Bill Elliott and the Wood Brothers’ No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane crew came away with a victory of sorts during Saturday’s qualifying session for the 17th running of the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. They were best in class among the “go-or-go-home” teams that are not among the top 35 in car owner points and therefore not assured of starting spots for races.
Elliott’s qualifying lap at 178.845 miles per hour was only good enough for the 31st starting position. It does not take into account that he and the rest of the non-guaranteed drivers made their runs late in the session on Saturday when the track was getting hotter and slicker - and therefore slower - by the minute as the summertime Indiana heat baked the racing surface.
“We ran faster than we did in practice,” Elliott said. “You can’t do anything about the [qualifying] draw. I know some guys run faster in that deal, but what we try to fight and what they try to fight is a whole different war at the end of the day.”
Team co-owner Eddie Wood pointed out that with his team running a partial schedule and not guaranteed a starting spot, the most important thing in qualifying is to make sure the Motorcraft/Quick Lane colors are on the track come race day.
Earlier in the weekend at Indy, the familiar red No. 21 Fusion was among the elite on the speed charts. Elliott was fifth fastest in the first practice session at 174.686 mph, then ninth in the second practice, with a speed of 178.437 mph.
To get back to the lead pack when the green flag flies on Sunday afternoon, Elliott and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane crew will have to rely on pit strategy and other tactics to overcome their starting position. Luckily for them, the Wood Brothers team has historically been one of the best in NASCAR at pit and fuel strategy. It’ll be especially important at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where the racing layout, while historic and beloved, isn’t the most conducive to side-by-side racing.
“You can’t pass here,” Elliott said. “It’s probably the world’s worst race track to pass, and you just have to do whatever you’ve got to do to get there. “At least you’ve got the whole race to work on it.”
The Brickyard 400 is set to begin at 1 p.m. on Sunday with coverage on ESPN.