At the start of the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup season Wood Brothers Racing had the opportunity to put an up-and-coming Roush Fenway Racing driver Trevor Bayne behind the wheel of their famous No. 21 Ford.
The Result led to one of the most improbable wins in Daytona 500 history.
This time around the Woods have reached a deal with Team Penske on another up-and-coming driver, Ryan Blaney. The second-generation driver nearly won the 2014 Camping World Truck Series title and now will make the jump to Penske’s Xfinity team full time.
The similarities are scary.
Bayne only made one Sprint Cup start prior to starting in his first Daytona 500, finishing 17th at Texas Motor Speedway in the fall of 2010. Blaney made two starts last season, finishing 27th at Kansas and 27th at Talladega.
When Bayne won in 2011, Dale Earnhardt Jr. put Hendrick Motorsports on pole. Four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon makes his final start in the Daytona 500 on Sunday for Hendrick Motorsports from the pole position.
Much like the 2011 Daytona 500 winner ran a limited schedule that same season, Blaney is prepared for the same path in 2015.
With a solid lineup already in place at Team Penske with Joey Logano and 2012 Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski, the resources for the development driver seem nearly limitless.
The biggest test for the 21-year-old came Thursday night in the Budweiser Duel at Daytona, passing with flying colors after a sixth-place finish in race two. Blaney will start the Great American Race from the 12th spot.
When asked about his stress level in trying to make the Daytona 500, Blaney said simply “once the green flag drops, all that goes away.”
Battling among the top names at the Sprint Cup level, Blaney kept his composure and focused on just making the race instead of battling for the win, but gave some insight on what he has for Sunday.
“We had really good speed in our car. There was a couple opportunities I thought we could have went for it. We had to pull the reins back and make sure we got in. You definitely put that in the memory bank for Sunday, knowing what you can do, what you can’t do. I definitely think we have more in the tank.“
A win may change Penske’s planned for Blaney to run a limited schedule. With the new Chase format, a win would all but guarantee a playoff berth for the Sprint Cup rookie.
The only left for Blaney is to show what he has left in the tank.