The Rise of Ryan Blaney

Dave Blaney was always a NASCAR fan favorite. Though winless in his 473 race career, the dirt track star gained respect from fans and his fellow competitors by charging hard and making the most out of second-rate equipment. His son Ryan, however, appears poised to reach far greater heights than his father ever did. After placing 6th and 2nd respectively, in two full-time seasons in the Camping World Truck Series, Ryan Blaney made the jump to the Sprint Cup Series for the 2016 season, piloting the #21 car for the Wood Brothers as they attempt their first full-time schedule in many years.

The Wood Brothers, although very capable, are not anywhere near the caliber of teams such as Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, or Team Penske. Even with the Wood Brothers’ new technical alliance with Penske, the car is still underfunded and understaffed. Despite this, Ryan Blaney has shone in the season’s first 15 races. He’s posted 6 top 10 finishes and currently sits 16th in the points standings. If the Chase for the Sprint Cup started now, Blaney and the Wood Brothers would qualify for the first time ever.

The Wood Brothers have run a part time schedule since the days of David Pearson. Now, with NASCAR’s new charter system, they’ll have to run full-time to receive a charter and a locked-in spot for the races. As the Wood Brothers move into the new NASCAR, Ryan Blaney appears to be the perfect driver to take them there.



The Wood Brothers and the Charter System

At the start of the year, Nascar and its teams announced a major overhaul in the sport’s structure. The group implemented a charter system, whereby 36 teams receive guaranteed spots in the starting lineup and access to better prize money, while other teams must race their way in to fill out 4 spots in the 40-car field. The move was designed to make owning a Nascar team similar to owning an MLB or NBA franchise, with guaranteed race appearances and payouts. The guarantees are meant to help teams attract sponsors looking for stability. Teams can also sell their charters on the open market, providing an out should owners decide they wish to leave the sport. With the cost of competing nearing $25 million a year (Bloomberg Businessweek), drivers and teams need all the help they can get to stay afloat.

Like any change in Nascar, the charter system sparked a lot of controversy. The Wood Brothers racing team, one of Nascar’s most historic franchises, was denied a charter spot. Although Nascar’s reasoning was that the group had only run part-time over the past few years, the team and its fans were enraged, especially since the team will be running full-time this year with rookie driver Ryan Blaney. Now, the team which once raced David Pearson and Dale Jarrett will have to qualify on speed each week while full-time backmarkers such as Go FAS Racing are locked in. The charter system is locked in for the next 5 years–if the Wood Brothers don’t purchase a charter from another team, it could be a long time before they’re locked into the race.

Now we come to the crux of the issue–was this fair? The Wood Brothers have not run a full-time schedule since 2008, but every time they put cars on track they’re competitive–they even won the Daytona 500 with Trevor Bayne. They’ve put out 25 top 20’s in the past 5 years despite running a partial schedule, something a lot of other full-time teams can’t say. The Wood Brothers are Nascar’s oldest team, having competed in races since 1950. It would be a shame to see them left out of the new Nascar.