Category Archives: 2016

Blaney Qualifies 26th For First Cup Start On A Road Course

2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, SonomaIn his first 33 races as a Sprint Cup driver, Ryan Blaney has proven to be pretty adept at making left turns. In qualifying for his 34th career start, on the road course at Sonoma Raceway, he showed that he’s also good at turning right.

Blaney, in his first Cup start on a road course and first start in any kind of vehicle at Sonoma, qualified the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion in 26th position for Sunday’s 110-lap run.  His official qualifying speed was 94.436 miles per hour.

Blaney made two qualifying laps and ran essentially the same time the second lap even though he had to negotiate traffic.

“The first one was OK,” he said, acknowledging that his time was good enough to assure that the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team would be in the race on Sunday. “We went out and were going to be better, and we had to pass cars and we still ran the same time.”

He said he expects to continue learning the course as the race begins to unfold on Sunday.

2016, NASCAR, Sonoma “We have to keep all the fenders on it and stay out of trouble,” he said. “If you do that, you can work your way through there. It’s all about staying patient.”

Blaney, who dead-panned in his pre-qualifying TV interview that the most difficult parts of the track for him to learn were between Turns One and Eleven, said in all seriousness that the winding, up-and-down-hill track is challenging.

“I don’t think we’re particularly weak in any set of corners,” he said. “I feel like we lose a little bit on every one.

“I’ve got to look at the data and see where we stack up. It’s definitely something to look at tonight and compare with our (Team Penske) teammates who are pretty good, and see where we wind up compared to them.”

Sunday’s race is set to get the green flag just after 3 p.m. Eastern Time with TV coverage on Fox Sports 1.

Blaney Using Ford Performance Technology To Get Up To Speed For Sonoma

2016 NASCAR PoconoRyan Blaney and the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane team get a big test this weekend as they head to the road course at Sonoma Raceway. It’s a track the rookie Blaney has never raced on before, and it’s a place the Wood Brothers team hasn’t competed at since 2008.

But that doesn’t mean the team is dreading the weekend.

“Sonoma is a race we’ve had circled on the calendar for a while,” crew chief Jeremy Bullins said.

“We know it’s going to be a huge challenge for us for a number of reasons, but we are all looking forward to testing ourselves.”

While Blaney has never raced at Sonoma, he does have two starts in other NASCAR divisions on other road courses, with great success. In 2014, he drove Brad Keselowski’s Ford to victory in a Camping World Truck Series race at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park and last year he drove a Team Penske Mustang to a runner-up finish in an Xfinity Series race at Road America.

Still, there’s a big difference when it comes to racing in the Sprint Cup Series, where the cars are faster and the competition is more intense.

2016 NASCAR Pocono “We know it will take some getting up to speed, but I know he’s looking forward to it as well,” Bullins said, adding that he too is anxious to test his crew chief skills at Sonoma. “After working with some great road racers on the Xfinity car for Team Penske, I really grew to love the strategy side of road courses, and that gets me fired up to try to help our team out from that standpoint as well.”

Thanks to some ultra-modern technology available to the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team from Ford Motor Company, Blaney won’t arrive at Sonoma without a good idea of how he needs to drive the course.

“Fortunately as part of the Ford Performance umbrella we have the ability to use their state-of-the-art driving simulator, and we’ve definitely taken advantage of that,” Bullins said, adding that the simulator is as close to being there in a real car as possible. “We’ve made several trips to the Ford Tech Center getting ready for Sonoma, not only trying to learn what kind of set-up variables Ryan might be sensitive to, but also to learn shift points and braking points that hopefully speeds up our education when we start making laps there this weekend.”

On Monday night, as Bullins and the crew loaded the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion for the cross-country trip to Sonoma, he said he was confident the team had done a good job of preparing both driver and car.

“We’ve put in a lot of work, and we have solid expectations for a good weekend,” he said.

Qualifying is set for 2:15 p.m. eastern on Saturday, and the 110-lap race is scheduled to start just after 3 p.m. on Sunday with TV coverage on FOX Sports 1.

Glen Wood Watched Ford Win Le Mans In 1966

Glen Wood, like other members of the Ford Performance family, will have a keen interest in this weekend’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, as Ford will make its return to sports car racing’s premier event on the 50th anniversary of its breakthrough Le Mans victory.  Wood, whose family-owned team fields the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion driven by Ryan Blaney on NASCAR’s Sprint Cup circuit, was at Le Mans back in 1966 for that historic victory, which saw the Ford GT Mark II not only win the race, but sweep the top three finishing positions.

Wood was a part of the Ford contingent at that race. Even before the team left for Le Mans, Wood was aware of the intense preparation that went into the Mark II cars that would compete. Wood was aware of the leadership skills of John Cowley, who was manager of Ford’s NASCAR efforts before being pressed into service to head up the Le Mans effort for 1966.

At Holman Moody’s shops in Charlotte, mechanics meticulously prepared cars.  At the same time, Ford’s engine builders worked around the clock to ensure that the 427-cubic-inch engines could withstand the punishment of a 24-hour race. Engines ran on dynamometers for days at a time, with varying loads to simulate racing conditions.

Photo credit Mike Teske Collection/Holman Moody, the legendary race team book

Photo credit Mike Teske Collection/Holman Moody, the legendary race team book

“I knew how much time and effort went into preparing both the engines and the cars,” Wood said. “The effort was second to none in 1966. They rented a huge shop when they in arrived in France just to work on the cars before the track actually opened. I can only imagine the work and preparation that has gone into this new Ford GT.”

The world was a different place as well 50 years ago, and for Wood, a trip to Europe for a sports car race was a major culture shock. That was especially true for someone who grew up in the foothills of Virginia, running a sawmill before he embarked on a full-time racing career.

That 1966 trip ended a lot better for Wood than it started. On the way over the Atlantic, the plane he was riding had a problem with its heating system. “I about froze to death,” Wood recalled. “I took a cold.” He sought medical attention and got a shot that helped cure his cold when he arrived in France.

The return trip was noteworthy as well. Wood wound up having to buy a ticket for a fellow Ford crew member and long-time NASCAR fixture, Richie Barz, who lost his wallet. “Then he got on an earlier flight and beat me home,” Wood said with a chuckle.

Driving European style also took some adaption. “It was hard to get used to driving on the wrong side of the road,” Wood recalled, adding that he picked up some tips from Jolanna Holman, the daughter of team owner John Holman, and Jake Elder, the long-time NASCAR crew chief who was part of the Ford GT team at Le Mans.  But it was Wood who helped Elder get used to the French cuisine.  Jake had been in England at some point and didn’t like the food there either,” Wood said.  The two went to a restaurant, and Elder ordered a hamburger steak. When it arrived it was basically a mound of meat about six inches in diameter and two inches tall. Most of the ground meat inside was red and mostly rare, Wood recalled.  “Jake turned up his nose at it, but he needed to eat something, so I talked him into eating around the edges where it was cooked the most,” Wood said with a smile.  Wood, himself already leery of the foreign food, had a plan for his trip. Just to be on the safe side, he packed some snacks like he once carried to work when his main job was sawmilling.  “I brought along some cans of Van Camp’s Pork and Beans and some crackers,” he said, adding that his sawmill snacks turned out to be quite popular with one of Ford’s top drivers, Dick Hutcherson. “Dick saw me eating some one day and said: ‘Can I have some of those during the race?’  “I got a big bang out of that.”

During the 24-hour race itself, Wood followed the racing and watched the pit stops.  “The track was so long (8.3 miles) that the cars would go out of sight, and it seemed like forever before they came back around,” he said.

Wood also noticed a youngster running around in the paddock apparently alone. He decided to babysit the young fellow until his parents showed up. That little boy grew up to become legendary Indy car driver and team owner Michael Andretti.  “I took it on myself to look after him,” Wood said. Michael’s father, Mario Andretti, didn’t get to share in the Ford celebration after the race. He was driving one of the Ford GTs fielded by Holman Moody and co-driven by Lucien Bianchi, but dropped out with mechanical issues.

Photo credit Mike Teske Collection/Holman Moody, the legendary race team book

Photo credit Mike Teske Collection/Holman Moody, the legendary race team book

Wood, whose NASCAR team was known for its quick pit stops, saw an entirely different type of pit service at Le Mans.  “We just changed tires and added fuel and made adjustments on our stock cars, the guys over there did a lot more work on their race cars,” he said. “If the brakes were worn out, they had quick-release pins so they could change the pads in a hurry. “Even the nose and the tail of the cars were fixed so they could be exchanged in a hurry in the event of damage.”

When the 1966 race ended, the top three Fords crossed the finish line in a group with the Shelby-American Ford GT Mark II of Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon taking the victory over teammates Ken Miles and Deny Hulme, followed by the Holman-Moody Mark II of Ronnie Bucknum and Dick Hutcherson.  It was the first win at Le Mans for the Ford GT and the first win for an American auto manufacturer.

“It was a really big deal for Ford,” Wood recalled. “And it came just a year after they’d won Indy for the first time.”  Now Ford, which went on to win at Le Mans in 1967, 1968 and 1969, is back at Le Mans with a fleet of four Ford GTs.

Wood is hoping for another success story when the world’s most prestigious around-the-clock endurance contest is over on Sunday.  “The people at Ford Motor Company, as well as the members of the Ford family are our friends,” Wood said, adding that the friendship has spanned generations. “We’ve been with them so long they’re like family to us. They are the reason we’re still racing today.  “I know that the Ford leadership is really proud to be returning to Le Mans and I wish them all the luck in the world.”

Blaney Bounces Back For Sixth-Straight Top-20 Finish On A Big Day For Ford At Michigan

2016 NASCAR MichiganA late-race brush with the wall left Ryan Blaney and the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane team to play a supporting role on a grand day for Ford Motor Company at its home track, Michigan International Speedway.

Blaney and his No. 21 Ford Fusion started the race from a season-best fifth position and were among the top 10 for the first half of the race. But an untimely caution flag during a round of green-flag pit stops just prior to the halfway point put Blaney and his Motorcraft/Quick Lane team in catch-up mode.

By being the free-pass car and some hard driving, Blaney was able to move back inside the top 15 and eventually into the top 10. But an incident with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. just after a restart with just over 40 laps left to run saw Blaney slide into the wall.

After repairs to his No. 21 Fusion he restarted the race in 29th position and began working his way forward. His forward progress was aided by a call by crew chief Jeremy Bullins to stay on the track during the race’s final caution period, and he drove his way to 17th place at the finish.

Despite the disappointment, it was Blaney’s sixth consecutive finish of 20th or better and his 11th top-20 finish in the 15 races this season.

Blaney said afterward that he was surprised by the way his car reacted after Stenhouse drove across the track in front of him.

“It completely took all the traction off my car and I slid all the way to the fence,” he said. “That’s never happened to me before.”

2016 NASCAR MichiganHe also said he was proud of the way he and his team recovered from the mid-race setback when the caution flag flew after he’d made his pit stop but before the rest of the leaders stopped.

“We had to start all the way to the back,” he said. “We had a really good car on longer runs. We got really good and we were driving up there really fast.”

Blaney dropped one position in the points standings to 16th and leads 17th-place Kasey Kahne by 11 points heading into an off weekend before getting back to work at Sonoma Raceway in two weeks.

Team co-owner Len Wood said that while he’d have rather finished higher, it’s hard to be too disappointed any time Ford Motor Company wins at Michigan International Speedway, the home track for the Dearborn-based auto manufacturer.

“Congratulations to Team Penske and Joey Logano for an impressive victory,” Wood said. “And good luck to the Ford GT team as they return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans this week.”

Blaney Earns Top-Five Starting Spot At Michigan

2016 NASCAR MichiganRyan Blaney and the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane crew equaled their fifth-place qualifying effort of a year ago at Michigan International Speedway on Friday, but this year’s run came with a new aerodynamic package.

That lower-downforce package challenged drivers and crews up and down pit road, but the rookie Blaney and his young team, led by crew chief Jeremy Bullins, overcame a disappointing opening run in the first of three qualifying sessions to secure their first top-five start of the season.

Blaney used a late run in the first session to post the fourth-best lap of 198.648 miles per hour. Then he was 10th in the second session with a lap at 198.145 mph before turning a lap at 198.588 in the third round to secure the fifth spot, which is his fourth top-10 start of the season.

Blaney said that while he was proud of his team’s comeback in the first round of qualifying, it had him wondering “what if” about the later rounds.

“We were really loose the first run, just really, really free, and that hurt us a lot,” he said. “They got it a lot better the second run out. They did a good job of getting us better throughout the day.”

“Unfortunately we had an extra lap on our tires. Who knows what would have happened with one less lap on the tires in the final round.”

2016 NASCAR Michigan Blaney said that while it’s still unknown how Sunday’s Firekeepers Casino 400 will be affected by the lower-downforce package, he does know that he’ll have an advantage over most of his peers due to his qualifying success.

“You get a good pit stall, and that can’t hurt,” he said. The pit stall selection process in NASCAR is based on qualifying positions with the pole-sitter’s team choosing its spot first, followed by the teams next in line in qualifying.

Eddie Wood, co-owner of the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Fusion, said he’s glad to be off to a fast start at a track that is historically one of his team’s best venues.

“It’s always good to start the weekend out well,” he said. “It especially true here at Michigan, which is the home track for Ford Motor Company and therefore a home track for us too.”

Sunday’s Firekeepers Casino 400 is set to get the green flag just after 1 p.m. on Sunday with TV coverage on Fox Sports 1.

Wood Brothers Delivered A Victory For Ford Motor Company In Inaugural NASCAR Race At MIS

2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, DoverThe inaugural NASCAR race at Michigan International Speedway, on June 15, 1969, was appropriately named the “Motor State 500.”

Held in the home state of the major U.S. automakers, the race has been from the beginning an event that participating auto makers want to win, for many reasons, including local bragging rights.

It was especially true for the inaugural event, according to Leonard Wood, long-time crew chief for his family’s No. 21 Ford.

“Ford really wanted to win that race,” Wood said. “All the manufacturers wanted to win it.”

Photo Credit Smyle Media

Photo Credit Smyle Media

As teams began preparing for the wide, two-mile oval, Wood and his driver, future NASCAR Hall of Famer Cale Yarborough, worked to get their Mercury handling well entering the turns.

“If you overdrove it getting into the turns, you can’t come off the turns as fast as you should,” Wood said. “And with those long straightaways, you want to get off the corner fast and be fast down those straightaways.”

As it turned out, all the Ford teams were fast at Michigan, as they have been throughout the track’s history. Donnie Allison won the pole in Banjo Matthews’ Ford, with Lee Roy Yarbrough alongside in Junior Johnson’s Mercury. Yarborough qualified fourth in the Wood Brothers’ No. 21 Mercury.

The Motor State 500 turned out to be a dandy race, with 35 lead changes among nine drivers, all but three of them in either a Ford or a Mercury.

The fastest cars that afternoon were the Wood Brothers Mercury with Yarborough aboard, the Mercury driven by Lee Roy Yarbrough, the No. 43 Ford of Richard Petty and the No. 17 Holman-Moody Ford driven by David Pearson.

Photo Credit Life Magazine/ WB

Photo Credit Life Magazine/ WB

As the laps wound down, Pearson led Laps 214 to 220 before being passed by Yarborough, who led 11 laps before being passed by Lee Roy Yarbrough, who led 12. Cale regained the lead for three laps then lost it to Lee Roy, who led one before Cale took the top spot again with three laps to go.

The final lap provided the most drama of the day, as the two Mercury drivers headed into the final lap side-by-side, much to the delight of the crowd of 46,238 as reported at the time.

The two drivers collided, with Lee Roy getting the worst end of the deal, slamming into the wall. Cale regained control of the No. 21 Mercury and got back to the finish line five car-lengths ahead of Pearson, with Petty taking third place.

Lee Roy Yarbrough continued on with his battered car but did not make it back to the finish line.

Still he was credited with fourth place, giving Ford a sweep of the top four finishing positions.

“I don’t fault [Lee Roy] at all,” Cale is quoted as saying in Greg Fielden’s Forty Years of Stock Car Racing. “He was trying his darnedest to win the race, just like I was.”

Lee Roy, after consulting with Ford officials, responded by saying, as reported by Fielden: “I thought I had figured out a way to win the race, but it didn’t happen that way.”

Photo Credit Smyle Media

Photo Credit Smyle Media

Leonard Wood said he couldn’t see the contact, but he knew Yarborough was giving it all he had in the closing laps.

“He drove hard all the time,” Wood said. “But he got more out of the car at the end of that race than I thought he had.

“It was great to be able to win it for Ford.”

The Wood Brothers have gone on to win 10 more Cup races at Michigan and will be trying to push that total to 12 in this weekend’s FireKeepers Casino 400, which will be held using a new, lower-downforce aerodynamic package.

Leonard Wood, who did most of his racing in an era where cars had very little downforce, said he likes the idea of reducing downforce on current cars including the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion that rookie Ryan Blaney will drive.

“If it makes the racing better, that’s what the fans want to see,” he said. “I’m for whatever the fans want. They’re the reason we are all here.”

P-WB2-82npQualifying for the FireKeepers Casino 400 is set for Friday at 4:15 p.m. and the race is scheduled to start just after 1 p.m. on Sunday with TV coverage on Fox Sports 1.

Impressive Pocono Performance Nets Blaney His Sixth Top 10 of 2016

2016 NASCAR PoconoFuel strategies were the order of the day in the rain-delayed Axalta 400 at Pocono Raceway on Monday.

Ryan Blaney and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team took a late-race gamble by stopping for fuel with 39 laps remaining, a move that could have put them in position to contend for the win, as many of their competitors were running short of making it to the finish. But a subsequent caution period negated that strategy, which also would have put the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team in good shape if the race had gone into overtime.

Still, Blaney drove his way to a 10th-place finish, his sixth of the season and fourth in the past five races.

Team co-owner Eddie Wood said Blaney did a masterful job at Pocono all weekend, especially considering he had no previous Sprint Cup experience at the Tricky Triangle.

“Ryan and our spotter, Josh Williams, did a tremendous job all day,” Wood said. “Ryan was either right in front of, right beside or right behind every wreck, and with Josh’s help he missed them all.”

2016 NASCAR PoconoBlaney and the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion were solid from start to finish of the 400-mile run. He started the race in 14th position and was rarely out of the top 15 all day.

Wood said that crew chief Jeremy Bullins and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane crew had a good day on pit road and developed a good strategy plan even if it was foiled by the race’s final caution.

“It all worked out,” Wood said. “We got another top 10, and we’ll head to Michigan with plenty of momentum.”

With a short work week ahead of them, Blaney and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team return to Ford Motor Company’s home track, Michigan International Speedway, for Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400.

With Only One Lap of Practice, Blaney Qualifies 14th At Pocono

2016 NASCAR PoconoQualifying a Sprint Cup car for the first time at Pocono Raceway is a daunting task for a rookie driver like Ryan Blaney, driver of the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion. The level of difficulty ratcheted up even more on Friday when Blaney got just one lap of practice in a rain-shortened session.

Blaney’s lone practice lap was just 26th fastest, with a speed of 172.854 miles per hour.

His next lap on the track was in the opening round of qualifying, and he posted the seventh best speed of 179.379 mph.

Then he ran the exact same speed in the second round, which put him starting 14th in Sunday’s Axalta 400.

Blaney told reporters after qualifying that even though his Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion was a little tight in the second round of qualifying he was pleased with the way he and the team adapted to a difficult situation.

“I thought we made good gains from the first run to the second run in the first round,” he said. “It just wasn’t where we needed it in the second round.

“The guys did a great job for only having one lap of practice. They did really good at getting the car better and bearing with me.”

Team co-owner Eddie Wood said Blaney did a tremendous job given his lack of experience in a Sprint Cup car at Pocono, which is known as the Tricky Triangle for good reason.

2016 NASCAR Pocono “I know Ryan won a race here in the Camping World Truck Series, but driving a Sprint Cup car here is entirely different,” Wood said. “He’s never shifted gears here at speed, and there’s a lot of difference in the power of the trucks and the Cup cars.

“To do what he did here with just four laps total is pretty impressive.”

With the rains that cut practice short on Friday set to clear out Saturday morning, Blaney and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team are hopeful of getting the rookie driver more laps on the track so he can adapt to the unique layout.

“I still have a lot of work to do here,” Blaney said. “That is something I need to work on, but hopefully we get some practice tomorrow and we will be able to do that.”

Wood said that although the forecast is clear for Saturday and showing rain for Sunday, he’s taking a wait-and-see approach to the weekend.

“I’ve seen it rain here when it wasn’t supposed to rain and be clear when it was supposed to rain,” he said. “I know the weather data today is really good, but up here in the Pocono Mountains you never know what it will do.”

The Axalta 400 is set to get the green flag just after 1 p.m. on Sunday with TV coverage on Fox Sports 1.

Rainy Days Ahead In Pocono

2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, KansasLast season, when rain was forecast for the day Sprint Cup teams were set to qualify, there was a sense of dread around the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team. Running a part-time schedule at that time and with no owner points to fall back on, Ryan Blaney and the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Fusion missed three races as a result of wet weather and cancelled qualifying.

Rain is in the forecast for this Friday at Pocono Raceway, but Blaney and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team won’t have to worry about missing the race as there are just 40 entries for the 40 starting spots.

Still crew chief Jeremy Bullins is formulating a contingency plan in case showers do arrive at Pocono on Friday.

“You certainly can’t think of going to Pocono without expecting rain in the forecast, and this week looks no different,” Bullins said. “I hope that’s not the case as being Ryan’s first Cup start there we’d like to have all the practice we can get.”

Pocono is much different from the other venues on the Sprint Cup circuit due to the length and layout of the track.

Pocono Raceway covers 2.5 miles, with three distinct turns. Turn one, with 14 degrees of banking, was copied from the old Trenton Speedway in New Jersey. Turn two, better known as the tunnel turn, is banked nine degrees and patterned after Indianapolis Motor Speedway, while turn three, at six degrees, is made like the Milwaukee Mile.

Because of the difference in banking, and relatively low banking overall, combined with the shortness of the turns compared to the straightaways, speeds are slower than on oval tracks of the same length or shorter. The track record at Pocono, set in 2014 by Kyle Larson, is 183.438 miles per hour.

Even if it rains this weekend, Blaney won’t be completely without experience on the Tricky Triangle. He won a Camping World Truck Series race there in 2013 driving for Brad Keselowski Racing.

“It’s a track he’s had success at in the truck series, so that should help our learning curve,” Bullins said. “As long as rain doesn’t shorten Friday’s practice we will start in race trim to get a rhythm before swapping over to make some mock qualifying runs.

“That change takes 20-30 minutes, so if rain looks to affect that practice we will be in qualifying trim the whole time and count on Ryan to make the most of it.”

Bullins also will be making his Cup debut at Pocono, although like Blaney he has some experience there in the past. Bullins’ previous Pocono experience was as an engineer.

“Personally I love Pocono because of the strategy,” he said. “If you’re close enough to the leaders, you can pit without getting lapped which allows you to use a road-course strategy.”

That means stopping as soon as Blaney can make it to the end of the race, even if it means making a green-flag stop, which at most tracks would be a risky move.

“You pit as soon as you can make it to the end of the race on fuel and hope the caution comes out before everyone else pits so you can leap frog them while they are on pit road,” Bullins said. “All in all, it should be a fun weekend for us and a good challenge, racing somewhere with Ryan for the first time.”

Qualifying for the Axalta 400 is set for Friday at 4:15 p.m. and the race is scheduled to start just after 1 p.m. on Sunday with TV coverage on Fox Sports 1.

Pit Road Woes Relegate Blaney To a 20th-Place Finish in Coca-Cola 600

2016 NASCAR Charlotte 600Ryan Blaney and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team started strong in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but a series of misfortunes led to a 20th-place finish.

Blaney started 18th and drove his way into the top 15 in the opening laps, only to have to go to the rear of the pack after being nabbed for speeding on pit road. Back on the attack again, Blaney rallied back to 16th before more troubles on pit road sent him back to the rear on two more occasions, once because of a loose wheel.

“It was a long night, man, a really, really long night,” Blaney said in his post-race interview. “Nothing could go right for us. That was the frustrating part.”

Despite the troubles, Blaney remained on the lead lap for most of a Coca-Cola 600 that saw the caution flag displayed just four times for 19 laps. And he maintained that position in spite of body damage his Motorcraft/Quick Lane Fusion sustained over the course of the race.

That body damage likely led to a cut tire with two laps remaining, but the Motorcraft crew got Blaney back on the track in time to salvage a 20th-place finish, which allowed him to remain in a tie with Ryan Newman for 15th place in the Sprint Cup standings.

Team co-owner Eddie Wood said that considering all the setbacks in the race, he’s happy to leave Charlotte with the final result, which is the ninth time in the 13 races this season that the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Fusion has finished in the top half of the running order.

“For a night when we had to go to the rear a couple of times, it could have been a lot worse,” Wood said. “We got a good bit of body damage throughout the night. The car was already a little on the tight side, and that damage just made it worse.”

Wood also said he appreciates his team pressing forward after some early miscues.

“The pit crew redeemed themselves with some good stops later in the race,” he said. “[Crew chief] Jeremy [Bullins] made a good call at the end to put on two right-side tires and get Ryan out there and preserve a 20th-place finish.

2016 NASCAR Charlotte 600 “Ryan hung in there all night, and we were able to honor Signal Seaman Cherone L. Gunn, who lost his life in an attack on the U.S.S. Cole and in doing so helped make it possible for us to enjoy the freedoms all of us in America enjoy.”

For his part, Blaney said his car never was as good once the sun went down. And he said he had some room for improvement too.

“There’s some stuff we have to work on with the race car,” he said. “I probably didn’t do the best job [Sunday night].”

Blaney and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team return to action this week at Pocono Raceway, where Blaney has never driven a Sprint Cup car but back in 2013 drove Brad Keselowski’s truck to victory in a Camping World Truck Series race.

The Wood Brothers have two wins at Pocono, one apiece with David Pearson and Neil Bonnett, but have not competed there since 2008.