Sigh of relief for Blaney

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 14:  Ryan Blaney, driver of the #21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center Ford, poses with his car after qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 14, 2016 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

DAYTONA BEACH, FL – FEBRUARY 14: Ryan Blaney, driver of the #21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center Ford, poses with his car after qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 14, 2016 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Since Woods Brothers Racing did not compete full-time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in the 2013, 2014 or 2015 seasons, the organization did not receive a charter under the new agreement between the sanctioning body and team owners.

That left Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Ryan Blaney driving a No. 21 Ford in the “open” category, required to qualify on speed for the Daytona 500.

But Blaney brushed that issue aside forcefully on Sunday afternoon, charging into the top 12 in the first round of time trials and posting the seventh-fastest lap in the final round. With a position in the Great American Race assured, Blaney will start fourth in the first of two Can-Am Duel 150-mile qualifying races on Thursday.

“It is nice to be locked into the race,” Blaney said. “The biggest relief for us is to know you are locked in and are good to be able to race in the 500. That kind of lets us go race on Thursday a little bit more than we would have instead of playing it conservative if we weren’t locked in.

“It’s nice to have such a fast car and be locked into the race. It’s a load off our shoulders, for sure. I think anytime you can make it to the last round you feel good about the speed of your race car. I think our speed is pretty good. We definitely aren’t the fastest, but we have good speed, and I think we will dial it in and be good for the 500.”

Stenhouse was fastest Ford in Daytona Qualifying

After watching the Sprint Unlimited on Saturday night, few would have guessed Roush Fenway Racing driver would have had the fastest Ford in Daytona 500 qualifying.

Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski would have been the logical choices, but Stenhouse was fifth fastest in the final round on Sunday and earned the third starting spot in Thursday’s first Can-Am Duel.

“The Fastenal Ford Fusion has been good all weekend,” said Stenhouse, who drove a different car in the Sprint Unlimited and spun on Lap 13 to cause the first caution of the race. “I knew we would have a decent shot today, but there are still some things the guys are writing notes down for things to work on for when we go to Talladega.

“Hopefully, this is a sign to come for everything this year. You always want to start off with a fast race car. Everyone at Roush Yates engine shop, Doug Yates and everyone did a great job with our horsepower, and everyone at the Roush body shop gave us a good body on this thing. I’m really proud of their effort.”

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