For Eddie Wood and the rest of the Wood Brothers team, this week’s trip through the old Turn Four tunnel at Daytona International Speedway will be more special than usual.
As he drives down into the tunnel and then launches up into the track’s infield, Wood will see the speedway for the first time since February, when Trevor Bayne delivered the Wood Brothers their fifth Daytona 500 triumph.
It was a popular victory for the team that hadn’t won a Cup race since 2001 but now has plenty to celebrate, especially with the recent selection of team founder Glen Wood as a member of the third class of NASCAR’s Hall of Fame.
“It’s always nice to go back to the place where you had your biggest moment,” Eddie Wood said. But as Wood and the team pop out of the tunnel and make the right-hand turn toward the Sprint Cup garage, the Daytona 500 victory will quickly be put away in the memory bank, and the focus will shift to the task at hand – preparing the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion for Saturday’s Coke Zero 400.
The team’s Daytona 500-winning car is on display at Daytona, and the other restrictor-plate racer was wrecked at Talladega Superspeedway, so the crew will unload a brand-new Ford Fusion. Wood said he’s got a good feeling about the new car, especially after seeing the results of testing in the wind tunnel and on the chassis dynamometer.
“The car should be fast,” he said. “We’ve got a really good engine from Roush-Yates, and we’re ready to go.”
One big difference for Bayne and the Woods as they return to Daytona is that they’re no longer guaranteed a starting spot. Because they’re running a limited schedule they’ve dropped out of the top 35 in car owner points and therefore have to qualify on speed.
But Wood said the team won’t focus solely on qualifying.
“We have to make the race on speed, but we’re going to use most of the practice sessions to get ready to race. “We’re not going to sacrifice our race set-up for qualifying.”
Another big difference from the Daytona 500 is the way Bayne likely will be treated by his competitors. Heading into Speedweeks, Bayne had problems finding drafting partners willing to take a chance on a rookie with just one Cup start under his belt.
But his performances in the two restrictor-plate races since – at Daytona and Talladega – have changed that dramatically.
“It’s a known fact that Trevor is a good pusher,” Wood said. “And he’s earned a good bit of respect from the other drivers.”
The radio in the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion will be adapted to allow Bayne to talk directly to his fellow Ford drivers, and possibly a few others as well. And the team’s spotter, Chip Ross, is ready for a repeat of his Daytona 500 performance.
“He did a really good job in February,” Wood said. “Everything is still in place.”
Qualifying for the Coke Zero 400 is set to begin on Friday at 4:10 p.m., and the race is set to get the green flag on Saturday night at 7:30 with TV coverage on TNT.