DEARBORN, Mich., April 20, 2016 – It’s been seven years since the Wood Brothers last unloaded their iconic No. 21 at Richmond International Raceway and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Racing Team will be trying to make its 2016 return to the ¾-mile track in the historic southern city a memorable one.
Rookie driver Ryan Blaney has yet to run a NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Richmond but he has run four XFINITY series races there and finished in the top 10 on each occasion, most recently a fourth place in 2014.
“I like the track,” Blaney said. “We’ve had good cars there and bad cars. But the race track itself is fun to race on.”
Crew chief Jeremy Bullins said he expects his rookie driver to be as quick a study in the Cup car at Richmond as he has been on other new tracks for him so far this season.
“I don’t think it will be a problem for us,” Bullins said. “We ran races there in the Penske XFINITY car and had good runs. It’s a place I feel he will adapt to quickly in the Cup car.”
Should Blaney adapt quickly enough to win at Richmond, he will join Speedy Thompson (spring 1960) and Kyle Petty (spring 1986) as Wood Brothers wheelmen who have visited Victory Lane there.
To do that, however, the team and driver will have to make sure the No. 21 Ford Fusion is balanced for both long and short green-flag runs and perhaps be the beneficiary of some good racing fortune.
“There is always a fine line between getting your car to turn and have speed early in a run without building too loose in or losing too much drive off,” Bullins explained. “You generally get tighter in the center of the corner as you go as well, so finding a balance that gives you both short- and long-run speed is a challenge. Often cars that fire off the fastest on re-starts may lead for 15-25 laps and another car will come on strong and take the lead by 40-50 laps into a run, then you get a caution and all that starts over again.
“You have to hope the race plays out to your strong suit,” he continued. “If you have a good short-run car, you hope for a lot of cautions. If you have a long-run car you want the race to go green.”
Blaney said he expects a more genteel race at Richmond compared to those run at the shorter Martinsville and Bristol ovals.
“I don’t expect as much bumping at Richmond,” he said. “The other two tracks are a lot rougher and there’s more contact.”
Overall, Blaney likes the progress his team is making in the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup season.
“I feel like we’ve gotten a lot better,” he said. “We’ve had our ups and downs but hopefully we can hit our stride soon.”
Blaney heads into Richmond 19th in the driver standings and trails Chase Elliott on the Rookie of the Year chart by 21 points.
The practice session for Toyota Owners 400 qualifying begins at 11 a.m. EDT on Friday, April 22 and can be seen live on FOX Sports 1 (FS1). Qualifying will take place later that day at 4:15 p.m. EDT and will be broadcast live on FS1. Saturday’s practice sessions will be run at 8:30 a.m. and 11 a.m., April 23and be shown on FS1. The Toyota Owners 400 500 begins on FOX at 1 p.m. EDT on Sunday, April 24.
Toyota Owners 400/Richmond International Raceway
Laps: 400 (300 miles)
1st Race: 1953
Wood Brothers Wins: 2
Race Record: Dale Jarrett, 1997, 109.047 mph
2015 Winner: Matt Kenseth
2015 No. 21 Finish: Did not compete
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!