HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Story by Race Chaser Online Managing Editor Jacob Seelman — Wood Brothers Racing photo —
The decade-long wait for NASCAR’s oldest active team to return to full-time Sprint Cup Series competition is officially over.
Eddie and Len Wood, co-owners of Wood Brothers Racing, and representatives from Ford Motor Company officially announced on Friday afternoon after months of speculation that the organization will attempt to compete in all 36 races of the 2016 schedule for NASCAR’s premier series.
The effort will mark the first time since 2006 with Ken Schrader that the team will field a car in all 36 events with one driver competing for the points title, while it will be the first time since 2008 that the team has competed in a majority capacity (24 races or more) on the Cup schedule.
21-year-old Ryan Blaney, son of former Sprint Cup driver Dave Blaney and a winner in both the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and NASCAR XFINITY Series, will be the team’s driver competing for a Sprint Cup championship; while longtime partners Motorcraft, Quick Lane and Ford Performance will return as the team’s anchor sponsors on the No. 21 Ford.
“We are beyond excited to make this announcement about going back to full time competition,” said Eddie Wood at a media press conference at Homestead-Miami Speedway during Ford Championship Weekend. “It has been something we’ve been working toward since 2009 when we started running limited schedules, and we’re really looking forward to next year and getting back on track in a much bigger capacity than what we have been these last several seasons.”
“I have to thank Ford’s Dave Pericak and Raj Nair, Edsel Ford, our technical alliance partners Team Penske and Roush Yates Engines, as well as everyone at Motorcraft, for working with us to make this day possible. “All of them are really the ones that are behind it. It’ll be fun to see just how good Ryan Blaney, Jeremy Bullins and our team can be over a full season, and let me tell you, it’ll be great not to have to worry about rain anymore on qualifying day (laughs).”
“In 2008 we stood here with Edsel [B. Ford II] and Brian Wolf, who was the Ford director at the time, and talked about how our performance wasn’t where we wanted it to be at the time,” added Len Wood. “They made the suggestion for us to go part-time in an effort to get our performance-level back, and I feel like we’ve done that. This past year has been where we wanted things to be, and we’re ready to make the next step with Ryan and Jeremy at the controls.”
The 2016 season will mark the Wood Brothers’ 66th year since 1950 fielding a Ford in NASCAR competition, the longest association between one team and manufacturer in the sport, and the announcement marks a point of pride for Ford officials across the globe.
“This is an exciting day,” remarked Dave Pericak, the global director of Ford Performance. “To get [the Wood Brothers team] back on track full-time, it marks a return to the way things should be, we feel like. They’ve been Ford’s most loyal team for the past 65 years, and they deserve the right to come out every weekend and prove what they can do.They’ve earned a full-time slot by running strong all year, even under adversity, and as a result of that effort we at Ford are committed to continued support of a great team.”
“We plan on being part of this when they capture their 100th Cup victory. They’re sitting on 98 [wins] right now, but that means they’re not too far away, and we’re excited to see that moment come soon.”
“This is a day everyone has looked forward to, and to be fair — we’ve been talking about [returning to] a full season for as long as I can remember,” agreed Edsel B. Ford II, board member at Ford Motor Company. “The Wood Brothers represent everything that is great about this sport – tradition, family, loyalty, competition. When we asked them to regroup and consider going part-time in 2009, it was always with an eye on getting back to this day. This is a historic team and we’re thrilled [this day] is finally here.”
Blaney has competed in 15 races this season for the Wood Brothers team — with a best finish of fourth at Talladega Sueprspeedway in May — under the guidance of crew chief Jeremy Bullins, who will also return in the same capacity in 2016.
Though the rain that has plagued the team kept Blaney from qualifying for three races he attempted this season (Daytona 2, Kentucky and Chicagoland), the young rising star is excited for the opportunity that he will have in competing full-time in 2016 and eagerly anticipates having a chance to make the Chase Grid in his first full-time effort.
“This season in itself has honestly been a dream come true,” Blaney said on Friday after the announcement. “I grew up in the Cup garage with my dad racing, and seeing what he does and did when I was a kid was really special, so now to be a part of a full season in the Cup Series and be with a couple of great organizations in the Wood Brothers and Ford is going to be amazing.”
“I’m looking forward to next year. We’ve been pretty good this year, and we’ve had speed, so that should make us even better for next season. I’m really looking forward to running a full schedule with this group of guys and hopefully we can get the Woods their 99th and 100th wins sooner rather than later.”
Motorcraft’s partnership with Wood Brothers Racing began in 2001 with driver Elliott Sadler and burst onto the scene when Sadler took the win in the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway. The pairing’s greatest moment, however, came 10 years after that Bristol win, when rookie driver Trevor Bayne captured the checkered flag in the 2011 Daytona 500 during just his second-ever Sprint Cup Series start.
“We are thrilled to have been able to work with Ford Performance to make the Wood Brothers a full-time race team once again in 2016,” said Mary Lou Quesnell, director of marketing for Ford Customer Service Division. “Wood Brothers Racing has been an excellent representative of our brands for 15 years and we look forward to seeing the famous No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion on the track week after week.”
The organization will also seek to add additional partners over the course of the 2016 calendar. Sponsors for the No. 21 this season besides Motorcraft and Quick Lane Tire and Auto Centers have included PPG Automotive Finishes, SKF and Snap-On Tools.
NASCAR did not make it clear on Friday whether Blaney’s starts this season would make him ineligible to chase Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors in 2016. The High Point, N.C. driver has a total of 17 career Cup starts entering this weekend’s action at Homestead, with 15 of those driving the iconic No. 21 Ford for the Wood Brothers.
For more information on Wood Brothers Racing, visit www.woodbrothersracing.com.
About the Writer
Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network. Seelman grew up in the sport, watching his grandparents co-own the RaDiUs Motorsports NASCAR Cup Series team in the 1990s.
The 21-year-old is currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., and is also serving as the full-time tour announcer for both the United Sprint Car Series and the Must See Racing Sprint Car Series.
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