Trevor Bayne and the Wood Brothers are back at Daytona International Speedway as the defending Daytona 500 champions, reflecting on the big win of a year ago but, more importantly, focusing on this year’s Great American Race.
Eddie Wood, co-owner of the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion, said he spent some of his first days of Speedweeks 2012 thinking about the team’s triumph last year, a victory that kicked off a strong year for both NASCAR and the Wood Brothers.
“It’s good to be back down here and re-live some of the simple things that didn’t seem that significant until you come back and start remembering them,” Wood said, explaining that even a couple of stops at of his family’s favorite restaurants, the Daytona Beach Steak ’n Shake and The Porto Fino Restaurant, evoke memories of their storybook Speedweeks.
And later on, they’ll be reunited with their winning Ford Fusion, which has been on display at the Daytona Experience since it left Victory Lane a year ago.
But what’s on Wood’s mind more than anything is getting into this year’s 500 – the team does not have a guaranteed starting spot – and what kind of race the 500 will be with a new rules package in place.
Wood is confident that the No. 21 Ford Fusion prepared by Donnie Wingo and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane crew is up to the task. “It’s a better race car based on the wind tunnel numbers,” he said. “But the rules have changed.”
NASCAR, in response to fan complaints about the tandem style of racing that has come to dominate races at Daytona and Talladega Superspeedway, has imposed rules designed to get drivers back in big packs and limit tandem racing to just a few laps at a time.
The new rules could work out in the Woods’ favor, as it’s not likely that drivers will pair up from start to finish like in recent races. Bayne and the Woods, being a single-car team in a sport dominated by multi-car outfits, have had difficulty lining up tandem partners, but that shouldn’t be a hindrance this time.
Wood says that if the race plays out as many expect, drivers will pair up with whoever is convenient when the time comes to take a shot a victory.
“Drivers may decide before the race that they’re going to work together,” he said. “But I don’t think they’ll be able to stay together all day.”
Instead, he said, I think it’ll be like in the old days, when which line a driver is in determines whether they’re going forward or backward relative to the competition. Then with 10 laps or so to go, the focus likely will shift back to tandem racing. No one at that time will care if they use up their car or burn it down. It will be all about winning the Daytona 500.
“The whole day is going to be an unknown,” he said, adding that teams and drivers will continue to improve their cars and their techniques during the long build-up to the 500. “It’s got all the possibilities of being wilder that last year.”
But for Wood and his Motorcraft/Quick Lane team, it’s important to not get so focused on the 500 that they don’t overlook the immediate task at hand – getting into the race.
“Hopefully we’ll get in on our qualifying speed,” Wood said. “And we still have the Thursday Gatorade Duel qualifying races.”