MOORESVILLE, N.C. — For the legendary Wood Brothers Racing team, this weekend’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoff opener at Chicagoland Speedway marks a unique first for the organization that has been a part of NASCAR’s premier division since 1953.
Sunday will mark the first time under the playoff format that the family-owned and operated team will have a shot at the championship, and it’s a moment that co-owners Len and Eddie Wood feel like they can seize with driver Ryan Blaney.
“This is a first for Len and I and our team. We did win an owner’s championship — our dad and uncles did in 1963; it’s been a long, long time — but this is very special to us because this is the first time we’ve actually been involved in the new format,” said Eddie Wood. “It’s kind of a do-or-die format. You’ve got three races to do well in to advance to the next round and that puts a lot of pressure on everyone, but I think we’re ready for it.”
“(Crew chief) Jeremy (Bullins) has done a lot of work in preparing for it. In the past few weeks there have been a lot of things he’s been going over and getting ready for, but just the sheer excitement of being a part of that is something new to us and I’m really excited about it.”
The most recent top-10 finish in points for the No. 21 Ford was a sixth-place showing by Morgan Shepherd in 1994, but the team’s all-time best showing by a single driver was two decades prior, when David Pearson placed third in points in 1974 despite missing 11 races.
Blaney has a chance to better that mark should be be able to stave off three eliminations and qualify for the championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November, something Eddie Wood feels Blaney is well-suited to potentially accomplish.
“Ryan is a special talent. He’s only 23 years old, but he’s got the maturity in the race car of a veteran that has raced for a number of years,” said Wood of Blaney’s strong points. “I think that’s one of his special qualities is he seems to be able to adapt to different things. He gets up to speed really quickly everywhere we go. Even last year when we started the full schedule there were a lot of places he had never seen, and before the time we got ready to qualify he was already up to speed. That takes a special kind of guy. I think you’re gonna see a lot out of Blaney, not just in the future but in these playoffs as well.”
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