2017 NASCAR CUP TEAM REVIEW: WOOD BROS. RACING

As the final laps of the Daytona 500 ticked away, it looked as though Ryan Blaney might bring the famed Wood Brothers No. 21 Ford to Victory Lane for the first time since 2011.

Blaney was beginning his second full-time season at the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series level and was also hunting for his first career series win. In what turned out to be a fuel mileage race, Blaney wheeled toward the front of the pack while the lead drivers were slowly running out of gas. He ended up running out of fuel himself in a Turn 3 push for the win and coasted across the finish line en route to a runner-up finish. Blaney started 2017 off setting a new career-high finish at NASCAR’s premier level.

Following Daytona, Blaney’s new podcast, “Glass Case of Emotion,” debuted. Blaney had already been a social media darling, but his new show pulled back the curtain and revealed a quirky, humorous personality behind the 23-year-old. The podcast has since gathered a cult following, and the number of “Glassholes” grow every week.

Six races and two top-10 finishes after Daytona, the series headed to Texas Motor Speedway, the point in the season where Blaney put himself on the map as a serious contender. He started on the front row for the second time in the season, and after 16 laps he was in control. Blaney won the first two stages of the race, but then a long pitstop put him back in traffic. Late-race contact threw off what was building to be a great race. He finished the day 12th.

A 33rd-place finish at Bristol Motor Speedway the following week started a three-race skid where Blaney did not finish inside the top 30.

Then came Kansas Speedway. Blaney blazed his way through qualifying and earned his first career pole. He left the Midwest with a fourth-place finish.

On June 11, NASCAR traveled to Pocono Raceway. A wreck with just under 20 laps to go brought out the final caution of the day. Blaney elected to pit for fresh tires while leader Kyle Busch stayed out. On the ensuing restart, Blaney pulled alongside the 2015 champ for first place. Blaney secured the lead on the back stretch and held off a charging Kevin Harvick in the laps to follow. In a thrilling push to the checkers, Blaney earned his first career cup series win.

The win was the 99th in Wood Brothers history and snapped a 122-race winless streak. That win also earned the team its first ever trip to the Monster Energy Series playoffs.

In July, Blaney was announced as the new driver for Team Penske in 2018. He would be relinquishing his seat at the Wood Brothers, moving to the No. 12 Ford.

Blaney was the ninth seed when the playoff Round of 16 approached. Finishes of 11th at Chicagoland Speedway, ninth at New Hampshire Motor SPeedway and 23rd at Dover International Speedway were good enough to transfer him into the Round of 12.

In a pivotal final race in the Round of 12, Blaney was on the cutline. Entering Kansas, Blaney had high hopes of duplicating his early season success. But after qualifying third for the race, his time was disallowed due to failing post-qualifying inspection. He was then forced to start at the back of the field and found himself in a points hole at the drop of the green flag.

While many may have given up hope, Blaney did not. He fought tooth-and-nail for the duration of the first stage and miraculously finished fourth, even earning stage points. From then on he was a factor up front. He led a few laps, finished third and punched his ticket to the Round of 8.

With Martin Truex Jr.’s point lead and wins by Busch and Harvick in the Round of 8, there was only one final playoff spot available for the championship round at Homestead-Miami Speedway entering the race at Phoenix International Raceway. Blaney’s 17th-place finish was not enough to earn him a spot in Miami.

When the playoffs were said and done and the final points were tallied, Blaney ended up in ninth place.

2017 was a fantastic year for Ryan Blaney and the Wood Brothers. In his final season with the team, Blaney finished with one win, four top fives and 14 top 10s, all career highs. He also became one of the sport’s most popular drivers. In an offseason that saw Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth and Danica Patrick leave the sport, Blaney ensured fans that the future of NASCAR is in good hands.

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