Bill Elliott and the crew of the Motorcraft Quick Lane No. 21 Ford Fusion headed into Saturday’s Daytona 500 qualifying session with a seemingly modest, but extremely important goal – to secure a starting spot for the Great American Race.
But Elliott and his David Hyder-led Wood Brothers team blew by that simple goal in a big way, nailing down the fourth qualifying position and leading the way for Ford Motor Company. His was the only Fusion among the top 10 qualifiers. Elliott’s lap at 190.573 miles per hour was just a few ticks of the stopwatch slower than Mark Martin’s pole winning run of 191.188 mph, giving two of the top four starting spots to drivers over age 50.
But, as Elliott pointed out, success in qualifying at Daytona is as much or more about teamwork than driver performance or experience. And his crew came through for him with flying colors. “We worked hard,” he said. “We did our homework.”
Team co-owner Eddie Wood said that while the crew accomplished its goal of being the fastest of the teams outside the top 35 in car owner points and therefore not assured of a starting spot, it could have been a lot more interesting if the backstretch tailwinds that propelled some of the earlier qualifiers hadn’t subsided before Elliott hit the track. “We would have loved to have been on the pole, but going out late hurt us there,” Wood said. “But the important thing is that we’re in the Daytona 500.”
Just like last year at Daytona, the No. 21 Motorcraft Quick Lane entry drew praise for its workmanship from both garage insiders and TV commentators covering the race. FOX broadcaster Larry McReynolds, a former crew chief, pointed out to viewers that hundreds of hours were spent sanding and polishing and tweaking on the car to come up with a sleek finished product that outran 50 other competitors.
Elliott, who knows a thing or two about car preparation himself having been a hands-on mechanic earlier in his career, joined in the praise of the Wood Brothers’ work. “I’m telling you, this is a gorgeous race car, very well put together,” he said. “I’m just proud to race it come Sunday afternoon.”
His qualifying lap assures him of a Daytona 500 start no matter how he finishes in Thursday’s 150-mile Gatorade Duels that will determine the starting line-up for the 500. Elliott said that now that the initial Daytona goal has been met, the celebration needs to be short because it’s time for him and the crew to get back to work preparing for Thursday’s Duel and then the Daytona 500 next Sunday. “Our sights are set on the Daytona 500,” he said. “I think we’ve got a pretty good idea of what we need to do, and that is to let the guys do their magic in the garage and then see what we can do on the race track.”