Eyes on the prize: Can Wood Brothers make Daytona magic happen again?

Sprint Cup rookie Ryan Blaney will pilot the No. 21 Ford for Wood Brothers Racing in Sunday's Daytona 500.

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In the 57 previous installments of the Daytona 500, the Wood Brothers Racing organization has captured five wins.

None were more surprising than five years ago this weekend when newly turned 20-year-old Trevor Bayne stunned the world by taking the fabled organization to Victory Lane in the sport’s biggest race in just his second Sprint Cup start. Bayne thus became the youngest Daytona 500 winner in history.

So does anything compare to the feeling of winning the crown jewel of stock-car racing?

I’ll say this: The only feeling I’ve had close to winning this race would be daddy getting in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Len Wood

"I’ll say this: The only feeling I’ve had close to winning this race would be daddy getting in the NASCAR Hall of Fame," said Len Wood, the team’s co-owner and the son of Wood Brothers patriarch and team founder Glen Wood, who entered the Hall in 2012.

"That was a pretty big day right there. I’ll say it like this: I didn’t cry when we won the Daytona 500. … Those two are the biggest things to happen to us in a long time."

The Wood Brothers — who this season are racing full time for the first time since 2008 — haven’t won a race in NASCAR’s top series since Bayne’s Cinderella triumph at Daytona in 2011.


Len Wood believes the team has a decent shot, however, of getting back to Victory Lane on Sunday — when 22-year-old Ryan Blaney will embark on his first full season in the team’s iconic No. 21 car.

Blaney, one of the eight Open drivers who arrived at Daytona with no guarantee of being in Sunday’s main event, essentially took care of business twice. His speed from last Sunday’s single-car qualifying runs would have been enough to punch his ticket in no matter what happened in Thursday’s Can-Am Duel qualifying races, but an impressive third-place finish in his respective Duel only further cemented his position on the starting grid.

The second-generation driver will start seventh in Sunday’s 40-car field with what Len Wood believes is a real shot to deliver the single-car team’s sixth victory in The Great American Race.

"I’d like to make it No. 6," he said. "We’ve got a really good car."

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Wood is especially optimistic after watching his young driver battle back from a tire problem that dropped him a lap down in his Duel on Thursday night.

"I thought it was an excellent recovery," Wood said. "That was a case where the car was good but the driver did an excellent job. He stepped up and he chose the right lane with every move he made."

Despite having his qualifying speed to fall back on, Blaney aggressively raced to the front once his tire issue was alleviated.

"We didn’t come down here to put up a fast lap and then ride and be really careful and get out of the draft," Wood said. "That’s not us. A lot of times if you try to do something like that, it will bite you. So there were no orders, no do this, do that. It was, ‘Go out there. Don’t do anything stupid. Do the best you can and we’ll take what we get.’ "

Blaney is no stronger to success on superspeedways. In last year’s Daytona 500, he was running in the top 10 with 20 laps to go before an engine went south.

Then in the spring race at Talladega, he finished fourth — his best result for the Wood Brothers to date.

"I think he’s a good speedway racer," Wood said. "He’s a good racer, period, but speedways, he’s trying to make his mark."

Unlike the Duels, which consist of just 60 laps, Sunday’s 200-lap affair has the potential to become a battle of attrition — especially with the lingering possibility of "The Big One" striking at any moment.

So Wood believes patience will be key. As a five-time Daytona 500-winning team owner, he speaks from experience.

"It’s an awfully long race," Wood said. "It doesn’t seem like it. But it’s difficult to get to the end of it. But if you’re around you’ve got to be thinking with one stop to go at least on where you are on track position and what tires you want to have on at the end of the race. 

"When we won with Trevor we actually didn’t change but six tires all day long. … You’ve got to be planning ahead, and I’d just like to think if we’re in that position that we’ve got a shot at it. There’s some pretty tough customers out there."