Ryan Blaney and the crew of his No. 21 Virginia Tech Ford Fusion and the Virginia Tech Hokies have plenty in common in the next few weeks, besides the fact that they both will be representing the Commonwealth of Virginia in a high-stakes sports contest at Bristol Motor Speedway.
In Saturday’s Night Race at Bristol for the Sprint Cup Series, Blaney and his Wood Brothers race team will compete in a race that often plays out like a two-minute drill in football, except it lasts for 500 laps.
Eddie Wood, co-owner of the race team that has its roots in Stuart, Va., said the night race at Bristol is both challenging and exciting, largely due to the speeds attained on the high-banked concrete track.
“Under the lights, the cars seem like they’re going so fast,” Wood said. “And they really are, which makes race strategy and track position so important.”
Wood explained that throughout the race, decisions have to be made almost instantly by the team.
When a caution flag flies, the team has to make a snap decision, and the ensuing pit stops happen just as quickly.
“As soon as the caution flag flies, the crew chief has to make the call whether to pit or not, whether to take two tires or four or none,” Wood said. “Then the decision has to be immediately relayed to the driver, who has only a few seconds to get on pit road.”
“It’s really intense.”
The No. 21 Virginia Tech team, like the other 39 in the starting field, will be making strategy decisions all night long, and whether they work out as planned often depends on circumstances out of their control, such as when the next caution flag might be displayed.
“If you make the right decision, you can get a big advantage,” Wood said. “If not, you just have to try something else.”
One big key is maintaining a position near the front of the field, which requires both a fast car and a good pit strategy.
Then, there’s the matter of which lane a driver finds himself or herself in for a restart. In the spring race at Bristol, the lower lane proved to be much slower than the outside groove, and that cost Blaney a great finish. He was running fifth with 10 laps to go, but had to restart on the inside and wound up 11th at the finish.
No matter the outcome, Wood, his family and his race team are proud to be carrying the colors of Virginia Tech, which will also be represented at Bristol Motor Speedway on Sept. 10 when the Hokies square off against The University of Tennessee in the Battle of Bristol, which will be played out on a field constructed in the area that serves as the garage for NASCAR races. That game is expected to set a new all-time single-game attendance record for college football.
The VT logo and maroon colors also will be on the No. 21 Ford Fusion for the Goody’s Fast Relief 500 held at Martinsville Speedway on Oct. 30.
“It’s a really good-looking car,” Wood said. “I hope all the people, students and players at Virginia Tech, as well as all the Hokie fans will be pleased, and we’re going to do our best to do a good job for them.”
Qualifying is set for Friday at 5:45 p.m. with TV coverage on USA Network.
The race is scheduled to get the green flag just after 8 p.m. on Saturday with TV coverage on NBCSN.