By Team Ford Performance Correspondent
For a man in the early weeks of what could be a breakout season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series, Jeremy Bullins seems very calm.
Bullins returns as crew chief this year for Ford Performance driver Ryan Blaney in the Wood Brothers Racing No. 21 Fusions. He has much the same team as last year, but almost everything else is wildly different.
For the first time in recent NASCAR history, the Woods team will run the full Sprint Cup schedule. It’s a big undertaking, one that will require extra effort, more travel, more resources, more people and an even stronger connection between the Woods and Team Penske, which provides car and technical support to the No. 21 group.
Blaney, who ran part-time in the Woods’ car last season, steps up to a complete season this year in pursuit of the Cup Rookie of the Year award.
Bullins, with a strong background at both the Wood Brothers team and Team Penske, said everybody is ready for the challenge.
“We know we’ll have the equipment, and we have a talented driver,” he said. “Growing up the way Ryan did and who his dad is (former Cup driver Dave Blaney), he’s not overwhelmed being in the garage because he grew up in it. For some other guys, it’s probably somewhat of a culture shock, but he has been here and seen it all. He’s 22, but he doesn’t act like it.
“The more we can be at the track and the more opportunities we have to run well, you’ll see his confidence grow.”
This season, of course, will put pressure on everyone on the team. Going from running 16 races last year to 36 this season obviously is a big leap.
“There are certainly logistical challenges,” Bullins said. “There are things you need more of – people, stuff, equipment. Some of that got ramped up over the winter.
“The biggest challenge is managing the schedule. It is a grind. We have to make sure everybody gets their stuff done, but, at the same time, we can’t burn people out.”
This will be Bullins’ first full season as a Cup crew chief, but he isn’t wandering into all-new territory.
Bullins began his big-time NASCAR career in 2000 as an engineer for the Wood Brothers team. He later worked in Team Penske’s Cup program before becoming a Penske Xfinity Series crew chief, winning owner’s titles with an assortment of drivers in 2013 and 2014.
“I’ve been through all the stuff as a race engineer in Cup,” Bullins said. “I’ve been through it on that level.”
And to be in such a key position with the Woods is a dream come true for Bullins, who grew up about 25 minutes from the team’s original headquarters shop in Stuart, Virginia.
“This is really special to me,” he said. “To me, it means a lot to get this team back full-time and to have the chance to help it be competitive. It’s the first place I worked right out of college. It’s kind of a full-circle thing.”
As one of the teams that did not receive one of the 36 charters as part of NASCAR’s new Cup alignment, Blaney will have to qualify each race weekend in one of the four “open” spots. Not an easy task, but one the team is prepared to challenge.
“I expect our best effort every week,” Bullins said. “If you look at the course of the season last year, we were qualifying better and finishing better as the year went on. If we continue to do that, the wins and all that take care of themselves.”
A historic pioneer team in NASCAR racing, the Wood Brothers have totaled 98 Sprint Cup victories across the years. Bullins has his eyes on that 100 number.