Martinsville Speedway, the paper-clip-shaped half-mile oval, has confounded many a newcomer over the years, but rookies Ryan Blaney and Jeremy Bullins figured it out fairly well for their first trip there with a Sprint Cup car.
Blaney and his No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion were seventh fastest in Friday’s opening practice session. They backed that up in qualifying, posting the sixth-best speed in the first round and the eighth-best in the second round before locking down the 12th starting spot in the final round.
Blaney’s official lap at 96.171 miles per hour places him third among Ford drivers in the line-up for the STP 500 behind Team Penske drivers Joey Logano, who won the pole, and Brad Keselowski, who starts 11th.
Friday’s strong showing in qualifying marked the second time in the past three races that Blaney and Bullins had made the final round of qualifying at a track they’d never been to before with a Sprint Cup car.
“It’s nice to get to the third round, but it didn’t go the way we wanted it to,” Blaney said. “We didn’t really have good speed that last round, but it’s nice to get a decent starting spot.”
Now Blaney and Bullins will turn their attention to Saturday’s practice runs, which they will use to perfect a race set-up for Sunday’s 500-lapper.
“[Saturday] is a whole different ball game,” Blaney said. “Making sure it’s good in race runs is completely different in how you drive the race cars, so we’ll search for a certain feel and see if we can try to find it.”
Team co-owner Len Wood said he was pleased to have a good start to the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team’s return to Martinsville as full-time competitors for the first time since 2008.
“Ryan and Jeremy did a really nice job,” Wood said. “Being able to start close to the front on Sunday, plus getting a better pick of pit stalls, is really important at Martinsville. It’s all good right now.”
The STP 500 is set to get the green flag just after 1 p.m. on Sunday with TV coverage on Fox Sports 1.