Bill Elliott and the crew of the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion got an opportunity to take a few chances in qualifying for Sunday’s Carfax 400 at Michigan International Speedway.
Their chassis tweaks didn’t work out just like they’d planned, but they’re still solidly in the show for Sunday, which is the most important thing on pole day for a team running a partial schedule and therefore not eligible for a guaranteed starting position each week.
This time around, the Wood Brothers team did have some breathing room because Elliott was the only past Sprint Cup champion in the field, thus ensuring him a starting spot. So the team decided to loosen the chassis in an attempt to grab a spot near the top of the starting grid.
But the sun popped out hot just as Elliott took his turn against the clock and the car would be too loose, resulting in a lap at 184.431 miles per hour, which puts him 30th on the starting grid.
But spirits were high in the Motorcraft/Quick Lane pits because the team was focused on making its car faster, not just getting it into the show.
“We had good speed,” team co-owner Eddie Wood said. “We were good in Turns One and Two, but we were just too tight in Turns Three and Four in practice.
“Since Bill was locked into the field, we loosened up the car, but it wound up being a little too loose.”
Wood pointed out that while the perception is that a loose race car is fast, that’s not exactly the case. Having a car that rolls freely through the corners is best, he said.
“When a car is too loose, the only way a driver can adjust for that is to back off the gas,” he said. “But if it’s too tight, they can still stay in the throttle. It’s a very hard task to get the balance just right.”
The Motorcraft/Quick Lane crew is encouraged by the performance of the No. 21 on Friday, knowing that when the change is made from a two-lap qualifying set-up to one designed for a 400-mile run the car should be closer to a balance that will allow Elliott to drive toward the front of the field.
“When we open up the grille for race trim, so the air flows through the radiator, it should balance it out, and we’ll be just fine,” Wood said.
The Carfax 400 is set to get the green flag on Sunday just after 1 p.m. with TV coverage on ESPN