Blaney has Ford flying into Michigan

LONG POND, PA - JUNE 11: Ryan Blaney, driver of the #21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center Ford, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Axalta presents the Pocono 400 at Pocono Raceway on June 11, 2017 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Ryan Blaney's victory meant a lot to Brad Keselowski.

It was Keselowski who gave Blaney a big opportunity in 2012, when Blaney had a chance to drive with Keselowski's team in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Five years later, the 23-year-old Blaney won for the first time in the Cup Series when he prevailed last week 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.

"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 career floundered before he got the chance a decade ago to drive for Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the Xfinity Series. He says the support he received from Earnhardt means a lot to him.

There are 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 points and Blaney coming off his win, 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 Co.," 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 Co. 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 in 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 Chevy 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 race at MIS:

Going back

Jimmie Johnson, who was 13th in Friday's qualifying, spun during Saturday's morning practice and 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.

Chevy's hopes

Chevrolet will try to bounce back after failing to win either of the Indy car races at Detroit's Belle Isle this month. Chevy's Kyle Larson won the pole Friday and will try to repeat his victory at MIS from 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 also will 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 ... one of the foundational items for any race car driver -- Can he go fast?" Keselowski said. "The rest seems to be more procedural."

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