins said. “We struggled most of the day before making it some better by the end. That said, it was our first race there as a team, and we’ll chalk that up to a learning experience and move on.”
The No. 21 SKF team, with both Blaney and Bullins being rookies in the Cup series, has matured over the five months since they’ve raced at Richmond, and Bullins is confident the team will be more competitive this weekend.
“For every race that didn’t go well, it seemed like we were able to recover by the next one, so here’s to hoping that trend continues,” Bullins said. “For us, obviously some bad luck over the summer has us on the outside looking in for the Chase, needing a win this weekend to advance.
“I know we will leave it all on the track in an effort to do so, but regardless of the outcome I’m proud of where this team is headed. Last week’s recovery at Darlington, coming from two laps down, damage from a flat tire, and finishing 13th on the lead lap, is the effort you need to be a contender in this sport.”
Saturday’s race at Richmond marks the first of two appearances of the SKF Ford Fusion this season, the second coming at Phoenix International Raceway in November.
At Richmond, the iconic No. 21 also will carry the colors of Motion Industries, a key distributor partner for SKF. The Motion Industries logo will adorn the hood of the SKF Fusion.
Last year, SKF partnered with Blaney and the Wood Brothers in three events. In 2014, Blaney and Bullins made their first-ever Sprint Cup starts at Kansas Speedway, where Blaney finished 27th in a race that also was Bullins’ first race as a Cup crew chief. SKF returned later that season to Blaney’s No. 12 Ford Fusion at Talladega where he started fourth, led 15 laps and finished 22nd.
SKF, like the Wood Brothers, has a rich racing heritage, with sponsorships at all levels of motorsports. For more than 18 years, SKF has partnered with NASCAR as both a sponsor and technical partner. More recently, the past five years have been spent as both a sponsor and technical partner with Team Penske, who also have a technical alliance with the Wood Brothers since the beginning of the 2015 season.
SKF has helped Team Penske achieve multiple wins across NASCAR’s Sprint Cup and XFINITY Series. Beyond NASCAR racing, SKF provides their knowledge and technical expertise to the No. 3 of Helio Castroneves in the Verizon IndyCar Series and the Scuderia Ferrari Racing team of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen in the Formula 1 Series.
Like the Wood Brothers, SKF has connections to the pioneering days of auto racing. The Woods ran their first Sprint Cup race in 1953 and were racing even before that.
Years earlier, Chicago Rawhide, the sealing pioneer which SKF purchased in 1990, sponsored cars in the Indianapolis 500. In 1937, Herb Ardinger started on the front row in the No. 54 Chicago Rawhide Offy, SC.
Qualifying for the Federated Auto Parts 400 is set for Friday, Sept. 9 at 5:45 p.m. Eastern Time, and the race is scheduled to start just after 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 10 with TV coverage on NBCSN.