Category Archives: 2016

Gurney Was NASCAR’s Best Road-Course Ringer As His 1968 Riverside Win Showed

DG #2Every time the NASCAR circuit visits a road course there’s a lot of buzz about the road-course experts or “ringers” that are brought in to compete with the drivers who earn a living primarily making only left-hand turns.

But winning a Cup race with a ringer is more difficult than it might seem, even considering the different skills required to be successful on road courses.

More often than not, NASCAR regulars wind up in Victory Lane. A true ringer has never won a race at Sonoma Raceway in the track’s 28 Cup races since 1989. At Watkins Glen, there have been 38 Cup races without a ringer victory although several races have been won by road-course experts like Marcos Ambrose, but they were competing full-time in the Cup Series when they won at the Glen.

But in the 1960s, the Wood Brothers had great success using road course ringers at the old Riverside International Raceway in California.

Dan Gurney pitcrew Of the Woods’ seven career victories at Riverside, four were with road-course racer Dan Gurney at the wheel of the No. 121 Ford. The other three were by David Pearson, who was an expert on any type of race track.

Gurney’s win at Riverside in 1968 was one of the final “ringer” wins in the series now known as Monster Energy Cup. Mark Donohue won at Riverside in 1973, and after that all the victories there went to Cup regulars.

In addition to the fact that Gurney won in ’68 despite not being a regular NASCAR competitor, he and his Wood Brothers team had to overcome a broken exhaust box and tire problems late in the race to score the win.

Leonard Wood said that during the race, which Gurney led for 124 of 186 laps after starting from the pole, Gurney was leading but slowed and began signaling to the crew. Radios weren’t in regular use at that time.

“He was holding his hand to his ear, but we couldn’t figure out what he was trying to tell us,” Wood said.

What had happened was that the top of a box underneath the car that collected exhaust from the headers before sending it out the side of the car had broken loose. That meant Gurney was having to deal with the side effects of a major exhaust leak.

“It was deafening him, plus it was hot,” Wood recalled.

Then on Lap 145, Gurney rolled into the pit area with a flat tire. Team owner Glen Wood, Leonard’s brother, noticed shreds of rubber wrapped around the rear axle. It took a lengthy pit stop to remove the rubber from the axle, but it only took Gurney 15 laps to regain the lead and score the fifth and final Cup victory of his 16-race NASCAR career.

Dan Gurney #7 Leonard Wood said that in the early days of competing at Riverside, road-course experts like Gurney were a second per lap faster than the NASCAR regulars. But the NASCAR drivers soon learned the quick ways through the esses and other tricks that the road-course ringers knew from competing in other series.

For example, Wood said Gurney would run a constant speed through the esses, while his then-teammate Cale Yarborough, who drove the No. 21, would be on and off the throttle, which upset his car and cost him time on the track.

“When we first started running road courses, if you had a road-course driver you had an advantage,” Leonard Wood said. “But it didn’t take the NASCAR drivers long to figure it out, and then they were just as good as the road-course drivers.”

 

Three Strikes Of Bad Luck Can’t Keep Yarborough Out Of Victory Lane In 1968 Daytona 500

As anyone who has ever watched a 500-mile NASCAR race knows, the fastest car often does not win the race.

Mechanical problems, flat tires, bad timing of caution flags and other unforeseen issues can derail the strongest efforts and send a surprise winner to Victory Lane.

In the 1968 Daytona 500, the Wood Brothers No. 21 Mercury Cyclone, with Cale Yarborough driving, was clearly the fastest car, but it took several comebacks for the team to reach Victory Lane.

Yarborough won the pole with a sizzling lap at 189.222 miles per hour, but the race was just 14 laps old when he limped into the pits with a skipping engine.

It was the first season that NASCAR teams, including the Woods, used a pair of electronic ignition systems, and as bad luck would have it, Yarborough’s primary system had failed.

In later years, drivers could change to the back-up system with the flip of a switch, but in ’68 that wasn’t the case.

Photo Credit : Don Hunter/Smyle Media

Photo Credit : Don Hunter/Smyle Media

When Yarborough came to a stop, Leonard Wood climbed into the car to make the switch.

Among the things he remembers from that day was a brief conversation with Yarborough inside the car.

“Cale said: “Man, you got to fix it. This thing will fly,’” Wood recalled.

He did fix it, and the car would fly.

Photo Credit: Don Hunter/Smyle Media

Photo Credit: Don Hunter/Smyle Media

Yarborough charged back into the lead lap and in contention again only to suffer another setback in the form of a flat tire, which forced an unscheduled green-flag pit stop and another lap lost.

But thanks to a fast car, a fast pit crew and an unusually high number of caution flags for that era – 11 of them which consumed 150 miles – he was able to again rejoin the lead lap.

But his worries weren’t over, as Wood recalled.

“Lee Roy Yarbrough was leading, but Cale had to pass David Pearson first,” he said. “Pearson was leaking oil, and it covered the windshield of Cale’s car.”

“But he still blew right by Lee Roy and won the race.”

Afterward, Wood got a first-hand look at how obscured Yarborough’s vision was.

“I got in that car, and you couldn’t see a thing,” he said.

When the circuit returned to Daytona that July for the Firecracker 400, the fastest car won without a hitch.

Photo Credit: Don Hunter/Smyle Media

Photo Credit: Don Hunter/Smyle Media

Yarborough, in the No. 21 Mercury, led all but 18 laps and was two laps ahead of runner-up Lee Roy Yarbrough at the finish.

Although the Woods and Yarborough ran a limited schedule that season, just 21 of 49 races, Yarborough won six races, four of them on superspeedways including Atlanta and Darlington. He wound up leading the circuit in earnings with $138,051.30.

The Woods did even better and had a total of seven wins that season as Dan Gurney drove their No. 121 Ford to victory on the road course at Riverside, Calif.

“Old Man” Turner Beat A Young Cale Yarborough To Win Inaugural Race at Rockingham

IMG_6921The 1965 American 500 at North Carolina Motor Speedway in Rockingham, the track’s inaugural race, produced one of the best racing stories of all time. A wildly popular but aging driver, back on the circuit after a four-year suspension was lifted, outran one of the sport’s aggressive young stars to get the victory that would be the final major triumph of a Hall of Fame career.

The story of that unexpected triumph began decades earlier when the driver, Curtis Turner, helped Glen Wood and his Wood Brothers racing team secure backing from Ford Motor Company, a relationship that continues to this day.

Turner was a swashbuckler on and off the track. He made and lost fortunes in the timber business. He helped build and then lost one of the sport’s cornerstone superspeedways. And he loved to party.

But when it came to driving race cars, he was one of the hardest chargers ever, the Dale Earnhardt of his day.

Turner was one of the sport’s top stars – arguably its biggest draw – when he ran afoul of NASCAR founder Bill France in 1961. Turner tried to organize a driver’s union as part of his effort to raise funds for Charlotte Motor Speedway, which he and current owner Bruton Smith co-founded.

France suspended Turner, and for four years he was left to run in circuits other than NASCAR. Fittingly, his last NASCAR ride before his suspension was aboard the Wood Brothers’ No. 21 Ford at Charlotte.

By mid-1965, fans were restless for a variety of reasons. Several top drivers, including Joe Weatherly and Fireball Roberts, had been fatally injured in racing accidents. Richard Petty was off drag racing, having left NASCAR in a dispute over the Hemi engines in his cars, engines that France had banned.

After a meeting in Atlanta between France and some of the leading track owners of the day, Turner’s suspension was lifted.

But many felt that at age 41 his best driving days were behind him.

Ford racing boss John Cowley approached Glen Wood at the Southern 500 in Darlington and a deal was struck to put Turner in a No. 41 Wood Brothers Ford.

IMG_6922In Turner’s first time back in a Wood Brothers car, he crashed with Bobby Isaac at Martinsville. He bounced back with a fifth-place finish at North Wilkesboro then it was on to Charlotte, the track Turner helped build only to lose his interest because of the track’s financial woes.

As the laps wound down, Turner found himself in a four-way battle for the lead with A.J. Foyt, Fred Lorenzen and Dick Hutcherson. When Lorenzen and Foyt crashed with six laps to go, Turner had to spin to miss the wreck. He recovered to finish third and told Glen Wood afterward that he felt he was in position to win.

When someone pointed out that it would have been difficult to find enough racing room to pass that many cars, Turner responded in typical fashion, Wood said. “He said, ‘well there was still some asphalt there, and there was plenty of grass.’”

At Charlotte, a rough racing surface led to the seat brace cracking one of Turner’s ribs. For the race at Rockingham, Leonard Wood fabricated a special padded brace that let Turner’s shoulder absorb much of the punishment.

The Woods went with the harder of the two tire compounds offered for that race, but still Turner qualified fourth behind pole-sitter Richard Petty.

The race turned out to be a test of man and machine, 500 miles on the one-mile track, a race that took nearly five hours to run.

During the mid-portion of the event, Marvin Panch in the Woods’ familiar No. 21 and Turner in the No. 41, held down the first and second positions.

IMG_6920 But in the end, it boiled down to a classic battle between the aging Turner and the 26-year-old Cale Yarborough.

Many figured Turner would wear out when it counted, especially those who saw him napping on the decklid of the car during pre-race practice, recovering from a long night of partying.

Those skeptics underestimated the wily veteran.

Turner was able to build a healthy lead, and it looked like he would easily beat Yarborough. But grit from the new surface at Rockingham got under the hood and began eating away at Turner’s fanbelt.

With the fanbelt slipping and his engine overheating, Turner had to back off his pace.

“It looked like Cale was catching him, but really it was just Curtis feathering the car to take care of the engine,” Leonard Wood recalled. “Curtis was in full control. He hadn’t lost a thing during his time away from NASCAR.”

Despite Turner’s triumph at Rockingham, his NASCAR career never really got restarted.
Ford pulled back it support of NASCAR in 1966, and although Turner continued to race occasionally, he never won again.
“He was fully capable,” Leonard Wood said. “He just didn’t have the right situation or the right set-up.”

Turner, who died in a plane crash in 1970, was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2016, joining a cast of the sport’s legends including Glen Wood, who was inducted in 2012 and Leonard Wood, who was inducted in 2013.

A Substitute Driver And Some Savvy Pit Strategy Delivered The Wood Brothers A Daytona 500 Win in 1963

Daytona 1963The Woods’ first win in NASCAR’s biggest race, the Daytona 500, was not only one of the all-time feel-good stories in auto racing but an unexpected victory as well.

The story began 10 days before the 1963 running of the 500 when the Woods’ regular driver, Marvin Panch, who had already qualified the No. 21 for the Daytona 500, was testing a Maserati sports car at Daytona International Speedway.

Panch, racing on narrow tires with little grip compared to the treaded tires used in NASCAR at that time, lost control of the car and it turned over. The doors of the Maserati, which wrapped up over the top of the car, pinned him inside as fire broke out in the car.

Glen Wood, NASCAR official Johnny Bruner, driver Tiny Lund and two others saw the crash, jumped in the station wagon Bruner was driving and sped to the crash scene. Others scaled a fence and came to Panch’s aid.

“We were the first ones there, and we all got the car turned over,” Wood said. “It was hot. Some of the guys got their hands burned real bad.”

Lund, being the biggest and strongest of the rescue party, used his brute strength, and that was key to freeing Panch, Wood said.

For his efforts, Lund later received the Carnegie Medal of Honor.

With Panch in the hospital being treated for his burns, the Woods were left to find a replacement driver for the 500.

Good drivers were hard to come by at that point. With qualifying for NASCAR’s biggest race already done, most of the sport’s top talents had commitments with other teams.

“We thought about some USAC drivers,” Wood said. “But it came down to Tiny and Johnny Allen.”

The decision was made when Leonard Wood, the team’s crew chief, asked his brother Glen: “If it’s the last lap and you’re leading the race, which driver would you rather not see on your back bumper?”

That made the decision a relatively easy one.

“Tiny was a pretty aggressive driver despite his weight, which was about 280 pounds at that time,” Wood said.

Despite Lund’s ability to be aggressive when necessary, the Woods saw an opportunity to try to win the race on fuel mileage and adopted that strategy.

“It had rained, and they started the race with the track still damp,” Wood recalled.

The first 10 laps were run under the caution flag, and the Woods made their first stop at Lap 36.

The treaded Firestones of that era actually performed better with some laps on them, so the gas man Kenny Martin refilled the fuel tank while Ray Lee Wood, Glen and Leonard’s brother, and Firestone representative John Laux checked the tires.

Knowing they’d run the 40-lap qualifying race on a single tank of fuel, the Woods ran 40 laps before their next stop. Again, they just refueled and checked the tires.

“We decided we could go 42 laps, so we did that the next two stops, which left us with just 40 laps to go until the end of the race,” Wood said.

As the laps wound down in a race that ran caution-free after the initial 10 laps under yellow to dry the track, the Woods found themselves in position to finish the race without another stop while their competitors would need to stop for fuel.

“We’d already run 42 laps the two previous runs, and Kenny Martin assured us that he’d gotten the tank full,” Glen Wood said. “But we weren’t as certain about the tires.”

Until the final stop, Laux, the Firestone rep, had assured the team the tires were good to go. But he was reluctant to make a recommendation for the final 100 miles.

But Ray Lee Wood said he felt like the tires would make it, so Lund and the No. 21 took off for the final 100-lap run with a full tank of fuel and 400 miles on the tires.

As the laps wound down, one contender after another began making late-race stops for fuel.

First Fred Lorenzen gave up the lead to stop for fuel with 10 laps to go. Then Ned Jarrett led briefly, but stopped with eight laps to go, leaving Lund out front.

“The announcers kept asking us when we were going to come in,” Wood said. “We said we weren’t planning on it.”

The reporters were persistent.

“They kept asking us, and we began to wonder ourselves,” Wood said. “But we did make it.”

Lund told reporters at the track that he ran dry on the final lap, but Wood said that in Lund’s excitement over the victory, he was mistaken about the fuel.

“He drove it all the way around the track on the cool-down lap and back to the pits,” Wood said. “And we loaded the car without putting any more fuel in it.”

The victory was the Woods’ first of 15 Cup triumphs at Daytona, including five Daytona 500 wins. And it was the first anywhere on the Cup circuit for Lund, who had several strong runs in the No. 21 before Panch returned later in the 1963 season.

“It was one of our greatest wins and one of the most suspenseful,” Wood said. “Especially after everyone thought we were going to run out of gas.”

Lund remained close friends with the Wood family until his death in a crash at Talladega on Aug. 17, 1975.

“We got a Christmas card from him every year until he died,” Wood said.

Wood Brothers First Superspeedway Win in 1960

Of the 98 career Sprint Cup victories scored by the Wood Brothers, most have come as no real surprise as the team has a history of fielding fast Fords and employing some of the sport’s greatest drivers.

But some of those victories were rather surprising. Over the next several weeks, Wood Brothers Racing will look back at some of its more memorable unexpected triumphs.

The Woods’ first superspeedway win, in the fall of 1960 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, was an eye-opener for many.

Brothers Glen and Leonard Wood had proven to be a formidable force on the short tracks of the NASCAR circuit, as Glen Wood had driven the team car to three wins earlier that season on the tight, quarter-mile oval at Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Superspeedways were another matter, as Wood much preferred the shorter tracks and disliked the superspeedways.

For the inaugural National 400 at the then-new Charlotte Motor Speedway, the Wood Brothers decided to put track co-owner and long-time friend Curtis Turner behind the wheel.

Speedy But Turner had his hands full with his track-owner duties, so the brothers turned to Alfred Bruce “Speedy” Thompson to drive the No. 21.

At that time, many in the sport figured Thompson was no longer the driver his nickname suggested.

He hadn’t won a race since 1958 and even though he was just 34, many considered him to be too old to return to his winning ways.

But, as the Woods proved with other older veterans over the years, most notably the Silver Fox David Pearson, winning with a veteran indeed was possible.

For that race, the Woods prepared a 1960 Starliner. It had been wrecked in its first life as a street car but was rebuilt by the Woods.

Auto Sales and Body Co. in Martinsville painted the car, and Leonard Wood prepared the engine.

Once Thompson got behind the wheel for practice, Glen Wood knew he had a good thing going.

“He was running as fast as anybody,” Wood recalled.

Leonard Wood said Thompson ran a great line around the 1.5-mile oval.

“He’d drive into the corners high, and stay there a lot longer than it seemed like you ought to, then he’d drop down low,” he said.

In the race, Thompson ran with the leaders most of the way, and the Woods showed early signs of the pit-road innovation that would eventually lead to them becoming known as the creators of the modern pit stop.

Gas man Ralph Edwards was quick on refueling, although the equipment of the day was antiquated by today’s standards.

At that time, teams used a gas can made by welding two five-gallon cans together and fashioning a spout on the top. The fueler had to pour the gas into the tank opening in the center of the rear of the car.

Leonard Wood and his brother Ray Lee Wood changed tires, while Delano Wood jacked the car.

Thompson took the lead for good when Fireball Roberts wrecked after leading 197 laps and led the final 35 circuits to get the Woods’ first-ever win on a superspeedway.

1960 1st Super Speedway Win  CharlotteAt the finish, he was a lap ahead of runner-up Richard Petty and third-place Ned Jarrett.

The Woods teamed up with Thompson the following week for a race at Richmond, where Thompson led 173 of the race’s 200 laps to get the Woods’ fifth Cup win and the 20th and final one of his driving career.

The Charlotte win was a major one for the Woods, as team owner Glen Wood explained.

“I had considered giving it up,” Wood said. “We were having a hard time making a go of it, but that win at Charlotte paid almost $13,000 plus a new car.”

Then, the money earned the following week at Richmond, which included a $2,500 appearance bonus from track promoter Paul Sawyer and the $800 winner’s purse, made a big difference as well.

“Those two races really got us going,” he said.

Thompson ran just eight more races in the series now known as Sprint Cup and began racing on the short tracks around North Carolina.

During a Late Model race at Metrolina Speedway in Charlotte on Easter Sunday in 1972, Thompson’s car stopped on the track. He was found to be not breathing and died en route to a hospital. He would have turned 46 the next day.

Pearson’s First Drive For The Wood Brothers Ended In Victory Lane

IMG_6106Of the 98 career Sprint Cup victories scored by the Wood Brothers, most have come as no real surprise as the team has a history of fielding fast Fords and employing some of the sport’s greatest drivers.

But some of those victories were rather surprising. Over the next several weeks, Wood Brothers Racing will look back at some of its more memorable unexpected triumphs.

A win by David Pearson at Darlington Raceway, where he is considered by many to be the all-time master of the track with 10 Cup victories, might not be altogether unexpected. But his third Darlington win, and his first driving for the Wood Brothers, did come as a bit of a surprise to many.

Entering that 1972 season, many changes were occurring in NASCAR. The automobile manufacturers that have participated in NASCAR for decades were basically on the sidelines that year. A new series sponsor, Winston, was pumping money into the sport, but there were few lucrative sponsors at that time to help participating teams pay the bills.

The year before, Pearson had left Holman-Moody rather than take a pay cut. He signed on with a Pontiac team backed by businessman Chris Vallo, who seemed for a time to have an unlimited supply of cash to spend but was soon gone from the sport.

By the time the 1972 season got under way, Pearson, at age 37, hadn’t won a superspeedway race in nearly two years. He was essentially out of a ride despite 60 career victories and three championships. Some were wondering whether his best years were behind him.

But when Glen Wood started looking around for a driver to replace A.J. Foyt, who had been running the No. 21 but was scheduled to switch his primary focus back to the Indy car racing, Pearson was No. 1 on his list.

IMG_6105Pearson and Wood had known each other for years, and although there were some hard feelings for a time over an incident at Bristol Motor Speedway during the 1965 Valleydale 500, relations were good by the time 1972 rolled around.

Wood recalled that the earlier trouble started when Marvin Panch, driving for the Woods, and Pearson, at the wheel of Cotton Owens’ Dodge, crashed hard racing for fifth place after just eight laps.

“It had rained, and the track was really slick and you just couldn’t pass,” Wood said. “David made a move on Marvin, and they both went head-on into the wall off Turn Four.”

Once the cars were cleared, Wood and Pearson had a pit area “discussion” about what had just happened.

“David said: ‘You don’t think I did that on purpose, do you?’” Wood said. “I told him I didn’t, but I did say that I thought he used poor judgment.

“Pearson took it seriously and didn’t speak to me for a long time.”

IMG_6104Wood eventually took steps to reconcile the differences.

“I thought that two grown people who saw each other frequently shouldn’t act like that, so I started speaking to him every time I saw him, and soon everything was all right and we put it behind us.”

Pearson’s first race for the Wood Brothers was the 1972 Rebel 400 at Darlington. While most new pairings take several weeks – or even a season – to gel, Pearson and the Woods hit the track with a performance that made it look as if they’d been together for years.

Pearson won the pole for that race, led 202 of 293 laps and was a lap ahead of second-place Richard Petty at the finish.

His two-year superspeedway winless streak came to a quick end.

“Sometimes it takes some time to get to know one another, but I can’t say I was surprised to win the first time out with David,” Wood said.

That first win together was a sign of good things to come as Pearson went on to win 42 more races at the wheel of a Wood Brothers’ Ford or Mercury, none of which were considered much of a surprise to anyone.

Disappointing Finish at Homestead Doesn’t Dampen Motorcraft/Quick Lane Team’s Enthusiasm About 2017

2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, HomesteadAn early encounter with the wall kept Ryan Blaney and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team from achieving the result they were hoping for in the season-ending Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. But as Blaney and the team head into the off-season, the future looks much more encouraging.

Team co-owner Len Wood said the 2016 season has been a great learning experience for Blaney and his young crew, and that will pay dividends in the future.

“Ryan now has a full year under his belt,” Wood said. “He’s run all the tracks, and next year will be a lot better for him.”

The future also looks promising for Wood and his family-owned team, which just completed its first full season on the circuit since 2008.

“In our first year back we were able to get Ryan in the top 20 in the final points standings,” Wood said. “That’s a significant accomplishment, and I feel certain we can improve on that next year.”

At Homestead, Blaney qualified eighth for the premier event of Ford Championship Weekend, his 12th top-12 start of the season, but he struggled from the start of the race.

He bounced off the wall, bringing out the race’s first caution flag at Lap 28. The Motorcraft/Quick Lane crew made repairs, but the damage was more serious than it initially appeared, and he hit the wall again after blowing a tire on Lap 208. Still, he and the team soldiered on and wound up with a 26th-place finish.

2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Homestead “I made a lot of mistakes,” Blaney said in his post-race comments. “I made a big mistake early and we ended up getting a flat tire out of it. I just hit the wall early being impatient. That just wasn’t smart, so that’s something I need to be better at and not being so impatient.”

But as he and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team closed the book on his rookie season, he was able to find some positives despite the disappointment of the season finale. He ended the year with three top-five and nine top-10 finishes.

“We learned a lot this year,” he said. “It was a fun year, and I’m just looking forward to years to come.”

“This team does a great job. We’ll learn during the off-season and then come back.”

Blaney and the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane team kick off the 2017 season at Daytona International Speedway next Feb. 23-25.

Blaney Qualifies Eighth For The Third-Straight Week

2016 NASCAR HomesteadRyan Blaney and his No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion wound up in a familiar position after Friday’s Sprint Cup qualifying session at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

After finishing 11th in the first round of knock-out qualifying and second in the second session, Blaney was eighth in Round Three. It was the third straight week that Blaney qualified eighth and the ninth time this season that he qualified eighth or better. He’s earned a top-12 starting position 12 times this season.

Blaney said in his post-qualifying comments that he was hoping to close out the 2016 season with an even better qualifying effort, but slipped ever so slightly on his final lap.

“[Turns] One and Two weren’t very good,” he said. “I tried to switch something up there, and it didn’t really work.

“That probably could have made it a lot better.”

Still, he’ll be starting ahead of the four drivers who will be racing for the Sprint Cup championship in the Ford EcoBoost 400, the premier event of Ford Championship Weekend.

“You want to end up better,” Blaney said. “It’s a decent place to start on Sunday.”

The Ford EcoBoost 400 is set to get the green flag just after 3 p.m. on Sunday with TV coverage on NBC.

Motorcraft/Quick Lane Team Has Performed Well In Return To Full-Time Sprint Cup Competition

Homestead 1A year ago, during Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Eddie and Len Wood along with representatives of Ford Motor Company and Motorcraft/Quick Lane announced the latest chapter in the long and storied history of the Wood Brothers racing team.

After spending seven years running a limited Sprint Cup schedule and regrouping the organization, the Woods and their No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion would return to a full-time status.

The Woods also announced the continuation of a technical alliance with Team Penske and that driver Ryan Blaney and crew chief Jeremy Bullins, both still rookies at the Cup level, would return to the No. 21, where they had run a limited schedule in 2015.

As Blaney and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team return to Homestead this week, their performance on the race track has validated the decision to return to full-time status.

Entering the final race of the 2016 season, Blaney has three top-five and nine top-10 finishes. He has been running at the finish of 33 of the 35 races to date and has finished on the lead lap 23 times. He’s 20th in the driver points standings, and the Woods are tied for 20th in the owner standings.

It’s the first time since 2005, when Ricky Rudd was the team’s driver, that the No. 21 Ford has scored nine top-10 finishes in a season. And it’s the best performance as far as top-fives since 1995, when Morgan Shepherd was at the wheel.

2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Michigan The Woods, despite their return to full-time status, still must qualify for each race.  Blaney and the team have had the speed needed each week. His eighth-place qualifying effort last week at Phoenix marked the 11th time this season that he qualified in the top 12.

Eddie Wood said he’s proud of the way the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team has performed this year.

“It’s been a really good season,” he said. “We’ve had some really good runs. Everybody has learned a lot and figured out how to work well together.”

“The pit crew has been consistently good. Ryan and Jeremy have a good relationship and some good chemistry going.”

“I feel really great about the way things are going.”

Wood also is looking forward to returning to Homestead for the season-ending Ford EcoBoost 400.

“I always look forward to the Ford Championship Weekend,” he said. “We get to spend time with our friends from Ford Motor Company and Motorcraft/Quick Lane.” This year we’re all excited to see Joey Logano and the No. 22 team over at Team Penske be a part of the championship battle.

“Of course our focus will be on the No. 21 on Sunday, but we’ll also be closely following the 22 and pulling for them to win the championship for Ford.”

For Blaney and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team, Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead kicks off with practice and qualifying on Friday, with the qualifying session beginning at 6:15 p.m. and the Ford EcoBoost 400 getting the green flag just after 3 p.m. on Sunday with TV coverage on NBC.

Late-Race Surge Lifts Blaney, No. 21 SKF Ford Fusion To Eighth at Phoenix

2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, PhoenixRyan Blaney and the crew of his No. 21 SKF/Kaman Industrial Technologies Ford Fusion spent most of Sunday’s Can-Am 500 at Phoenix International Raceway working to make his car handle better.

The hard work paid off in the end as Blaney surged forward in the closing laps to finish eighth, his ninth top-10 finish of the 2016 season.

Blaney started eighth and struggled in the early going. By the time the race reached the final 50 laps he was still outside the top 10. But he and his crew benefited from several late-race caution periods and worked their way into the top 10. Then, when a caution flag for a crash by Michael McDowell set up an overtime finish, Blaney moved into the top 10 and survived two restarts to finish eighth.

Ironically, an unscheduled pit stop to tighten a loose lug nut turned to the team’s advantage when the team took the opportunity to put on new tires. That allowed Blaney to finish the race on fresher rubber than he otherwise would have.

2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Phoenix  “It was a great day all around, and we’re really happy to finish in the top 10 in a tough race,” team co-owner Eddie Wood said. “Ryan drove a great race. [Crew chief] Jeremy [Bullins] made some great calls, and the crew did an outstanding job.”

“It was especially nice to have representatives of SKF and one of their distributors, Kaman Industrial Technologies with us as well as Edsel Ford II.”

Wood joined his fellow members of the No. 21 SKF/Kaman team in congratulating their fellow Ford team members at Team Penske on the victory at Phoenix by Joey Logano and the No. 22 team.

That win puts Logano and the No. 22 team in position to compete for the Sprint Cup championship during the upcoming Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“We enjoyed seeing how excited Mr. Ford was to see Joey win in a Ford and be able to represent the Blue Oval in the Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead,” Wood said.