RYAN BLANEY AND THE WOOD BROTHERS ARE JUST WHAT NASCAR NEEDS RIGHT NOW

Furniture Row Racing, the NASCAR team based several hops, skips and jumps down Tobacco Road in, yep, Denver, Colorado, announced Wednesday that it would field only one car in Monster Energy Cup races next year. It could not scratch up money to sponsor a second car again.

Martin Truex Jr., who used to spend summers as a teenager working on his father’s clam boat on the Jersey Shore, will continue to drive for Furniture Row, which is a good thing for everyone, because Truex, with six victories, has an excellent chance to win his first series title this year.

The second Furniture Row driver, Erik Jones, a 21-year-old phenom from Michigan, had announced in July that he’d be leaving the team after the season to join Joe Gibbs’s powerful racing stables. Jones barely missed qualifying for the (endless) 10-race playoffs.

 So next year Truex could very well become the first driver from a single-car team to win a Cup championship since the late Alan Kulwicki in 1992. Or a 23-year-old driver named Ryan Blaney could beat him to the punch this year. He has an even better story to tell than Truex.

Blaney, who likes to wear a beat-up baseball cap that covers a mullet,  is heading next year to Team Penske, another deep-pocketed multi-car team, from the Wood Brothers, a single-car team based in Virginia that goes all the way back to 1950.

Glen Wood founded the team and ran it with engine-building help from his brother, Leonard, then handed it down to his sons, Eddie and Len. In 1963, the Wood Brothers won the owner’s title with six drivers. The Wood Brothers came up with the idea of a speedy, choreographed pit stop. In the old days, drivers would enjoy a cigarette when their cars were serviced.

All along, there have been two constants about Wood Brothers Racing: its cars were powered by Ford engines, and its main car always carried the No. 21. Although drastically outspent by bigger teams, they won now and then. Blaney’s victory at Pocono this summer was the team’s 99th.

Blaney will drive the No. 12 car for Penske next year, with Paul Menard signed on to drive the No. 21 for Wood Brothers. Menard, 37, has won one of 393 Cup races. Blaney’s victory at Pocono still is his only career victory, but he has driven in only 84 races.

Like many stock-car drivers, Ryan’s father, Dave Blaney, also raced, but won even less than his son or, for that matter, Menard, with no victories in 473 Cup races. When Ryan Blaney won at Pocono, it was only the second victory for the Wood Brothers since 2001.

(Trevor Bayne won the 2011 Daytona 500 for the Wood Brothers and has not won since.)

Ryan Blaney, who has a funny and cool popular podcast called “Glass Case of Emotion,” still has a shot at winning a title, but he is in 11th place of the 12 drivers who are still in contention entering the next race, which is Sunday at Talladega, Ala.

Anything that can go wrong at Talladega often does. Cars are tightly packed, and an accident (“The Big One”) can take out half the field. In a twist from any other playoffs, the 12 cars in title contention will racing with 28 cars out of contention. Anyone could hit the wall.

Blaney has a bright future in front of him with Penske. If he wrecks Sunday, his title hopes for this year could be squashed, but he should have plenty of other chances. On the other hand, Blaney has spent his life around race cars, and he knows what a championship would mean for the Wood Brothers.

“To have a possibility of bringing them a championship makes me excited to get going,” he said before the playoffs.

Interest in NASCAR is dwindling. Just look at the grandstands, which were far less than half-filled, at Charlotte Motor Speedway at Sunday’s race, won by Truex. Maybe a trip back to the future for Blaney and the Wood Brothers won’t fix everything. But it is an old-timey storyline that is better than most of the others this year.

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