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Young Ryan Blaney, driving Wood Brothers' legendary 21 car, looks to gain respect from competitors in Cup series

Posted On Wednesday, 11 February 2015 19:00 Written by
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Ryan Blaney takes the wheel of the legendary Wood Brothers 21 car this season in Cup Ryan Blaney takes the wheel of the legendary Wood Brothers 21 car this season in Cup Photo courtesy of Wood Brothers Racing

When Ryan Blaney makes his debut in the iconic No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion in the 2015 Daytona 500 and the events leading up to the Great American Race, he will be mindful of his rookie status, but will be looking for ways to get to and stay near the front of the pack.

“I’d like to say being a rookie doesn’t change your thought process but it definitely does,” said the 21-year-old Blaney. “You go through it with every new series you go into. You have to give respect to get it. That’s what I’ve always done.

“When I started in truck, I gave a lot of respect and I earned it back,” he continued. “Same with Nationwide (now XFINITY Series). Cup is no different.

“That does change how you race a little bit,” said Blaney who has two Sprint Cup starts under his belt heading into his first season with Wood Brothers Racing. “You probably give a little more than you take right away to not get on anyone’s bad side and not mess up in your rookie year.”

That being the case, Blaney says he has no intention of being a rolling spectator in Daytona or at any race in which he’s involved. “You have to know when to be aggressive,” he said. “That balancing act is really going to be big for us this year. Being a rookie does change your mind set a little bit but we’re not going to just ride around. When the time is right we’re definitely going to make it count.”

While Blaney is earning respect from other Cup drivers on Daytona’s high banks, new Motorcraft/Quick Lane Team crew chief Jeremy Bullins will be doing the same from the pit box in his first year as a Sprint Cup Series crew chief.

“It’s a super speedway race and there are big packs of cars and it’s hard to pass,” Bullins said explaining what goes into his strategy for Daytona. “You have to focus on track position a lot. You take only two tires when you can. You take gas only if you have an opportunity. It all depends on how cautions fall and what lap it is.”

Bullins said Blaney’s rookie status won’t factor into how he calls his driver’s first Daytona 500.

“We’ll pit like we’re trying to win the race because we are trying to win the race,” he explained. “This is an opportunity for us to let Ryan showcase what he’s learned about how to draft and for us to try to keep him in a good position.”

According to Bullins, pure speed is the primary focus in setting up the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion for Daytona qualifying, the 150-mile Budweiser Duels and the 500 itself.

“The biggest thing with set up at Daytona is you want to get the car down and out of the air with the least amount of drag on the car that you can get away with,” he explained. “Since the track has been re-paved, handling is not a huge part of it like it used to be. It’s more like Talladega where you just try to get speed.”

Blaney said driving a super speedway like Daytona presents challenges that go beyond mere speed.

“It’s a lot narrower, which makes it more difficult to get through the pack if you get behind a little bit,” he said. “There aren’t as many lanes moving forward and it definitely leaves less room for error.

“We’re going to attack it like we did last year at Talladega,” said Blaney, who in his second-ever Cup start there last season for Team Penske finished 22nd after leading several laps early in the race. “We’ll try to win the race and do the best we can to stay up front, be ahead on strategy and make smart moves when we have to and be aggressive when we can. It’ll be a good race for us I think.”

Practice sessions for Daytona 500 qualifying begin at 10:30 a.m. ET on Feb. 14 and can be seen live on FOX Sports 1. Qualifying will take place at 1:30 p.m. ET on Feb. 15 and will be broadcast live on FOX. Practice sessions for the Budweiser Duels will be shown on FOX Sports 1 at 2 and 3:15 ET on Feb. 18 and at noon on Feb. 19. The Budweiser Duels will air on FOX Sports 1 at 7 p.m. ET on Feb. 19. Practice for the Daytona 500 airs on Feb. 20 at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. and on Feb. 21 at 10:30 a.m. ET on FOX Sports 1. The Daytona 500 begins on FOX at 1 p.m. ET.

Daytona 500 Facts
Track: 2.5-mile super speedway
Laps: 200
1st Race: 1959
Wood Brothers Wins: 5 (Last in 2011)
Race Record: Buddy Baker, 1980, 177.602 mph
2014 Winner: Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
2014 No. 21 Finish: 33rd, crash on lap 183

-- Press release courtesy of Wood Brothers Racing

Matt M. Myftiu

Matt Myftiu has been a journalist for two decades with a focus on technology, NASCAR and autos.

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