With the preliminary events of Speedweeks behind them, Bill Elliott and the crew of the Wood Brothers #21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion have taken their place among NASCAR’s best for the running of the Great American Race, the 52nd annual Daytona 500.
After heading into Daytona without the benefit of the safety net provided to the top 35 teams in the car owner standings, Elliott and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane crew found the speed needed to safely secure a starting berth in NASCAR’s premier race, which gets the green flag on Sunday at 1 p.m. with coverage on FOX. Their starting spot was assured by Elliott’s fourth-place qualifying run last Saturday. He finished 22nd in the first of Thursday’s twin 150-mile Gatorade Duels and will line up 40th for the start of the Daytona 500.
The team didn’t grab headlines in the Duels as they did in qualifying, but there were bright spots, among them the performance of the Motorcraft/ Quick Lane over-the-wall gang. The pit crew, which struggled at times in 2009, came out of the gate with two flawless stops in their first real test of 2010. “We gained two spots on both stops,” team co-owner Eddie Wood said. “We were really pleased with that.” The crew also got a chance to make some chassis changes and evaluate the results under racing conditions, giving the team valuable data to use in final preparations for Sunday’s 500.
Fans of Elliott and the Woods - those at the track as well as those watching on TV - had some big moments too. They got to see the Motorcraft/Quick Lane car in the lead pack during the early portions of the race. The downside to an otherwise good day on Thursday was the drop off in performance toward the end of the race. “We just need to get the car driving better,” Elliott said. “I just couldn’t run with Jeff Gordon and them like I wanted to.”
The upside to the mid-pack 150 finish was that, like pole-sitter Mark Martin who finished one spot ahead of Elliott, the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion has not even a scratch heading into the most important race of the year. Martin is in a similar spot, car-wise, having backed off late in the race rather than risk losing the pole-winning car. In the second 150, Dale Earnhardt Jr., the outside polesitter for Sunday’s 500, finished 21st, also choosing to play it safe late rather than risk wrecking his primary car.
Wood said the team now will make changes to the car, using what was learned on Thursday in their quest to give Elliott a car to his liking for the big show on Sunday. “The most important thing is that we’re in the Daytona 500,” Wood said.