Wood Brothers Turning Fewer Laps, More Heads
By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
When Bill Elliott decided part of the way into the 2007 Sprint Cup season that he was coming out of semi-retirement to drive the Wood Brothers No. 21 Ford, he made it clear that it wouldn’t be one of those deals where he rested on his laurels and cashed in on his past champion’s provisional.
“I’m going to work hard, get myself in really good shape and go for it,” he said at that time.
He did what he said, but the results didn’t show it. Until David Hyder came on the scene to be crew chief.
Hyder, the man who ended up taking the blame for the funny stuff found in Michael Waltrip’s intake manifold at Daytona in 2007, and Elliott have developed that often elusive chemistry between driver and crew chief. Now, the Wood Brothers team, once considered by many to be on the ropes after a decades-long, highly productive run in NASCAR, is turning heads with their performance at the race track.
They’re back to running a limited schedule, as they did in their heyday when David Pearson and others rode the Woods’ cars to glory on the superspeedways, and even if it wasn’t by choice this time, it’s paying off.
In their past four starts, Elliott, Hyder and the Woods and their comparatively small crew have qualified 10th at Charlotte, 15th at Michigan, eighth at Chicago and fourth at Indianapolis.
Statistically speaking, it looks like an upward trend is developing. Realistically speaking, Elliott agrees.
“I’m real proud of the guys and how they’ve been able to turn this deal around and put together some good cars,” Elliott said.
Problems on pit road have kept the team from getting the finishes they believe they deserve, but Elliott doesn’t seem too discouraged.
“At Chicago, we let a tire get away on a pit stop and had to go to the back,” he said. “Then on the next stop we had a little problem that put us behind.”
At Indy on Sunday, Elliott was running in the top 15 late in the race, when a problem with an errant lug nut cost him a lap. A just-removed lug nut bounced behind the wheel as it was being mounted and became wedged in place, forcing an extra stop to remove it.
“I ran out of gas coming onto pit road, so there was a lot of confusion on that stop,” Elliott said.
But Elliott and his crew see only better days ahead. He’s kept his vow to stay in shape, and at age 53 says he feels as good or better behind the wheel than he ever has.
“I’m trying as hard as I can to stay in shape, working harder and working out harder than I ever have,” he said. “I’m doing all I can.”
Team co-owner Eddie Wood agrees. “I’ve known Bill all my racing life, and he’s as good right now as he ever was,” Wood said, pointing out that “You don’t win 44 of these [Cup races] by accident.”
Wood said he’s honored that Elliott stuck with the team through its struggles the past two seasons. “He was a real trouper to drive that thing last year when we were struggling,” he said. “I want him to be paid back with some good finishes, and I’m just sick to my stomach over the problems we’ve had the last two races.
“But on the bright side, our car is competitive and it’s got some speed to it.”
A lot of things seem to be working in the Woods’ and Elliott’s favor these days.
Ironically, the Car of Tomorrow has become an advantage of sorts for Elliott, a hero of yesterday. He said the roomier cockpit of the new car makes racing easier on a driver from a physical standpoint. He said that in the older cars the space between the firewall and the back of the seat was too short for a long-legged driver like him and the bars behind the windshield cramped him too.
Maybe it’s the relative comfort of the car, or maybe it’s experience, but for whatever reason Elliott said he can better sense the chassis of his car.
“I’m getting a better feel for the car and can give good input,” he said.
It helps too that the Woods have scheduled their limited starts mostly at similar, intermediate tracks, a game plan that Eddie Wood said he has no plans to change in the foreseeable future.
“We don’t get so far behind running a limited schedule because we’re going to familiar race tracks,” Elliott said. “We’re getting a pretty good dialogue going,”
With the results he’s having, it appears that Elliott, like his fellow 50-something driver Mark Martin, may be around for a few more years.
“I’m really having a good time,” Elliott said.
– Rick Minter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments