Category Archives: 2016

Blaney Overcomes Talladega Crash Damage to Finish 9th and Score His Third Top-10 of 2016

2016 NASCAR TalladegaRyan Blaney and the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane team played a supporting role in a big racing Sunday for Ford Motor Company.

In Sunday’s GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, Blaney and his Motorcraft/Quick Lane team came back from being on the receiving end of some damage in a multi-car crash and being a lap down to finish ninth, the second Ford team in the finishing order behind race winner Brad Keselowski in the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford Fusion from Team Penske, which shares equipment and technology with the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team.

And the finish came at about the same time that Ford’s sports car racing entry, the Ford GT, scored its first IMSA win, at Laguna Seca Raceway in California.

IMG_9047“It was a great day for Ford Motor Company, and we’re honored to be a part of it,” said Eddie Wood, co-owner of the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion. “Congratulations to Brad Keselowski and all the people at Team Penske for a great win. Congratulations to Ford Performance and all the people who have worked so hard to get the Ford GT a win in such a short time.”

At Talladega, Blaney started 19th and had the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Fusion into the top 10 by Lap 44.

He spent much of the early and mid portions race running around 15th place before moving up later on.

“We felt like earlier in the race I couldn’t pick a lane that was worth a dang,” Blaney explained afterward. “We kept going backwards.”

But as the laps began to wind down, Blaney’s decisions on which lane to run began looking a lot better.

Through it all, he managed to navigate his way through several multi-car incidents before being collected in a 21-car melee on Lap 162 of 188.

Even so, he was able to avoid major, race-ending damage and made several trips to pit road, where the Motorcraft/Quick Lane crew patched up the No. 21 Ford Fusion, which despite its crumpled appearance was as fast as before.

2016 NASCAR Talladega Blaney returned to the race in 26th position, one lap behind the leaders, but got his lap back almost immediately when the caution flag flew for debris on Lap 168. Being the only car scored one lap down, there was no question he was the beneficiary of the free pass.

Back on the lead lap, he began a march to the front. By Lap 177, he was running seventh and again avoided damage in a 12-car wreck.

Blaney lined up in fifth-place for a three-lap run to the finish. He dropped to 15th on the white flag lap, but rallied to finish ninth at the checkered flag. He moved up two spots in the Sprint Cup standings to 18th, just nine points out of 16th, which is the last position to make the chase.

Blaney gave much of the credit for his third top-10 finish of the young season to his crew for their work in repairing his car after the Lap 162 crash.

“They did a good job fixing it,” he said. “It ran fine after that.”

Blaney and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team now move to Kansas Speedway for a 400-miler on Saturday night.

Talladega’s A Special Place For Ford And The Wood Brothers

2016 NASCAR PhoenixFord Motor Company in general, and the Wood Brothers in particular, have had some glorious Sunday afternoons at Talladega Superspeedway through the years.

In the early years of the track that opened in 1969, the Wood Brothers won five races from the spring of 1971, when Donnie Allison drove the iconic No. 21 to victory at his home track, until the fall of 1979, when another Alabama driver, the late Neil Bonnett, scored the victory.

In between were three consecutive wins in the spring race by David Pearson, from 1972-1974.
In the 1980s, Bill Elliott, who later drove the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford for the Woods, put on some awesome displays of speed at Talladega, setting NASCAR’s all-time qualifying record of 212.809 miles per hour in 1987 aboard his No. 9 Thunderbird. (That was before NASCAR began restricting engines to slow speeds at the 2.66-mile track.)

Lately it has been the Ford Fusions from Team Penske putting numbers in Ford’s win column, with Brad Keselowski winning in the fall of 2014 and Joey Logano winning last fall. Logano’s win gave Ford 29 Talladega victories, including seven by the Mercury division.

Through the years, the Wood Brothers have continued to field fast cars at Talladega, with six poles, starting with Allison in ’71 and continuing through a pole in 2004 with Ricky Rudd at the wheel.

The team has 17 top-three Talladega starts, the most recent with its current driver, Ryan Blaney, last spring.

The Woods also have 18 top-five finishes, again the most recent being a fourth-place finish by Blaney last spring.

Jeremy Bullins, crew chief of the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion, said Ford indeed has a great legacy at Talladega.

2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Talladega“If you look across the history of our sport, from the cars that Leonard Wood prepared to the cars that Bill Elliott dominated with, you have to have confidence in taking a Ford to a restrictor-plate race,” Bullins said, adding that the alliance with Team Penske is a big factor these days.

“We have the same fast car we had in Daytona and strong, reliable Roush-Yates power,” he said.

“Certainly our Penske alliance gives us a boost as well, with their cars proving they have what it takes to win there, as recently as last fall.”

It helps too, Bullins said, that the rookie Blaney has adapted to the chess-match-type mentality needed to succeed at restrictor-plate tracks.

“Ryan has shown a natural instinct for plate racing and had himself in position to contend for a win a year ago,” he said. “Hopefully with more experience and the respect of his peers, if we pull out of line this year to make a move for the win we might get some help from other cars.”

However the race plays out, Bullins plans to try to keep his driver near the front of the field, figuring that’s the best place to be when and if cars start crashing.

“You know there will be a big pack, and unfortunately that often leads to a big wreck,” he said.

“But we will use a similar strategy to what’s worked for us in the past – to try to keep our car toward the front of the pack so most of the action is behind us and hopefully take good care of our car all day and be where we want to be at the end.”

Qualifying for Sunday’s GEICO 500 is set for Saturday at 12:30 p.m. eastern time, and the race is scheduled to start just after 1 p.m. Eastern with TV coverage on FOX.

Blaney Finishes 28th At Richmond 400

2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, RichmondSunday’s Sprint Cup race at Richmond International Raceway was one of those days in which Ryan Blaney and the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion team were reminded of the old saying about how close doesn’t count.

The team had the right pit strategy to finish in the top 15 or better, but the breaks they needed seemed to always happen a few laps too late, and Blaney wound up a disappointing 28th at the finish.

Blaney started the 400-lap race from the 29th position after qualifying was rained out and the line-up set by practice speeds from Friday. He struggled with a tight handling condition during a long green-flag run that opened the race. He went a lap down, but by pitting early he was able to rejoin the lead lap as others began to follow the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Fusion down pit road.

From then on, it seemed that no matter how hard Blaney and his Jeremy Bullins-led team worked on their race strategy, the caution flags fell too late to be a benefit to them, even though Blaney was able to drive up to 20th just past the halfway point.

“Everything we tried to do, whether it was to try to get the free pass or take the wave-around, didn’t work out,” team co-owner Eddie Wood said. “We were really close several times. Ryan would be in the free pass position, and just before the caution flew he’d lose the spot because his car would get tight and he couldn’t hold on.”

2016 NASCAR Richmond “Then we tried the wave around, and the cautions didn’t fall at the right time for us there until late in the race when there weren’t enough laps left to make up many positions.”

“We just never got the track position we needed to move up,” he said. “And for the second-straight race we were hampered on late-race restarts by being in the lane that didn’t take off when the green flag dropped.”

Blaney said in his post-race interview that he’ll look at Sunday’s race as learning experience and move on.

“We have to go back, and I have to do a better job and we all have to figure something out here for the next race,” he said. “It is a good learning day though, and we learned a lot and it is a good character builder for sure.”

Wood said he’s leaving Richmond optimistic that the team will rebound this upcoming weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.

“Things don’t always fall your way,” he said. “That’s just the nature of racing. We’ll load up, go to Talladega and do it all over again.”

Wood Brothers’ Short Track Success With Blaney Reminiscent of The Kyle Petty Era

2016 NASCAR PhoenixAs Ryan Blaney and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team head to Richmond International Raceway, it will be a first for Blaney in a Sprint Cup car. For the Wood Brothers, it will be their first visit to the track since 2008, and team co-owner Eddie Wood says he feels like it’s 1985 again.

In 1985, like this season, the Woods were coming off a partial Sprint Cup schedule and going racing full time. Just like the present day with youthful Blaney, they had another youngster, Kyle Petty, then age 25, at the wheel to start the 1985 season. Both are third-generation racers and both developed into perfect fits for the Woods, NASCAR’s longest tenured race team.

There are parallels with the cars too. As the Woods prepared to run a full schedule in 1985, one of the biggest needs was a car built specifically to compete on the short tracks. This year, facing the same scenario, the Woods fell back on their alliance with Team Penske. That allowed them to add a stable of short track cars that Blaney has driven to two top-11 finishes in his three short track starts to date.

“Thankfully we have a relationship with Team Penske. They have a great short-track program already in place,” Wood said.

In 1985 the Woods obtained a winning short-track car from what some would consider an unlikely source – none other than the Woods’ chief rival for decades, Petty Enterprises.

“At that point, Richard Petty, Dale Inman, and Kyle of course, had left Petty Enterprises and they were only going to run a few races that year,” Wood said. “Kyle told us about this new short-track car that was partially built but hadn’t been finished. It was just a bare chassis with a Thunderbird body. That car was exactly what we needed, so we bought it.”

Photo by Chobat Racing Images 34VE

The chassis was built by Hutcherson-Pagan, which was different from the cars we had been racing. All of our cars had Banjo Matthews chassis, so there were some changes to be made with different suspension parts to accommodate the design of the new offset chassis and body.

The final product turned out to be better than the Woods could have imagined. The car was fast everywhere they took it, which included races at Martinsville, North Wilkesboro, Bristol and Richmond. It remained in the fleet until 1991 when a broken right front wheel sent Dale Jarrett into the wall while leading the night race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

“We had a lot of fun with that car,” Wood said.

“There were very few places the car ran better than at Richmond.”

Petty finished seventh there his first time out in the car at Richmond in 1985 and went on to score his first of eight career Sprint Cup victories in the spring Richmond race of 1986.

The finish of that Miller High Life 400 is still considered one of the wildest in NASCAR history.

Petty had raced in the top five for most of the race, and 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 to take the lead going down the backstretch. The two tangled going into turn three, collecting a slew of drivers including Joe Ruttman and Geoff Bodine.

Petty slowed to a crawl as the track was blocked in front of him, then drove by the disabled cars of  Earnhardt, Waltrip, Ruttman and Bodine to beat them to the caution flag.

“I was on the radio with Kyle,” Wood said. “I saw the smoke on the backstretch and knew Kyle hadn’t gotten there yet. He was in the middle of turns one and two when the wreck started, so when he came by the start-finish line I knew he was leading the race.”

Two laps later the checkered flag fell on the Wood Brothers Thunderbird, which carried a No. 7 for the sponsor at that time, the 7/11 convenience store chain. They obtained that car number from Petty Enterprises, which was used by Kyle the season before.

KP #3“It was a big moment for us,” Wood said of the Richmond victory. “When Kyle came to drive for us, a lot of people didn’t think it would work because our families had been rivals for so many years, but it worked perfectly.

“We ran really well when Kyle drove for us.

It was one of the most fun times of my career. We raced hard, and we had a good time. Kyle was, and still is family to us.

“Leonard (Wood) was the crew chief, and he and Kyle clicked. It just clicked.”

Wood is hoping to continue to build the same kind of magic with Blaney, and is looking forward to another strong short-track run in this weekend’s 400-lapper at Richmond. Qualifying is set for Friday at 4:15 p.m., and the race is scheduled to see the green flag just after 1 p.m. on Sunday with TV coverage on FOX.

Ryan Blaney Teams Up With Sploops App

Sunoco Rookie Of The Year Candidate and Wood Brothers Driver Ryan Blaney Teams Up With Sploops App To Ignite All-Star Campaign

Ryan Blaney, the Wood Brothers’ 22-year old NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver, has teamed up with the Sploops App to engage fans during the Sprint Fan Vote leading up to the 2016 NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race on May 21 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The new sports conversation app allows fans to interact through 15-second video rants and polling! Be seen, heard, and Prove Your Fanhood.

Fans are reminded that they can vote daily for Blaney’s participation in the All-Star Race by downloading the NASCAR MOBILE app or visiting www.NASCAR.com/SprintFanVote.

After voting for Blaney fans should head over to the Sploops App for a chance to win great racing prizes from the Wood Brothers – NASCAR’s longest tenured team. Record a video rant supporting Blaney and on Monday of each week leading up to the All-Star Race he will select his favorite fan rants! Winners will receive prizes! Here’s how to win:

  • Download the Sploops App on the Apple App Store
  • Record a video rant on why you think Blaney should make the All-Star Race. Make sure to put Ryan Blaney in the title of your rant and tag it under NASCAR in the “tag a team” section
  • Every week Blaney will select his top 3 favorite fan rants on the Sploops App
  • Those fans will be selected to win great prizes

About Sploops

Sploops is the first ever video sports forum for mobile. It allows fans of all teams and sports to voice their take through 15-second video rants, interactive polling, and social sharing. The Sploops App was founded by Paul Rosa and Sean Roth at Bloomsburg University in 2013. Sploops was officially launched to the Apple App Store in November 2015 and is available for iOS devices.

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Sploops App Twitter

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Bottom Lane Blues Leave Blaney 11th at Bristol

2016 NASCAR BristolOrdinarily, running in fifth position with 10 laps to go in a Sprint Cup race would be a good thing. But for Ryan Blaney and the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion at Bristol Motor Speedway on Sunday afternoon, that odd-numbered position meant having to restart on the inside lane. It was a big disadvantage, leading to lost positions on two late-race restarts with Blaney finishing 11th on a day that otherwise was a strong one for his Motorcraft/Quick Lane team.

“It was good until the end,” Blaney said. “We should have run fifth, easy.”

He said Bristol’s bottom lane just isn’t the place to be.

“You can’t go anywhere on the bottom,” he said. “If you’re lucky enough to restart on the top, then you’ll move forward even if you’re a terrible race car.”

“We had a good race car and got stuck on the bottom for three straight restarts and went backward. That’s pretty disappointing when you know you have a top-five race car.”

After starting 18th, Blaney was rarely out of the top 15, in the top 10 for much of the race and as high as second place at one point.

2016 NASCAR Bristol “We could do a lot of stuff,” Blaney said. “We got it better throughout the day. Unfortunately, it didn’t play out for us.”

Team co-owner Eddie Wood said that despite the late-race loss of positions he was proud of his team’s efforts in recording its third finish of 11th or better in the eight races so far this season.

“We came into Bristol wanting a good, solid finish,” he said. “It would have been good to finish the race in fifth place, but it’s a good sign of this team’s potential.”

Wood said Blaney did a great job behind the wheel. The pit stops were spot-on and crew chief Jeremy Bullins made solid strategy calls from the pit box, including his decision to make the final stop with 88 laps to go.

“It was the right call,” Wood said. “The race just didn’t play out at the end like we needed it to.”

Blaney, who is now 19th in the Sprint Cup driver standings, and the Wood Brothers, who are 19th in owner’s points, get back to work this weekend at Richmond International Raceway, where Blaney has never competed in a Sprint Cup car. But he does have four Xfinity Series starts there, all of which resulted in top-10 finishes including last fall when he finished fourth.

The Last 1-2 Finish For The Wood Brothers and The Pettys Came In The 2001 Food City 500 At Bristol

2016 NASCAR MartinsvilleWhen it comes to iconic teams in NASCAR, few have as much history as the Wood Brothers from Stuart, Va., and the Pettys from Level Cross, N.C.

Although the members of the respective families have been friends for decades, they also have been rivals on the track, and that continues through today.

Over the years, the two teams and their drivers have played starring roles in some of the all-time historic finishes in NASCAR history. The two teams’ legendary drivers David Pearson and Richard Petty hold the all-time NASCAR record for 1-2 finishes with 63, with Pearson winning 33 races to Petty’s 30.

There have been many other 1-2 finishes for the Woods and the Pettys over the years, but the last 1-2 finish for the pair came 15 years ago in the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway as Elliott Sadler, driving the No. 21 for the Woods, held off John Andretti in the No. 43 for the Pettys.

The victory also was historic in that it was the first for Ford Customer Service Division, utilizing the Motorcraft brand. That relationship has now grown into the Motorcraft/Quick Lane sponsorship 15 years later.

The win also was unique in that the winning strategy  involved stretching a set of tires and fuel to the limit to gain track position in the closing laps. Crew chief Pat Tryson brought Sadler to pit road for the final time with 170 laps remaining. Sadler took the lead from Kevin Harvick with 58 laps remaining and held off Andretti by 0.426 seconds to get the victory, his first as a driver in the Cup series.

DSCN0189Eddie Wood, co-owner of the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion, said the finish reminded him of the glory years of the 1960s and 1970s, when 1-2 finishes by the Woods and the Pettys happened quite often, especially on the superspeedways.

“It was very special at the time,” Wood said. “It was like the old days with both of us up front at the end.”

The victory also was rewarding for the Woods because they’d experienced disappointments in earlier races at Bristol, one of the most difficult tracks on the circuit.

“I remember we were there a long time after the race,” Wood said, explaining that the post-race interviews and other commitments kept them busy until well after dark. “We were parked about a mile and a half away, at the same place we always park.”

“Somebody offered us a ride on a golf cart, and my brother Len said he wanted to walk. He said we’d made that walk with our heads hung low a lot of times, and he wanted to make that same walk now that we finally had a good finish.”

Eddie Wood said believes there will be another race in the future that his family’s team will be squaring off for the win with the No. 43 of the team now known as Richard Petty Motorsports, which like the No. 21 is a part of the Ford team.

“Bristol is the first place I met the 43 family, Lee Petty, Richard Petty, Maurice Petty and Dale Inman, back when I was 16 years old,” he said. “The Pettys today are still some of our best friends. The first person I look up when I get to the track every week is Dale Inman.”

“I look forward to running 1-2 with them again for a win, no matter how it turns out.”

Both the No. 21 and the No. 43 Fords have young drivers who have shown they can succeed at Bristol. Aric Almirola, in the No. 43, finished third in the Food City 500 two years ago, and Ryan Blaney, driver of the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion, is the defending winner of the Camping World Truck Series race at Bristol and was an Xfinity Series winner there in 2014.

“The goal for us this weekend is to have a good solid run at one of the most unforgiving race tracks on the circuit. Things happen very quickly there.” Wood said. “We had a fast car at Bristol with Ryan last fall, and he has shown that he knows how to get around that track really well.”

Qualifying for the Food City 500 is set for Friday at 4:15 p.m., and the race is scheduled to get the green flag just after 1 p.m. on Sunday with TV coverage on FOX.

Rough Night At Texas Leaves Blaney 29th In Duck Commander 500

2016 NASCAR TexasRyan Blaney and the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane team had a fast Ford Fusion for Saturday’s Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway as evidenced by his seventh-place starting spot. But a series of events and a lack of proper balance on the chassis set-up relegated the team to a 29th-place finish, four laps behind the leaders.

Team co-owner Eddie Wood said the team struggled with a tight handling condition all night, and the problems were compounded by two unscheduled pit stops, both for vibrations.

One was a suspected loose wheel, the other was indeed a loose wheel.

Then after the race, the team discovered damage to the nose of the No. 21 Ford Fusion, which could explain some of the tight condition.

“It’s so dark on pit road during a night race that it’s hard to see something like that,” team co-owner Eddie Wood said. “We were adjusting for a tight condition, but our adjustments could have been off because we didn’t know about the damage to the lower nose.  There’s no doubt the damage didn’t help matters, but it’s unlikely it was the main culprit leading to the off night that we had. I would say it more or less just exacerbated an already existing tight condition.”
Wood said the team isn’t sure when the damage occurred.

Crew chief Jeremy Bullins said that even with the issues with the damage to the nose, the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Fusion wasn’t as fast as it needed to be to run with the leaders.

““It was a rough night,” he said. “We missed the balance and were too tight.”

The disappointing finish dropped Blaney from 15th to 20th in the Sprint Cup points standings, but he’s headed to one of his better tracks, Bristol Motor Speedway for next Sunday’s Food City 500.

At Bristol, Blaney has an Xfinity Series win in 2014 and a Camping World Truck Series victory last year.

Blaney To Start Seventh In Duck Commander 500 At Texas

2016 NASCAR TexasQualifying continues to be a strong suit for Ryan Blaney and the crew of his No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion.

On Friday afternoon at Texas Motor Speedway, Blaney earned the seventh starting spot for Saturday’s Duck Commander 500.

It was his second straight trip to the third and final round of knock-out qualifying and his third appearance in the past four races. It also was his second top-10 qualifying performance of the season, the other being another seventh-place start, in the season-opening Daytona 500.

So far this season, Blaney has qualified 14th or better in six of his seven attempts, and in the seventh, at Atlanta Motor Speedway, he qualified 23rd.

At Texas, Blaney was 11th fastest in the first qualifying round with a speed of 193.368 miles per hour, fifth in the second round with a lap at 194.126 mph and seventh in the final round with a speed of 192.885 mph.

“It was really close from second on back, and we didn’t quite have enough there,” Blaney said. “Maybe we didn’t make the right adjustments before the final round. We’ll see how our car is in race practice. Having a good starting spot and a good pit stall doesn’t hurt at all.”

Team co-owner Len Wood said the qualifying efforts put forth this season by Blaney and his crew chief Jeremy Bullins have been much appreciated.

“Ryan and Jeremy have really focused on qualifying, and they’re worked really hard all year to be sure the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Fusion makes the starting field for the race,” Wood said. “Being able to start near the front most every week is a bonus.”

The Duck Commander 500 is set to get the green flag just after 7:30 p.m. Eastern Time on Saturday with TV coverage on FOX.

Motorcraft/Quick Lane Team Back On Familiar Turf In Texas

2016 NASCAR MartinsvilleAfter running three consecutive races at tracks they’d never before competed on in Sprint Cup competition, Ryan Blaney and Jeremy Bullins now begin a stretch of races in which they have Cup experience.

The first visit to familiar territory is this weekend as the Motorcraft/Quick Lane crew returns to Texas Motor Speedway for Saturday night’s Duck Commander 500.

“Texas is one track we are certainly looking forward to going to,” Bullins said. “We had fast cars there last year but struggled through some issues that kept us from getting good finishes. We feel like we have a really good baseline and are getting more comfortable with the set-up changes we need to make for the low-downforce package.”

It’s also a return to an intermediate track, where the rookies Blaney and Bullins have the most experience together.

The last time on a mile-and-a-half track, they finished a season-best sixth at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“Vegas was a great example of how that experience paid dividends for Ryan and this Motorcraft/Quick Lane team, and we feel like this weekend should be no different,” Bullins said.

It’s also a relief for Blaney and Bullins to have a stretch of racing at unfamiliar tracks behind them.

“We knew that would be a challenge, but we are also pleased with how we responded as a group,” Bullins said of the first six races of the season, which saw the team race at four tracks they’d never raced on in Cup before. “Probably Ryan’s toughest challenge was Atlanta. That race featured one of the longest green flag runs we have ever seen during that race.”

“A 500-mile race at Atlanta is a physical and mental grind for a driver, and we were in position to finish 12th or 13th before getting caught up in a last-lap crash.”

Phoenix was much better for the team as Blaney and Bullins improved the handling of their Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion throughout the race and finished 10th, his second top-10 finish of the season.

“Considering we only ran a couple of short tracks during our partial season last year, this was particularly satisfying,” Bullins said.
The Auto Club 400 at Fontana, Calif., was another first-time challenge that the team overcame.

“Fontana is one of the few tracks where Ryan had never raced anything before,” Bullins said. “A lot of places he’s been in a truck or Xfinity car, but our first mock qualifying run in practice was his first laps around the two-mile track.”

2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Martinsville“Once again he showed his maturity, allowing us to treat the weekend like we have been together for years, starting practice in qualifying trim and turning in a top-15 qualifying effort.

“Like Atlanta, we were shaping up to have another top-10 or top-15 finish before a cut tire ended our day. While that was disappointing, the speed we had during that race was encouraging moving forward.”

Through it all, including the most recent race at Martinsville Speedway, the team has maintained its consistency, and Blaney heads into the Duck Commander 500 15th in the Sprint Cup standings.

The upcoming portion of the schedule offers encouragement as well.

“Looking ahead to Texas, Kansas, Bristol and Talladega, all tracks we raced at in 2015, we feel like we will make big gains and have strong runs with the experience we are taking into those events,” Bullins said. “When you combine that with our steady performances at first-time events I’m proud of how solid our team has been.”

Running well also makes the hard work of preparing for races seem well worth the effort.

“We are really having a lot of fun so far this season,” Bullins said. “We have had fast cars each week, and Ryan has done a great job everywhere we have been.

“Our pit crew is really starting to click as well. I feel like we can put together a strong stretch of races as we head into the summer months.”

Qualifying for the Duck Commander 500 is set for 2:45 p.m. eastern time on Friday, and the race is scheduled to start just after 7:30 p.m. on Saturday with TV coverage on FOX.