Crew chief David Hyder, driver Bill Elliott and the rest of the Wood Brothers crew will return to the tried and true in this weekend’s LifeLock.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway.
The No. 21 Ford Fusion, which sported the blue and white colors of FordParts.com in its most recent appearance, at Michigan Speedway, will return to the familiar red colors of Motorcraft/Quick Lane. And Hyder and his crew plan to go back to some of their old chassis set-up ideas after some experimenting at Michigan and Charlotte that didn’t produce the results they expected.
One thing that won’t change is the pressure on the team to perform on Friday. Because the No. 21 crew is running a limited schedule, they’re not among the top 35 in car owner points, the group that is guaranteed starting spots for upcoming races. Instead, they’re among the “go or go home” teams that must make the race on their qualifying speed or miss the big show. And the Chicagoland schedule – two practice sessions on Friday and no race practice between qualifying and race time – means there will have to be a lot of work crammed into the Friday sessions.
Those Friday sessions don’t leave much margin for mistakes. The opening two-hour practice is followed by a 45-minute break, then another 45-minute session, with only two hours between it and the start of qualifying. “We’ll start with the car in race trim and then switch over to qualifying trim in practice,” Hyder said. “Then we have to go back to race trim, but we don’t get back on the track after qualifying, which I don’t particularly like.”
Hyder and Elliott also will have to base their set-up for a night race on a daytime practice session, where conditions are far different. “We’ll have to build some adjustability into the car,” Hyder said. Like other teams in the Sprint Cup Series, the Wood Brothers have had to adjust to the change from a wing on the rear of the car to a conventional spoiler and to a slight change to the stagger of the tires that Goodyear produces for the circuit. Stagger is the difference in the circumference of the right side tires compared to those on the left. “Those changes threw us for a little bit of a loop,” Hyder said.
But overall, he’s confident heading into the weekend. Elliott qualified eighth at Chicagoland last year and showed strength in the race. And Hyder and his crew, as usual, have put considerable effort into preparation of the car, which is the same chassis they ran at Charlotte Motor Speedway in the Coca-Cola 600. They’ve spent two days recently with the car on the seven-post test rig, and worked on some different components in the suspension. Hyder said he believes the changes he’s made recently will help the team not only this weekend, but in races on down the line. “We haven’t had any bad cars all year, and now we’re building on that for the end of the year,” he said.
The LifeLock.com 400 will be televised on TNT, with the green flag set to fly at 7:30 p.m. Eastern time.