Iconic Wood Brothers Ford Back in Victory Lane at Pocono
LONG POND, PA – RIS – Pocono Raceway is a great track nestled in the small village of Long Pond, Pennsylvania. Many races in the triangular-shaped track end up as fuel mileage endurance events, but on some days, special things happen. Such was the case on June 11, 2017.
It had been nearly 76 months or 122 races since one of the iconic teams of NASCAR, the Wood Brothers Ford, had won a race. Despite having competitive cars and talented drivers, some freak thing or another kept them from challenging for a win. One week it might be a broken axle, and the next an unfortunate accident. Things showed signs of improvement in the season’s opening race. Driver Ryan Blaney finished second to Kurt Busch in the Daytona 500. Then the problems came, most beyond the control of 23-year old driver Blaney.
Broken axles and being caught up in other drivers’ misfortune usually found Blaney far behind the winner. On this day, everything came together and it was far from easy. Anyone who competes on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series knows how difficult getting to victory lane is. It not only requires a good car, but also a great crew, and just a little luck. When it all comes together, it’s magic. Magic happened on Sunday.
The Woods have a long history in the sport. They’ve prepared cars for some of the best including six Hall of Fame drivers. They’ve been doing it for what amounts to 67 years, and Sunday’s win is the 99th of their career, even though most of those 67 years were only partial seasons. In the 60’s and 70’s, they only ran the “big” races. Even so, the wins kept coming until around 2002 when sponsorship money seemed to dry up. Alliances with Roush Fenway Racing and Team Penske have helped to bring the team back to prominence.
It all came down to 17 laps to go in Sunday’s race. Blaney and others came to pit road or tires. Leader Kyle Busch did not, gambling that he could outrun Blaney in the final laps. It was a foolish gamble. Blaney passed Busch with 10 laps to go as Busch drifted back in the field. Kevin Harvick had a faster car, and he cut into Blaney’s big lead at the end. The final margin of victory was minute, but good enough.
“Kyle stayed out and he was on a little bit older tires and it looked like he was getting pretty tight, especially off of (Turn) 1 and that’s where new tires really seemed to come alive because you could hold the line and get runs on him, downshift and get next to him,” Blaney said. “I had a big run on him off of three and he did a good job blocking, and we were able to get under him, but then I had to hold the 4 (of Harvick) off. He was super-fast. I can’t thank Kevin enough for racing me clean. That was really cool of him, but it was definitely hectic.
“Hopefully the fans liked it. It was really cool.”
While everyone has been paying attention to the so-called “Young Guns,’ most often it is Austin Dillon, Daniel Suarez, Erik Jones, Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, or Austin Dillon’s younger brother Ty. Of that list, we’ve seen Austin Dillon, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., and Blaney win. The rest will have to wait for that magic to come together.
Blaney admitted he most wished his team radio had been working at the end of the race, because he said he wanted to get on it and thank Eddie and Len Wood, second-generation team owners who now run Wood Brothers Racing, for giving him the opportunity to drive full time in the Cup Series. The organization was founded by their fathers, NASCAR Hall of Famers Leonard and Glen Wood., but the radio quit working and Blaney, fighting hoarseness, couldn’t make that victory statement.
“I wanted to pick Eddie and Len up,” Blaney said. “I wanted to find them and pick them up, but it figures the one race we don’t have radio communication we end up winning it. Maybe we should turn the radio off more often, but I wanted to try to find Eddie and Len. I wanted to give them a ride to Victory Lane. That would have been cool, but maybe if we can get another one we’ll be able to do that.”
That would have been really cool, too.
RIS NASCAR Editor. Has been with RIS since the middle 90's. Writes on each of the three main series of NASCAR.