Blaney’s success has Ford riding high in Michigan

Brad Keselowski talks to a crew member after a practice session, Saturday, June 17, 2017, for the NASCAR Sprint Cup series auto race in Brooklyn, Mich. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

BROOKLYN, Mich. (AP) — Ryan Blaney’s victory meant a lot to Brad Keselowski.

It was Keselowski who gave Blaney a big opportunity back in 2012, when Blaney had a chance to drive with Keselowski’s team in the Truck Series. Five years later, the 23-year-old Blaney won for the first time in NASCAR’s Cup Series when he prevailed last weekend at Pocono . It was a win that gave Ford a lot to feel good about before this weekend’s always-anticipated race at Michigan — and Keselowski, another Ford driver, clearly enjoyed Blaney’s success.

“I think there’s a lot of moments you have in life that you really don’t prepare for and when it happens it’s just pretty dang awesome,” Keselowski said. “That was a pretty dang awesome moment for me, to see him win and to see one of his dreams come true.”

Keselowski’s own career floundered before he got the chance a decade ago to drive for Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the Nationwide Series. He says the support he received from Earnhardt means a lot to him.

There are some similarities between their relationship and the way Keselowski has helped Blaney.

“I wouldn’t be where I am at in my career without the help of people that have given me the opportunities, and I’m thankful for them, but I can never really repay them for that. And so what I can do is pay it forward to others and give that same opportunity,” Keselowski said. “Seeing someone like Ryan win is almost like the best thank you I can give to Dale Jr. or to Roger (Penske) or to my dad and family that gave me opportunities.”

The events at Michigan International Speedway about 70 miles from Detroit are always important to Ford and Chevrolet, and those manufacturers split the two Cup races at the track last year. With Keselowski and Kevin Harvick both in the top five in driver points, and Blaney coming off his win last week, there are plenty of encouraging signs for Ford.

Blaney’s win came for the Wood Brothers, a storied team with long ties to Ford.

“That’s probably the single most important thing to our family — the relationship that we have with Ford Motor Company,” said Wood Brothers Racing owner Eddie Wood. “It started with our dad and uncles in 1950 and we’ve never raced anything but Ford Motor Company products.”

Blaney drives a limited Xfinity schedule for Team Penske, and he competes for the Wood Brothers in the Cup Series through an alliance between Penske and the Wood Brothers. There’s plenty of talk that Blaney could join Penske for the Cup Series, and Wood takes all that in stride.

“He’ll go on to bigger and better and greater things. He’s going to win a lot of races, and I think he’s going to win some championships,” Wood said. “Whatever we do from there, it’ll be fine.”

Keselowski, meanwhile, said this week he’d have no reason to want to leave Penske, even with Earnhardt’s No. 88 at Hendrick Motorsports coming open.

“I can tell you that I’ve gone a long ways in my life and career with the help of Roger and all Team Penske, and I hope to continue to do so,” Keselowski said.

If Keselowski stays put and Blaney keeps improving, the future could be pretty bright for Ford.

A few more things to watch in Sunday’s Cup race at MIS:

GOING BACK

Jimmie Johnson, who was 13th after Friday’s qualifying, spun during Saturday’s morning practice and eventually went to a backup car. He was ninth in Saturday’s second practice, but he’ll have to start from the back of the field Sunday.

“We need to work a little more on it to make it more comfortable for me, but all things considered we will be OK,” Johnson said. “Just need to pass some cars again.”

CHEVY’S HOPES

Chevrolet will try to bounce back after failing to win either of the IndyCar races at Detroit’s Belle Isle course earlier this month. Chevy’s Kyle Larson won the pole Friday and will try to repeat his victory at MIS from last August.

HOME STATE

Keselowski, from Rochester Hills, is winless in 15 Cup starts at Michigan, although he does have five top-five finishes. Rookie Erik Jones will also be racing in his home state, and he’s coming off a third-place showing at Pocono.

“He’s so, so fast. He’s got a tremendous amount of speed, which that’s kind of the foundational, or one of the foundational items for any race car driver is: Can he go fast?” Keselowski said. “The rest seems to be more procedural, which comes with time, experience and so forth.”

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Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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