Ryan Blaney Looks to Play Spoiler at Talladega

Although most of the focus is on the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship field during this weekend’s CampingWorld.com 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, Ryan Blaney and his No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford team have been quietly working on being a spoiler for today’s race.

Earlier this year, the 21-year-old High Point, NC native compiled an impressive effort with his hardy team at ‘Dega in May when they started third, hung on to the lead pack and ultimately scored a fourth place finish in the GEICO 500. Yesterday, Blaney and company about duplicated their spring effort with a ninth starting position for today’s race (2:30 PM ET on NBCSN).

Anyone who’s surprised by this combination’s strong weekend has likely missed out on the No. 21 team’s great performances on track this year.  While it is a sport focused on performances, consider the fact that Blaney has made 15 prior starts in the Cup series and has scored five top-20 finishes.

Consider that this group is also coming off a very solid seventh from last weekend at Kansas and this is a team that isn’t exactly a surprising contender for today’s duel at Talladega.

"I'm a let you finish, but our result at Kansas Speedway was one of our greatest of all-time!"

“I’m a let you finish, but our result at Kansas Speedway was one of our greatest of all-time!”

Blaney praised his Wood Brothers Racing team on Twitter last weekend as he tweeted, “Good run for this team today. Proud of the hard work they’ve put in to get us here. We will keep learning and getting better!”

Certainly, the third generation racer has taken to the best classroom that a young competitor could take to in NASCAR Sprint Cup racing in the form of some of the most challenging and daunting tracks of the circuit.  His team, spearheaded by crew chief Jeremy Bullins, have answered the bell at each track and showcased their tremendous potential should they become a full-time Cup effort.

Since the late 2000’s, the Wood Brothers effort has been a part-time Cup program which has somewhat gone through a musical chair of drivers with Bill Elliott, Ken Schrader, Trevor Bayne, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr behind the wheel of the No. 21 Ford at some point.

It’s safe to say, at least since working with Team Penske, that they’ve found great speed and a driver who has them liking their chances to be a spoiler, an underdog, or perhaps most of all, a true race contender on the track.  In the July race at Loudon, Blaney and his crew showcased their strength at the tough “Magic Mile” by starting 16th, working their way inside the top-10 before tire problems relegated them to a 23rd place finish.

During one of the hottest and most grueling races ever ran at New Hampshire, Blaney and his crew rose to the occasion and while their finish didn’t necessarily reflect their performance, it was definitely noteworthy to observe just how fast, tenacious, and determined this group was at that venue.

Yes, they were plagued by bad luck on qualifying days at Daytona in July, Kentucky, and Chicagoland.  Mother Nature rained on their parade despite the No. 21 car being fast during pre-qualifying runs.  On that note, they’ve kept their heads up high and have competed in each of their starts with lots of poise and drive to be a frontrunner at each of their starts.

Last weekend was perhaps a great example of the Wood Brothers Racing team hitting on the right combination with the “Honey Badger of NASCAR.”  Starting eighth at Kansas, the No. 21 red and white Ford Fusion climbed up the scoreboard as the race leader for five laps before settling for a seventh place finish.

Blaney drives his way from the garage and onto the battlegrounds of Talladega.

Blaney drives his way from the garage and onto the battlegrounds of Talladega.

Even if the 2016 season is something in the air for Blaney and his team, their runs and performances this year are worth paying attention to as they’ve got the makings to be a truly formidable group for wins on race day.  If they find the means towards becoming a full-time effort, this is an effort that can likely make the Chase field and contend for future championships.

Building towards that potential started earlier this year at Daytona during Speedweeks.  Taking to Camping World Truck Series and XFINITY Series races with the Brad Keselowski and Penske efforts, Blaney has aced some of the toughest tests, scored great marks on the close but no cigar days, and most of all, earned the respect of his peers on the track.  Today’s race, which happens to be on Jon Wood’s birthday, could be that moment when Blaney and the No. 21 earn the checkered flag at Talladega.

Confidence, check.  Strong cars, check.  Determined team, check.  A driver ready to win with smarts and aggression, check.  A good day at Talladega on October 25th, 2015 – definitely not a bad idea to mark as a check after 500 miles at “The World’s Fastest Superspeedway.”

Rob Tiongson

30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field, and hockey. A Boston native turned Austinite, racing was the first sport that caught my eye. From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by me or by one of my talented columnists who absolutely have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. I enjoy editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography.

Graduated from Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication. Proud to be from Massachusetts, just as happy to be a Texan.

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