Ryan Blaney and the No. 21 SKF Ford Fusion team head into this weekend’s Can-Am 500 at Phoenix International Raceway heartened by a strong run at Texas Motor Speedway and looking to end the season on a positive note.
With Sunday’s race being the next-to-last event on the 2016 Sprint Cup schedule, Blaney and his Wood Brothers team are hoping to match – or better – their Phoenix performance back in March when he recorded his second top-10 finish of the season.
Sunday’s CAN-AM 500 is expected to produce some of the season’s most dramatic moments as the finishing order will determine which four drivers will compete for the Sprint Cup Championship in Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 18-20.
Although Blaney isn’t eligible for a berth in the Championship Round, he still wants to give his team and its sponsors a good ride at Phoenix.
“I’m really excited to have SKF with us this weekend,” he said. “They have been a big supporter in my Cup career. I don’t have a lot of Cup experience at Phoenix, but earlier in the year we finished 10th in our first Cup start here.”
“I am hoping the team and I can have another solid run for SKF and KAMAN.”
In between the two Phoenix races has been a long rookie season that has seen Blaney post three top-five and eight top-10 finishes. He’s now 20th in the driver standings, 21 points ahead of 21st place, while the Wood Brothers are 21st in the owner standings, just nine points shy of the top 20.
Team co-owner Len Wood said that with a rookie driver and crew chief, finishing the season in the top 20 has been a goal from the beginning.
“You always set your goals high, but they also need to be reasonable,” Wood said. “We’d all be pretty happy to wind up in the top 20 in our first year back as a full-time team since 2008.”
Wood also said he’s hoping to deliver a strong Phoenix finish for sponsors SKF and KAMAN.
“We’ve gotten to work with SKF several times in the past two seasons and their support is much appreciated,” Wood said. “You always want to put your sponsor’s colors up front on the race track, and that’s what we plan to do this weekend.”
For crew chief Jeremy Bullins, the trip back to Phoenix, where the Sprint Cup circuit ran its third race of the season, offers the SKF team a late-season opportunity to build momentum for the 2017 campaign. He said he’s encouraged by the team’s performance at Texas this past Sunday, where Blaney ran in the top 10 for much of the race before finishing 12th after a late-race gamble to stop for fresh tires just before rain ended the race.
“Last week at Texas was the kind of weekend we are looking for as we build for the future,” Bullins said. “We were fast off the truck, qualified well and had a great handling Ford in the race.”
“A couple more weekends like that and we will all be anxious for 2017 to get here and be back in Phoenix again.”
Qualifying for the 500-kilometer race at Phoenix is set for Friday at 6:45 p.m. Eastern Time, and the race is scheduled to start just after 2:30 p.m. Eastern on Sunday with TV coverage on NBC.