Legacy, family stands out for Ryan Blaney with the Wood Brothers

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Perhaps it’s fitting Ryan Blaney turned 21 on Dec. 31, as he will make his first real voyage into the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series aboard the Wood Brothers’ iconic No. 21.

Yes, Blaney has a handful of Cup starts, but an increased 18-race schedule with the Wood Brothers will mark his first time running so many races in NASCAR’s top series.

Blaney has been around cars since birth, thanks to his father Dave and uncle Dale’s racing careers. The Woods, from Glen and Leonard Wood and on down the line, are celebrating their 65-year anniversary this year.

This pretty much makes the two racing families a perfect match.

“You’re not a fan or a racer of NASCAR and don’t know the Wood Brothers,” Blaney said during the NASCAR media tour. “I didn’t need to research. I know them. Names like Cale Yarborough, David Pearson, Bill Elliott, Tiny Lund… they’re all really iconic in NASCAR. Most guys have driven for the Woods.

“When you drive for an iconic team, it’s amazing. For the family lineage in racing, it meshes. Their family is a long line of racers. It’s neat how that twists together. It gives us a great relationship. They’re a great group of guys, and we want to be successful for them.”

Success will be a hard term to define for Blaney and the Wood Brothers this year, although he’ll come with crew chief Jeremy Bullins, who has spearheaded some of Team Penske’s recent success in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

With Blaney only running an 18-race schedule, there’s no points to worry about, which should allow for both driver and crew chief to be more aggressive more often than not.

But as Blaney admitted, he’s a Cup rookie, even though he won’t be running for rookie-of-the-year honors. He’ll need to earn that respect at the Cup level.

“There’s actually a fine line there,” he explained. “So OK, the benefit of a partial schedule is you don’t have to worry about points so you can be more aggressive on pit calls or driving style. But you’re new, and have to earn respect.

“I’d compare it to being a high school senior then going to college and being a freshman. You’re new, and you’re moving from being a big bad senior to nothing! That’s kinda me right now. I was good in the Truck Series… now you’re nothing in Cup. It’s a balancing act between being on the aggressive side since you have to learn, but you have to give a lot to gain respect.”

Bullins, who’s come a long way over 15 years since starting as a car chief and engineer with the Wood Brothers in 1999, said the increased Cup schedule will help serve both of them better in the long run.

“Adding to the schedule is better; it gets us in a better rhythm as a team,” Bullins said. “Now it’s about how fast we get there. The goal for him is to be a full-time Cup driver, and my goal is to be a full-time Cup crew chief.”

Blaney was effusive in his praise of Bullins, who has worked with several drivers at Penske and helped steer the No. 22 team to the last two owner’s championships.

“I think we had four different drivers in ’13 and ’14,” Blaney said. “That speaks to his character and commitment to racing. Not all drivers drive the same. For him to adjust and know what they like, and be successful at it, is amazing. He adjusts so well, and we’re fortunate we got him for this Cup program.

“We’ve created a good bond. We’re both building our careers at the same time. Drivers talk about a personal language you have with your crew chief; we have that, and it’s beneficial.”

With the Wood Brothers at 98 career Cup wins, two more will take them to 100. The goal for the Daytona 500 – assuming the team qualifies for the race – is to emulate Trevor Bayne’s 2011 upset victory, the team’s most recent win.

“We’re gonna try to make that happen!” Blaney said. “We’re expecting we’ll have a very fast car for the 500 and this year overall. They’ve worked really hard on our speedway car for the 500.

“Hopefully we can do it… this car, that race, the history… hopefully we can pull a ‘Trevor Bayne moment.'”

Supercross: Tomac, Roczen square off in Arlington; Webb gives chase

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The Monster Energy Supercross championship battle remains tight after Eli Tomac took the lead from Ken Roczen just last week at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. Now the series heads to Arlington, Texas, and the AT&T Stadium for Round 8. (Watch on NBCSN or stream live.)

Tomac’s third win of the 2020 season and Roczen’s third-place finish at Tampa gives Tomac a four-point advantage in what is essentially a wide-open title fight with three races on tap in Arlington.

And while it is still much too early to call this a two-man battle, Cooper Webb is 11 points back with Justin Barcia 20 points out and Adam Cianciarulo 27 points in arrears – and all three cannot afford to lose any ground this week.

Tomac has the momentum. He allowed the field to get a jump after finishing seventh at Anaheim in the season opener, but finished fourth or better in the remaining events.

Roczen also got off to a slow start in Anaheim 1 with a sixth-place finish. He seemed to have a firm grasp on the red plate with four consecutive podium finishes until he slipped to sixth for a second time at San Diego.

Webb is coming into his own with three consecutive podiums in the last three events. If not for a 12th at St. Louis, he would be in immediate contention for the red plate.

This week is the second Triple Crown race of the season and Roczen hopes he has the same success as he did at Glendale. He won all three Mains that weekend and easily walked away with the overall victory. Tomac finished 2-2-3 for second overall. It is going to be imperative that a rider takes the early lead.

Blake Baggett qualified for last week’s Main, but chose to sit it out after experiencing sever muscle spasms. He will ride in Arlington.

Henry Miller will return to riding at Arlington after breaking a scapula in Australia.

Subscribe to the Supercross Pass for complete qualification and race coverage of the 2020 season.

For the third time in his career, Shane McElrath started the season with a victory. He won the season-opener in 2017 and 2018 in the West division at Anaheim, but failed to lock down a 250 title. His seventh career win moved him to 25th on the chart, however, with Travis Pastrana, Trey Canard, and a host of others.

Chase Sexton got his title hunt off to a strong start last week as well. He finished second to earn his 10th podium in 19 starts, but he will be hungry for a win. Despite the fact that he won last year’s 250 West championship, he has only one race victory to his credit.

Last week, Jeremy Martin looked like he had not been off his bike for more than a year. Returning from a 2018 injury, Martin snagged a podium finish in his first race back.

Schedule:

Qualifying: 1 p.m. on NBC Sports Gold
Race: 8:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Gold and NBCSN

Last Week:

Eli Tomac beat Cooper Webb and Ken Roczen in the 450 class.
Shane McElrath beat Chase Sexton and Jeremy Martin in the 250 class.

Last Dallas race (February, 2019):

Cooper Webb beat Ken Roczen and Marvin Musquin in the 450 class.
Austin Forkner beat Justin Cooper and Chase Sexton in the 250 class.

Points Leaders

450s:
Eli Tomac (155)
Ken Roczen (151)
Cooper Webb (144)
Justin Barcia (135)
Adam Cianciarulo (128)

250 West:
Dylan Ferrandis (135)
Justin Cooper (128)
Austin Forkner (122)
Brandon Hartranft (110)
Alex Martin (98)

250 East:
Shane McElrath (26)
Chase Sexton (23)
Jeremy Martin (21)
Garrett Marchbanks (19)
Jordon Smith (18)

Wins

450

(3) Eli Tomac (Anaheim 2, Oakland and Tampa)
(2) Ken Roczen (St. Louis and Glendale)
(1) Justin Barcia (Anaheim 1)
(1) Cooper Webb (San Diego)

250 West

(3) Dylan Ferrandis (Anaheim 2, Oakland, and San Diego)
(2) Austin Forkner (St. Louis and Glendale)
(1) Justin Cooper (Anaheim 1)

250 East

(1) Shane McElrath (Tampa)

Top-5s

450

(6) Eli Tomac
(6) Cooper Webb
(5) Jason Anderson
(5) Ken Roczen
(5) Justin Barcia
(3) Adam Cianciarulo
(2) Zach Osborne
(2) Blake Baggett
(1) Justin Hill

250 West

(5) Dylan Ferrandis
(5) Austin Forkner
(5) Justin Cooper
(4) Michael Mosiman
(4) Brandon Hartranft
(3) Alex Martin
(1) Christian Craig
(1) Jett Lawrence
(1) Jacob Hayes
(1) Luke Clout

250 East

(1) Shane McElrath
(1) Chase Sexton
(1) Jeremy Martin
(1) Garrett Marchbanks
(1) Jordon Smith

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