When the Wood Brothers and their backers at Ford Motor Company decided in 2009 to take the Motorcraft/Quick Lane back to a part-time schedule and regroup, the long-term goal was to build the No. 21 team back to an outfit that was capable of turning in a performance like the team delivered in Saturday’s GoBowling.com 400 at Kansas Speedway.
A little more than a year after the team returned to full-time competition, driver Ryan Blaney, crew chief Jeremy Bullins and the entire Motorcraft/Quick Lane team had a mistake-free weekend that saw Blaney win his first pole in NASCAR’s elite series, then compete for the win all the way until the final laps.
Blaney wound up finishing fourth after leading eight times for 83 laps, winning Stage Two and finishing third in Stage One. He scored a total of 51 points, a career best for the sophomore driver.
Bullins and his support staff were spot-on with their pit strategy, and the over-the-wall crew was able to capitalize on the Number One pit stall and return Blaney to the track with the race lead on several occasions and gained him positions on nearly every stop.
In the end, the way the race played out, Blaney was unable to capitalize on the strengths of his No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Fusion and lost out to competitors whose cars were faster at that point.
“I felt like we were the best car from maybe 15, 20 laps, especially if we were out front,” he said.
“We got that caution at the end and beat the 78 [race winner Martin Truex Jr.] off pit road.
“I thought we were in a pretty good spot, and he made a really good move on that restart and was able to pass us, and then we had a couple more opportunities towards the end of that race, and he got a couple really good restarts and I didn't, and that was kind of the deciding factor.”
Still his thoughts were mostly positive after one of his team’s best performances.
“A good showing, going out there and leading laps and running with some really good cars - that's where this team deserves to be, and that's where they hopefully will stay,” he said. “We keep bringing fast cars to the race track like that, you never know when maybe one might fall our way.”
Blaney also said the strong Kansas run helps his team put a disappointing three-week stretch behind them as they head into two weekends of racing on the 1.5-mile Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“It's really just nice to be back on track,” he said. “It was nice to show our muscle this weekend and prove that this is where the 21 team deserves to be…
“[We’re] going to a few race tracks that are pretty good for us, Charlotte, and then we'll keep moving on.
“Of course we wanted to win, but at the same time, you look at the gains we made all weekend and really being fast all weekend, that puts us back to where we need to be for sure.”
Team co-owner Eddie Wood, like Blaney, left Kansas pleased with the way his team delivered under pressure, and with it’s good fortune after a stretch of bad luck.
“You feel fortunate to get out of there with a good finish given all the craziness out there,” he said. “We could have very easily gotten torn up and finished 30th, but Ryan drove a great race, Jeremy called a good race, and the pit crew was the best on pit road.”
Wood pointed out that his team was a legitimate contender for the victory all the way to the checkered flag.
“I really want to thank Motorcraft/Quick Lane, Ford Performance and all the people at Ford Motor Company, for putting us back in a position where we can be in contention for the win at the end of these races,” he said.
After Kansas, Blaney moved up two positions in the Cup standings to 11th place headed into the All-Star Weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway.