Thanks to some quick work by the Wood Brothers crew and some heads-up driving by Ryan Blaney, the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team was able to do its part to deliver Ford Motor Company a 1-2 finish in NASCAR’s biggest race.
Blaney, in a back-up No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Fusion, charged from 40th place at the start into the top five in the first 26 laps of Sunday’s 59th annual Daytona 500, then into the lead by lap 49.
From there until the end of the race, Blaney had to overcome damage from two multi-car collisions. But on the final lap he used a drafting push from his Ford teammate Joey Logano to surge into second place behind race winner Kurt Busch, who gave Stewart-Haas Racing a win in its first points-paying race under the Ford banner.
Aric Almirola, driving the No. 43 Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports, also came on strong at the end to finish fourth. It was the first time since the 2001 Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway that the Wood Brothers and the Pettys, long-time rivals and fast friends for decades, both finished in the top five in a points-paying Cup race.
In that 2001 race, Elliott Sadler, driving the No. 21 Ford, won over John Andretti in the No. 43.
At Daytona, most of the top finishers, including Busch and Blaney, had considerable damage to their cars.
“Looks like everyone ran a race at Martinsville,” Blaney said in his post-race comments, referring to the beating and banging style of racing that is common on the short track at Martinsville Speedway. “Everyone's stuff was torn up.”
Blaney’s Motorcraft/Quick Lane crew got a major test of their skills under the new five-minute clock instituted by NASCAR this year. That new rule gives teams just five minutes to repair their car enough to get it back up to minimum speed or the car is not allowed to continue in the race.
Team co-owner Eddie Wood said his crew was able to get the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Fusion back on the track and back up to speed despite having to beat the clock.
“They fixed it the best they could,” Wood said. “You have to be mindful of the clock and not let it run out.”
“They did a great job under the circumstances.”
As the laps wound down on Sunday, Blaney found himself mired in the middle of a lead pack that seemed content to run single file for most of the final 20 laps.
“I tried to make a move with 10 to go to see what would happen,” Blaney said. “No one really went with me. The 22 [Logano] tried to. It really wasn't happening. I was kind of worried it was just going to end that way.”
Then he and Logano hooked up on the final lap.
“Luckily I got Joey behind me there down the front stretch, and we were able to lay back to him and get a huge run into [turn] one,” Blaney said. “At that same moment, the 41 [Busch] went to go past the 42 [Kyle Larson], and it kept my run going, all the way up to second.”
Blaney’s final scare came when his fuel supply ran low, a problem that many of his competitors were experiencing at about the same time.
“I started kind of running out the gas there into [turn] three,” he said. “We started sputtering pretty bad. Luckily it made it back to the line.”
Blaney emphasized that his best career Cup finish was due in large part to having a fast Ford and to the maturity of its driver and crew, including his spotter Josh Williams. He said that although his primary car was knocked out during Thursday’s qualifying races, his back-up was just as fast. And he said he felt like his own restrictor-plate racing skills are improving.
“It was definitely a little bit of both with the car and myself, and myself and Josh Williams up top, my spotter, getting a little bit more comfortable with each other and communicating really well,” Blaney said. “He's done a great job.”
He added that the strong start to the 2017 season gives him and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team a boost heading into this weekend’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
“It was a good way to start off the year,” he said. “Stinks to be so close, but I think that's good momentum for our team, to be good at the beginning of the day, get some damage and be able to rally for a good finish.”
For Wood, the team owner, the bottom line from Daytona is a strong finish for Ford Motor Company.
“Having Fords finish first, second and fourth is a great way to start the season,” he said. “And it’s especially nice to be a part of that with Edsel B. Ford II [Board Member] and Joe Hinrichs [President of the Americas for Ford Motor Company] there to experience it with us on our pit box.”
Blaney, thanks to his finishing position plus nine points earned in the first two stages of the Daytona 500, now sits 2nd in the driver standings heading into the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 5.