2017 NASCAR Team Recap: Wood Brothers Racing

Rusty Jarrett/NKP

By Aaron Bearden, Motorsports Editor

For the final five days of 2017, Kickin’ the Tires will recap each of the top 10 teams in the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings, laying out their year in statistics and storylines. 


The Breakdown

Wins: One

Playoff Berths: One

Highest Points Finisher: Ninth

Driver Results:

  • Ryan Blaney (Ninth in Points – One win, Four top fives, 14 top 10s, 301 laps led, Five DNFs)

One year removed from their return to full-time competition in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, the famed Wood Brothers Racing (WBR) enjoyed one of their best season in recent history in Ryan Blaney’s swan song with the team.

Piloting the historic No. 21 Ford, Blaney and WBR – in an alliance with Team Penske – had made waves in their first full season together. After showing glimpses of speed in a partial 2015 run, Blaney proved to be a fringe playoff contender in his rookie season. The High Point, N.C. native ultimately fell short of the postseason – ending the year in 20th – but the team’s impressive return inspired optimism for their second year together in 2017.

Thankfully, the group didn’t disappoint.

Blaney’s sophomore year got off to a quick start when the 23-year-old fell just short of victory lane with a second-place run in the Daytona 500. From there the inconsistencies that bit WBR the prior year began to creep back in, with Blaney tallying more finishes outside of the top 30 (three) than inside of the top 10 (two) in the ensuing nine races.

But while WBR struggled to find consistent pace, at their best the team ran as strong as any in the garage. Blaney delivered a dominant performance at Texas Motor Speedway in April only to be doomed by pit strategy, finishing 12th after leading a career-high 148 laps.

At the time the run seemed like a heartbreaker for Blaney and his No. 21 team, but less than two months later they would make good on the lessons learned when the field made its first of two trips to Pocono Raceway.

It was there where Blaney finally put together the ultimate drive, making a daring late pass of Kyle Busch and fending off a steep challenge from Kevin Harvick to to score his first-career Cup Series victory.

The win was monumental for both the team and driver, capping off WBR’s resurgence and elevating Blaney to his first playoff appearance. The pairing didn’t manage another win throughout the regular season, but entered the playoffs with hope after scoring nine top 10s in the opening 26 races.

Blaney’s first playoff experience started slow, with just one top 10 in the Round of 16. But despite a 23rd-place run in the round’s final race, the sophomore was able to utilize his playoff points to advance to the Round of 12.

It was there when Blaney began to rise into contention. He scored a solid eighth-place finish in the round-opening race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. While he followed the run with an crash-out in 18th at Talladega Superspeedway, Blaney bounced back the following week with a strong third-place run at Kansas Speedway to clinch a berth in the Round of 8.

It was there, surrounded by the sport’s best, where Blaney’s year finally came undone. Try as he might, Blaney was unable to keep up with the round.

His chances of a championship over, Blaney ended the year with a quiet 29th-place run at Homestead-Miami Speedway to cap off his time at WBR.

While they failed to take home the title in their lone postseason run, Blaney and WBR enjoyed what was easily their strongest year together in 2017. The pairing celebrated their first win and two poles. They tallied one more top five (4) and five more top 10s (14) than they’d managed in 2016, and they improved their average finish by 1.3 (17.2) en-route to a valiant playoff effort.

Both driver and team will go in a new direction next year. Blaney will bring crew chief Jeremy Bullins with him back to Penske, where he’s remained active during his time with WBR. He’ll drive the No. 12, joining teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano to complete Penske’s three-car lineup.

That opens up the No. 21 seat for Paul Menard, who will make the move to Ford after a pair of underwhelming seasons with Richard Childress Racing.

Whether the new pairings will work out remains to be seen, but either way Blaney and WBR can always look back fondly on their 2017 season – when a young driver and old team combined to rise into Cup Series relevance.

 

Team Recaps: 

Germain Racing (Dec. 27)

Roush Fenway Racing (Dec. 27)

Richard Childress Racing (Dec. 28)

Wood Brothers Racing (Dec. 28)

Chip Ganassi Racing (Dec. 29)

Hendrick Motorsports (Dec. 29)

Team Penske (Dec. 30)

Stewart-Haas Racing (Dec. 30)

Joe Gibbs Racing (Dec. 31)

Furniture Row Racing (Dec. 31)

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