Trevor Bayne and the crew of the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion are taking a brand-new Ford Fusion to Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the track in the city known for gambling.
Veteran crew chief Donnie Wingo figures he’s not taking much of a chance with his new race car as it’s been meticulously prepared and tested – with good results – in the wind tunnel.
“Everything looked good when we were in the wind tunnel with it,” he said.
And to even the odds a little more, Bayne, Wingo and the Wood Brothers team will get a chance to fine tune the car in a test session on Thursday. The extra day on the track was scheduled by NASCAR since this is the first weekend the 2014 rules package will be used on a 1.5-mile track.
“It’s really just a half-day of testing, but it will give us a chance to work with this car,” Wingo said.
Another unknown makes an appearance on Friday as the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team and the rest of the Sprint Cup field participate in the first three-session “knockout” qualifying.
Unlike previous seasons, where qualifying at most tracks saw each car run against the clock by itself, the new knockout system divides qualifying into either two or three sessions. On tracks 1.25 miles or longer, like Las Vegas, all cars will qualify in an opening 25 minute session. Then the top 24 advance to a 10-minute session, with the top 12 in that group moving on to a five-minute final round.
It’ll be especially important for the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team to post a fast lap, as they’ll have to make the race on speed because their part-time status leaves them without any guarantee of a starting spot.
“We just need to make sure the first lap of qualifying is a good clean one,” Wingo said, explaining that the tire wear from the asphalt at Las Vegas likely will see the second and third laps produce slower times than the first.
“Hopefully we’ll advance to the next round, cool the engine down and go from there,” he said.
In Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400, Wingo also looks for tire wear to be a factor.
“In the past, Las Vegas has been a place where you could take just two tires on a pit stop and maintain your position,” he said. “Now, it’s looking more like a four-tire track. It’s not as abrasive as some tracks, but the tires do wear a good bit, and lap times drop off.”
“We just need to get a good starting spot and the track position that comes with it, keep four fresh tires on the car and maintain our position.”
Qualifying for the Kobalt Tools 400 is set for Friday at 6:40 p.m. Eastern Time, and the race is scheduled to see the green flag fly just after 3 p.m. on Sunday with TV coverage on FOX.