Over the years, the Wood Brothers race team has set records, many of which still stand, at NASCAR tracks across America.
Richmond International Raceway, where Ryan Blaney and the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane team will race this weekend, is one of those tracks, although the team’s record at Richmond isn’t exactly a power house stat.
The team, and former driver Kyle Petty, hold the track’s record for the fewest laps led by a race winner – four laps on Feb. 23, 1986.
The finish of that Miller High Life 400 remains one of the more popular features on the highlight reels from Richmond.
In that race, Petty had run in or near the top five most of the afternoon, and led Lap 273, but was about a straightaway behind the race leaders with three laps to go. On that fateful lap, Darrell Waltrip appeared to have completed a race-long comeback from being a lap down as he drove past Dale Earnhardt into the lead going down the backstretch. Earnhardt, who had several earlier encounters with Waltrip, responded by wrecking Waltrip in Turn Three, setting off an chain-reaction wreck that also collected Joe Ruttman and Geoff Bodine.
Petty slowed as the track was blocked in front of him, then stepped on the gas, drove by the disabled car of Ruttmann and beat him to the caution flag. That lap and the next two were run under the caution flag, and Petty had his first career Cup victory.
For Eddie Wood, now a co-owner of the team, it was a magical moment as the victory was the result of a pairing of talent from both the Petty and Wood families, which had been both competitors and friends for years.
As Wood looks back over his racing career, he remembers his team’s time with Petty, then 25 years old, as one of the high points.
“The most enjoyable time of my career was when Kyle was driving our car,” Wood said. “We had the magic.”
Wood said another youngster, the 23-year-old Blaney, is bringing back some of that youthful enthusiasm his family-owned team experienced decades ago with Petty. But like those days years ago, there’s the challenge of getting a young team prepared to compete for wins on a tough Cup circuit.
Crew chief Jeremy Bullins, who like Blaney is in his sophomore year in NASCAR’s elite series, said that while the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Fusion has been fast nearly every week, there are still places where there’s room for improvement. Richmond International Raceway is one of those places, as evidenced by the team’s finishes of 28th and 39th there last year.
“I’m very proud of the fact that our Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusions have been fast a lot,” Bullins said. “I’ll be the first to admit however that we haven’t quite gotten Richmond figured out.
“But I’m really looking forward to that challenge this weekend. I didn’t feel like we figured out what we needed there last season, but I think if you look at the gains we’ve made at places like Martinsville and the strong runs we’ve had at places like Phoenix, that we can put our heads together and come up with a solution.
“To be the caliber team we want to be we have to be good everywhere, and the group is working hard to make that happen.”
Qualifying at Richmond is set for Friday at 4:45 p.m. Eastern Time, and Sunday’s 400-lap, 300-mile race is set to get the green flag just after 2 p.m. with TV coverage on FOX.