AVONDALE, Ariz. – One of the most popular drivers in NASCAR, Ryan Blaney, had quite the rookie season in the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford.
Although he did not take home the Sunoco Rookie of The Year title, the 22-year-old driver still garnered three top-fives and 11 top-tens, an impressive feat for a newcomer in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Blaney’s skill and maturity in the series came as no surprise given the success he achieved in both the XFINITY Series and Camping World Truck Series, in which he competed for Team Penske and Brad Keselowski Racing. However, with this being the Wood Brothers’ first full season in eight years, the young driver was met with his fair share of challenges.
One of the biggest obstacles this season, per Blaney, was just trying to figure out the cars.
“Learning how to transfer from practice to the race to be good, that’s something that’s been really tough,” he said last month at Phoenix International Raceway.
Also, with the transition from the XFINITY Series to the Sprint Cup Series brought forth another challenge – the
simple length of the races. The XFINITY Series typically runs 250-300 mile races, while Cup runs 400-600 mile events.
“The knowing what you need, in the course of over 400, 500 miles to be better,” Blaney added. “That’s something I need to work on. Something we need to work on for next time.”
The season wasn’t all difficult, though, for the North Carolina native hailing from Ohio. He said one of the most memorable parts of competing in his rookie season was merely getting the opportunity to compete every single week with the Wood Brothers.
“Just to be able to run every week and work with this team… it’s always nice to be at the track every single week with them,” he said. “That’s been really nice to have.”
Looking ahead to the 2017 season, the Wood Brothers will be making significant changes. The historic racing team moved shop from Harrisburg, N.C., to Mooresville, N.C. This new home is located much closer to Team Penske, who has been closely affiliated with the team throughout Blaney’s career.
Though it has yet to be written on paper, Wood Brothers co-owner Len Wood told Fox Sports that Blaney is expected back to run full-time again next season in the No. 21. Regarding what he intends to focus on for next season, Blaney said it’s important to “just improve the little things.”
“You always can improve on something,” he added. “Whether it’s my side that I got to improve on a lot, communication side, just putting the whole package together. It’s a lot of little things that make a big difference.”
Vivian Meza is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist
EMAIL VIVIAN AT firstname.lastname@example.org
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