Wood Brothers + Blaney = Good News for NASCAR
Like a lot of other hard-core NASCAR fans - probably including all who grew up with the sport in its earlier days - I paid more attention to the end of Sunday’s Axalta/Pocono 400 than any other race this year, because of the prospect of a victory for the legendary Wood Brothers.
The term “good guys” was created for the Woods, but this win had more “good” than just the venerated racing family from Stuart, Va. Driver Ryan Blaney also is good news for this sport and could help bring something special back into play.
You see, Blaney’s up there because he deserves it, not because of Daddy’s money or because some sponsor likes him a whole lot.
For starters, he’s a third-generation legitimate star driver. Dad Dave might not have compiled the best record of all time in Monster/Cup racing, but he won just about everything you could win in sprint cars (and midgets), and in “semi-retirement” well into his 50s, he’s still running with the leaders when he shows up for an Outlaw or All-Star race at a dirt bullring.
Grand-dad Lou Blaney was no slouch, either, winning an estimated 600 races over 47 years in sprint cars and modifieds.
Ryan, of course, had a little help because he was a successful driver’s son, but if you don’t hold that against Richard Petty or Dale Earnhardt, Jr., then you can’t hold it against Ryan, either. Besides, he took the opportunity and quite literally ran with it.
Ryan and Dave Blaney
After the requisite start in quarter-midgets and scale cars, Blaney moved into the tough PASS late model series at age 15, and he won his first feature the next year. By age 17 he was running selected ARCA and K&N races, and he won a K&N West event at Phoenix.
Then came Trucks and Xfinity, with victories in both (the first Xfinity win came at Kentucky in only Blaney’s second series start), and suddenly he was driving some Cup races for Roger Penske. I don’t think Penske puts you in one of his cars because Daddy’s got big bucks.
Here’s Blaney (#12) with Bubba Wallace on his way to an Xfinity win at Charlotte.
In the Wood Brothers ride, Blaney showed promise from the outset, but things finally came together this year. After a couple of near misses, the win at Pocono earned Ryan Blaney his gold “I belong here” award.
The only thing missing is Blaney’s legitimate reputation, which would be more obvious to everybody if non-Cup/Xfinity/Truck stock car racing got the coverage it deserves. It used to get that, but ESPN doesn’t give a crap about anything beyond NASCAR Cup, Indy and Formula 1, and we don’t have a “Jayski”-type consolidator website to bring all the local racing into public view in one place (although you might want to give Hoseheads.com a look).
Still, you’ve got a talented young guy, with the right genes and plenty of proof he can run fast, and he’s running for a legendary team perhaps making its way back to the top. Does Ryan Blaney have what it takes to take his place alongside Cale Yarborough and David Pearson in the array of greatest Wood Brothers drivers? I don’t know, but it makes a helluva story, and NASCAR needs those desperately.
In all likelihood, this fall’s Richmond race will be the Woods’ 1,500th GN/Monster/Cup start. I hope Ryan wins another one before then, but if he doesn’t, he’d be going for Wood Brothers win #100 in the team’s 1,500th start. To hell with the playoffs; that win would be worth seeing.
This is a “Face of the Future of NASCAR” possibility that could actually bring some good to the sinking sport we love. Go Blaney! Go Wood Brothers!