Splitter to Spoiler: Tradition and youth overlap with Blaneys Pocono triumph

Wood Brothers and Richard Petty Motorsports come out on top at Pocono while Hendrick has a horrific afternoon

Matthew OHaren—X02835
Jun 11

Ryan Blaney won his first race with Wood Brothers Racing — the oldest team in NASCAR — with some old school tactics learned from his owners. Prior to his old school celebration, Blaney and best friend Bubba Wallace rode alongside each other, freaking out the entire way down the backstretch.Blaney, 23, drove the No. 21 Wood Brothers car to its 99th victory. Wallace, 23, was making his first career Monster Energy Cup Series start in the No. 43 for Richard Petty Motorsports. They may have been two kids driving two of the most iconic cars in the sport, but that moment made you forget all of that.”Yeah, we need Bubba in the Cup Series more. The one start he makes, I win the damn race,” Blaney said with a laugh. “I know they had problems on pit road or something like that, but I was behind him a little bit and he seemed to be doing a really great job. But that’s special for him.”Obviously your first win is special, and to do it with the Wood Brothers and at a place where I vividly remember coming and watching my dad race here so much is really special, as well. … It’s just really neat to be able to get these guys their 99th win and hopefully we can go for 100 here.”Though his age may be deceiving, Blaney is a throwback driver. When his radio went out during the race, Blaney used hand signals from before spotters and crew chiefs could communicate to their drivers like putting his hand on the door meant the car was tight and thumbs up or down for the handling of the car.Those were tactics taught to him by his father, Dave Blaney, along with Wood Brothers owners Eddie and Len Wood. Blaney admitted it probably helped to not have communication — joking his team didn’t hear him complaining as much — there was one other old school part of his victory he couldn’t partake in.”I wanted to pick Eddie and Len up,” Blaney said. “I wanted to find them and pick them up [on the car], but it figures the one race we don’t have radio communication we end up winning it. Maybe we should turn the radio off more often, but I wanted to try to find Eddie and Len. I wanted to give them a ride to Victory Lane. That would have been cool, but maybe if we can get another one we’ll be able to do that.”The Wood brothers now have 99 overall victories. Blaney has one. Before the 2017 season is over, fans of both can expect another win added to both columns.Wallace collapses after first Cup startBubba Wallace ran a respectable 26th-place finish on Sunday after several rookie mistakes to start the race. He exited his car, spoke to media then planned to party with his best friend in Victory Lane.That was when he passed out.Filling in for Almirola, Wallace had a lot of weight on his shoulders driving the No. 43 car. He also became the first black driver to get behind the wheel of a Cup car since Bill Lester in 2006. Yeah, that’s a lot of pressure, but Wallace said his fainting spell is unfortunately a regular occurrence.”I was looking at something, set to go to victory lane,” Wallace said. “This is the third time this is happened. I get so pissed off at myself that I just pass out. … Yeah, I’m good.”On the track, Wallace proved he belonged. Had he not made three minor mistakes on pit road that cost him to fall a lap down, Bubba would have easily been on his way to a top-20 finish. Other than a late brush with Matt DiBenedetto, Wallace also stayed out of trouble and didn’t ruin any friendships on the track.”First trip down pit road cost us and put us behind the eight ball the rest of the day,” Wallace said. “I like stage racing, but it just didn’t work out for us.”I was really conservative today. A lot of people said it’s not my job to set the world on fire or do everything under the sun. My job was to do as good as we could and come out with a clean race car.”Look, the legacy of the No. 43 car is one thing, but expectations of Wallace with Richard Petty Motorsports have to be tempered. Even with Almirola behind the wheel prior to his back injury, he earned two top-five finishes in 11 races, both of which were at crapshoots in Daytona and Talladega.This isn’t Wallace’s permanent seat, and he’s not treating it as such. But what it is, is a proving ground for Wallace as a future driver of any team in the near future as well as his marketability to sponsors. Getting his feet wet for a team that isn’t trying to make the playoffs is a perfect starting point for Wallace.”I knew jumping into this it wouldn’t be easy,” he said. “These guys are good, they’re here for a reason. There’s no more climbing. I’ve been in the ladder runs the last couple years. There’s no higher to go.”This was a bad-ass day. … We’ll just get better.”Hendrick’s horrific dayWhile both Wood Brothers Racing and Richard Petty Motorsports put together memorable afternoons, one of the winningest programs in the sport did not. In fact, out of four cars for Hendrick Motorsports, only one finished the race with Chase Elliott coming in eighth — his second straight top 10 after a string of bad luck.Dale Earnhardt Jr. missed a shift on Lap 58 and suffered a blown engine. Jimmie Johnson lost his brakes on Lap 95, flew into the grass and slammed into the wall. Kasey Kahne suffered the same fate as Johnson on Lap 140 and headed to the garage early.It’s not a good day when three-fourths of the team finishes behind the likes of Jeffrey Earnhardt and Derrike Cope.Earnhardt’s issue was also what forced him to swap his engine and start from the back of the field after missing a shift earlier in the weekend. Though several Junior fans immediately placed the blame on crew chief Greg Ives, the driver himself immediately took the blame.”The shifter is not different, the handle is not different, the location, everything is the same,” Earnhardt said. “I don’t know. It’s something about my motion that’s not … just going in the wrong gear. I wish I could blame it on something else, because this is awful, it feels awful.”On the bright side, Junior did bow out well in advance of potential brake issues that could have possibly ended his career. With both Kahne and Johnson being involved in massive wrecks, that could have been a Molotov cocktail for Junior’s issues with concussions.As for Johnson, the massive hit he took was one of the worst of his career. He sat next to his car at the embankment of a turn trying to collect his breath before he headed to the infield care center. He may have been in pain, but the seven-time champion still had his wits about him before heading back to Charlotte.”I’m fine. Certainly, a big scare I haven’t had a scare like that since 2000 at Watkins Glen,” Johnson said. “So, just want to let my wife and kids and my mom know that I’m okay and I will go change my underwear and get ready to go home.”