Ryan Blaney and Wood Brothers Racing have had a great thing going this season in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. The Wood Brothers have an alliance with Team Penske, but are a one-car operation that hasn’t won a race since Trevor Bayne’s triumphant 2011 Daytona 500 upset.
Should Blaney remain with Wood Brothers Racing long-term, or should he seek a move to Team Penske?
Think Long Term
Being a 20-year-old NASCAR fanatic (some may call me a millennial, but I’ll let you be the judge), I can relate to Blaney on some levels. But one level where I can’t relate to him is the fact that he’s a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver, and a great one at that.
I know the mindset of a “young kid” in life. Happy go lucky, enjoy the ride and have fun. But Blaney is wise beyond his years. He has a father who has competed at NASCAR’s highest level and had found Victory Lane, so he knows what the lifestyle is like, and he knows the history of the sport.
The Wood Brothers have been one of, if not the most notable teams in NASCAR history with winning inscribed in their DNA. But the facts are the facts, and the Wood Brothers won’t win a championship anytime soon.
Their team is on somewhat of an island. Yes, I know that the No. 21 car week in and week out is pretty much a Team Penske car. The sharing of information in the sport has gone beyond the levels that Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt ever would have imagined. But Blaney and his team are still looked at as lesser than Penske, however right or wrong you deem it.
For now, Blaney is staying with the Wood Brothers, as he should. Let’s face it: he’s one of the budding superstars in the sport in a fast car, with sponsorship backing, who has shown he can win at the Truck and XFINITY level. But he hasn’t gone to the winner’s circle yet in the Cup Series.
He will, and soon. The No. 21 is too fast and Blaney is too good not to. But hypothetically, let’s say Blaney puts his “long term” hat on and takes his “short team” hat off. What should he do?
The answer is simple: go to Team Penske. It’s not as simple as Blaney saying he wants to do it and BOOM it happens overnight. It takes time, sponsorship, backing from Roger Penske himself as well as supporting from a whole bunch of other people. But Penske has had a third car in the Cup Series before, so why not try their hand at it again with a young driver with tons of potential?
Plus, Team Penske’s resources and information sharing is larger than the Wood Brothers have. To work side-by-side and be official teammates with a former champion in Brad Keselowski and another young(ish) star in Joey Logano would be great for Blaney. He could learn so much more from them rather than learning on the fly with no teammate in the No. 21 Ford.
Blaney’s Cup career isn’t even two full-time seasons old yet, but I think I can say that he’s better than Sam Hornish Jr. ever was in the MENCS. That was the last time Penske ran a third car operation full-time. Plus, the No. 12 has some nice pedigree. Ryan Newman won so many poles that some lost count and he also won the Daytona 500 in 2008, with help from his then teammate Kurt Busch in the No. 2.
So, Ryan, whaddya say? For now, stay with the smaller team that has been so good to you. You’ll get a handful of wins and enjoy yourself, but you want to win a championship, and multiple at that, right?
After all, do you really think you’ll be able to compete with Chase Elliott and Hendrick Motorsports and Kyle Larson and Chip Ganassi Racing and Daniel Suarez and Joe Gibbs Racing long term if you stay with a one-car operation? The only feasible way to do that is to make the jump to Team Penske. After all, it’s just a minor switch in numbers. Flip the No. 21 and you get the No. 12.
– Davey Segal
Stay Good with Wood
Blaney needs to stay right where he is in the Wood Brothers’ No. 21.
Sure, it is tempting to drive a car for the legendary Roger Penske. The Captain’s shop is loaded with championship and race trophies from all across the motorsports world. When I think of Team Penske, I think of winning, as the team has won 16 Indy 500s and made a trip to Victory Lane in every NASCAR season since Penske’s return to the sport in 1991.
Blaney and Penske even have the connection of both being born in Ohio.
Despite all of that, Blaney should only drive for The Captain in the XFINITY Series and in the Indy 500 (let’s make that happen), and not in a third entry in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
The most obvious reason as to why Blaney should stay put is that he is in an amazing situation at Wood Brothers Racing. He is getting equipment capable of winning and has come close to doing so at three races this season, while taking home three stage wins in the process. In a few of those races, the No. 21 was faster than either of the two Penske cars.
If Blaney stays put, he has the potential to win several races in that car and compete for championships down the road. Not to mention, he would be doing so in one of the most iconic cars in NASCAR history and could continue the team’s tradition of winning in every decade since the 1960s.
The team currently sits at 98 wins. How cool would it be for Blaney to score the century mark victory for the team from Stuart, Va.? Despite all of the Wood Brothers’ victories, they have not won a Cup championship. Blaney could make history for the history-filled team by earning its first Cup trophy. He cannot do that at Penske, as Keselowski already won the first Cup title for the team.
There is no guarantee that Penske’s third car will be as good as the other two. The Captain has tried a third entry before and it did not go well. Hornish drove the No. 77 for Penske from 2008 to 2010 and the team’s best finish in the final standings was 28th.
Blaney is better in stock cars than Hornish, but those poor performances were not entirely Hornish’s fault. That car lacked speed.
The grass is not always greener on the other side. Just look at Kasey Kahne. With as much as he won when he drove for Ray Evernham, one would think he would win titles at Hendrick Motorsports. He did better as the primary driver for a smaller team and I feel that Blaney will likely do the same.
Blaney seems to really enjoy driving for the Woods as a student of the sport. Every time you see Blaney in street clothes, he is usually wearing a vintage NASCAR t-shirt, such as an Awesome Bill Elliott shirt. When he heard that his best friend Bubba Wallace was going to drive the No. 43 for Richard Petty Motorsports, he woke up Wallace so that they could go take pictures in front of their iconic cars.
You cannot give a guy like that a brand new car with zero history behind it.
Blaney fits in with the Wood Brothers. He was born in Ohio, but grew up just across the state line from their home in Stuart.
Both Blaney and his owners come across as good guys, but a little rough around the edges. The Woods are genius mechanics, but they are regular good ole boys at heart. Likewise, Blaney is a professional, but he likes to have the shaggy hair and a lot of facial stubble, which directly contrasts the clean-cut look that Penske requires.
When the Cup circuit had a bye week, Blaney was seen with a beer in one hand and a bottle of Jack Daniels in the other.
In a sport of millionaires and billionaires, Blaney and the Wood Brothers appear to be regular people doing tremendous things. This is part of the reason that Blaney is quickly becoming one of the most popular drivers in the sport, as fans can relate to him and see him as an underdog. After Dale Earnhardt Jr. retires, Blaney will have a good shot at the Most Popular Driver Award if he stays in the No. 21.
If Blaney goes to Penske, then it will be a villainizing move for the youngster. Many fans will see it as him selling out. It would be NASCAR’s equivalent to LeBron James leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers so that he could win championships with the Miami Heat.
Wood Brothers Racing would likely take a massive hit if Blaney leaves. The Woods would probably lose the funding that enables them to run the full season and would be back to only doing 12 races a year. Before they signed Blaney, they were fading out of the sport and it will likely happen again if he leaves.
Don’t be the villain, Blaney. Be a hero by staying with the Wood Brothers.
– Michael Massie