Team Preview: Wood Brothers Racing

Wood Brothers

Ryan Blaney is prepared to take Wood Brothers Racing into its first full season in eight years, behind the wheel of the famed No. 21 Ford. (Photo: Jeff Wackerlin)

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Sprint Cup Series driver Ryan Blaney was just 14 years old the last time Wood Brothers Racing ran a full schedule in NASCAR’s top division.

Blaney’s 22 now and prepared to take the venerable organization into its first full season in eight years, behind the wheel of the famed No. 21 Ford.

Ryan Blaney"It’s a big jump when you go full-time in the Cup Series," Blaney said. "You race so often and a lot more goes into it. But it’s every young racer’s dream and it’ll be a lot of fun."

The Wood Brothers, entering their 66th year in the sport, ran a limited schedule last season. Blaney made 16 starts with a best finish of fourth in the spring race at Talladega Superspeedway.

Co-owner Len Wood says the team is aiming high in 2016 with Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway right around the corner.

"I’d like to think we could be in Victory Circle reasonably soon, maybe the Daytona 500," Wood said. "I’m looking forward to going back to some of the tracks we haven’t been to for a while like Atlanta and Martinsville. I love road courses and places that present an opportunity that’s a little different, like Pocono."

Eddie Wood, Len’s brother and also a co-owner of the team, says the return to full-time competition this year feels good.

"When you stop racing full-time, it never feels quite right," he said. "It’s like you’re supposed to be doing something else. You’re not supposed to be home when everybody else is racing. This is a great opportunity for us."

WBR enters the new season with technical and engineering assistance from Team Penske and according to Blaney, there are off-track benefits to that association as well.

"They have a great physical program they use for the over-the-wall pit crew that we’ll utilize, too," said Blaney, who has just 18 career Cup Series starts. "And I’ve done a bunch of stuff in the off-season to prepare. You’re doing 400- and 500-mile races instead of the 200 in the Truck Series, so that’s a big change."

Another big change this season is NASCAR’s shift to the low-downforce rules package. Crew chief Jeremy Bullins says he's prepared for the challenge that awaits.

"The good thing is that the races and tests we attended last year using this package seemed to fit us well as a team," Bullins said. "We had speed at Kentucky, but we got rained out before qualifying."

As a result, they failed to make the show. That was one of two 2015 races where the current rules package was tested. In early September at Darlington Raceway, Blaney qualified ninth and finished 30th.

"In testing this package last year, it was positive for us and it fit Ryan’s driving style really well," Bullins added. "When your driver likes the way the car feels, that makes it a lot easier to set it up, obviously. The new rules are a positive for us and we’re looking forward to it."

Just as Blaney is looking forward to his new full-time job.

"When you grow up around the sport, watching my dad as I did, you always hear about the big teams and who’s been around a long time," said Blaney, whose father – Dave – is a former Cup Series driver. "You can never forget the Wood Brothers because they’ve been around now for 66 years. It's cool to drive for such an historic team."

Speaking of history, this year marks the five-year anniversary of one of the most stunning upsets in the 57 years the Daytona 500 has been run. On Feb. 20, 2011, unheralded Trevor Bayne wheeled the No. 21 to victory in "The Great American Race."

It was the last of the Wood Brothers’ 15 Cup Series wins at "The World Center of Racing."

Motor Racing Network – "The Voice of NASCAR" – will have live coverage of the 58th Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 21, starting at 12 p.m. (ET) – with live streaming at MRN.com and on the MRN App.

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