Ryan Blaney and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Racing team return to the site of their best finish in recent years when they travel to Talladega Superspeedway for Sunday’s Geico 500.
A year ago, Blaney qualified third and finished fourth at the Alabama superspeedway. Although the Wood Brothers’ historic No. 21 was hampered by engine woes in the 2015 fall race at Talladega, Blaney qualified ninth and is confident going into this weekend’s race.
“It's been a strong track for us,” he said. “We bring fast cars and obviously a little luck has to be on your side.”
Crew chief Jeremy Bullins added, “We feel like we have had good cars at all the speedway races we have run with Ryan and this week should be no different.”
Critical to the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team’s success, as well as that of every other NASCAR Sprint Cup team at Talladega, is steering clear of the major wrecks that often occur as a result of the close-quarters drafting that takes place on restrictor-plate tracks.
“It’s mostly luck,” Blaney explained. “You never know when it can happen and just hope you're ahead of it or behind the wreck enough to slow down and avoid it.”
“In my opinion the best thing you can do is try to use a strategy that keeps you up front as much as possible,” Bullins continued. “The closer to the front of the pack you can be helps you control your own destiny by being ahead of a wreck. That said, Ryan has shown the ability to keep himself out of trouble.”
A year ago, as a 21-year-old part timer on the NASCAR circuit, Blaney resisted the urge to make a move to the front of the pack late in the race not knowing if he would get any drafting help from other drivers on the track. Had he made a move and no other cars went with him, he likely would have slid to the middle of the pack or worse.
Since then, he has continued to show driver maturity beyond his years and consideration to faster cars on the track when he isn’t as fleet. Might that dues paying begin to pay interest this weekend at Talladega?
“I feel like it will help,” Blaney said. “Last year we didn't get a lot of help and hopefully that changes this year. But you never know. Sometimes drivers talk prior to the race about helping one another. Obviously teammates do what they can to help out. Most the time you go with whoever has the biggest run.”
Added Bullins, “I think Ryan has earned the respect of his peers and that's key. I think we've also proven we have cars and that helps too if guys know your car has speed.”
Blaney heads into Talladega 20th in the driver standings and trails Chase Elliott on the Rookie of the Year chart by 22 points.
The practice sessions for the Geico 500 begin at 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. on Friday, April 29 and can be seen live on FOX Sports 1 (FS1). Qualifying will take on Saturday, April 30, at 11:30 a.m. EDT and will be broadcast live on FOX. The Geico 500 begins on FOX at 1 p.m. EDT on Sunday, May 1.
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