Q&A with Bill Elliott
After missing last year’s Daytona 500, Wood Brothers Racing rebounded over the weekend as Bill Elliott and the No. 21 Motorcraft Fusion turned the fastest qualifying lap among Ford teams. Elliott finished fifth overall, but was first among teams that finished outside the top 35 last year, meaning the team is locked in for Sunday’s Daytona 500.
Elliott, who has won “The Great American Race” twice (1985 & 1987), and Eddie Wood, co-owner of Wood Brothers Racing, spoke about making this year’s field.
BILL ELLIOTT – No. 21 Motorcraft Ford Fusion – “I don’t think nobody has given this team enough credit for what they’ve done over the winter. Here we’re stacking up with the best guys right there on the board. This is a low-funded race team and if you look at it from the standpoint of a single-car race team competing against everybody else, Len and Eddie have done a heck of a job.”
TONY STEWART HAS HIS OWN TEAM. JEREMY MAYFIELD HAS HIS OWN TEAM. IS THIS LOOKING MORE LIKE THE COMMON FOLK NASCAR LIKE WHEN YOU CAME INTO THE SPORT? “You’ve got to understand, you’ve got to look at Tony’s deal, it’s just a spur off Hendrick. The same way with Yates, it’s just a spur off Roush. Yates has always had good race cars and good qualifying cars at the speedways, so you look at the bottom nuts and bolts of the sport and a lot of the stuff hasn’t changed. Even though Tony has gone over here, it’s just a hand off the Hendrick bunch. To me, we could sit here and talk ifs and buts all day long, but it’s still gonna be what it is.”
HOW GOOD IS YOUR CAR FOR THE 500? “There again, it’s just like Mark Martin said, we’ve not done any drafting practice and we really don’t know. I watched the cars (in the Shootout) and they tended to be – whether the drivers were nervous or the cars were nervous, it makes me nervous. But the key, though, is what Richard Petty always told me – to finish first, first you’ve got to finish. You’ve got to get to the end to be able to win this thing. It’s just like Harvick did the other night, he played his strategy, he did what he needed to do, he got himself in the right place and he took the opportunity and won the race. To me, in a nutshell, that’s what the 500 is all about.”
WHAT ABOUT THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE SHOOTOUT AND THE DUALS AND THE 500? “The Shootout is so different than any of the other races. The 150s are gonna have some of that complexity, but the problem with the 150s is that you run them in the afternoon. They talk about running eight or 10 laps and the tires giving up, now you’re gonna see three or four and the car is giving up because you don’t have the extra grip and the coolness of the race track to be able to have that under you as the day goes on, especially in the afternoon here.”
EDDIE WOOD, Co-Owner – No. 21 Motorcraft Ford Fusion – WHAT’S THE EMOTION NOW THAT YOU’VE CLEARED THE QUALIFYING HURDLE? “Like you said, clearing the hurdle was the first thing – making the 500. We’ve been preparing for this thing since October. We knew then we were gonna cut back to a limited schedule, so your first race is the biggest race. The next race we’ll be going to is Atlanta, so that will be our next biggest race. That’s just the way it is. The next race is the biggest race no matter where you are, but the 500 is the 500 and after missing it last year and walking around in here with not having a race car in it – a truck, a hauler – you’re just in here. You don’t have a place to hang out. You’re just like a duck in a chicken yard and this year I won’t have to do that. We’ll be in it and that’s a tremendous relief. It makes me feel really good about the group of people we’ve put together because it’s hard to go fast in this garage – very, very hard. The people we’ve got, it’s all gelling. The group we have has really gelled together and we’ve got great support from Ford Racing, Ford Motor Company and Motorcraft. That’s a big deal to me.”
DO YOU FORESEE TALKING TO THE TEAM AND TELLING THEM THAT THEY SHOULDN’T BE JUST HAPPY TO MAKE THE DAYTONA 500, BUT IT’S TIME TO RACE HARD AND TRY TO WIN IT? “There are three pieces to the Daytona 500. You’ve got to qualify well and if you’re fortunate to do that, you don’t have to race your way in on Thursday, which is really hard, especially if you’re out of the top 35 like we are. Then there’s the race, so the first and second hurdles are cleared. We don’t have to worry for the next few days about the qualifiers. We can go run our race and get all of our tire data and the data for the car that’s necessary to do the simulation and we’ll be fine.”
ANY DISAPPOINTMENT ABOUT NOT GETTING THE POLE? “Not with me. Hyder is disappointed and I’m sure everybody is, but my goal was to be in this thing. If we were fortunate to sit on the front row, great, but I’m tickled to death with the run we made. We backed up every run we made. We ran an .88 in practice and the pole was an .87, so we’re six-hundredths off the pole and we’re fifth. That’s pretty cool in my book. I would have liked to have been on the pole or the front row, but being locked in is just as big to me as that because, like I said, if you’ve ever sat this thing out, being back in it is a good thing.”