Wood Brothers Racing: ‘It was on us’ to obtain charter


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – It was a lingering question from one of the biggest controversys of the NASCAR preseason.

Could the financial and political clout of allies Team Penske or Ford Motor Company have been leveraged to help secure a Sprint Cup charter for Wood Brothers Racing?

Co-owner Eddie Wood said Friday the team’s powerful partners weren’t approached about helping broker a deal because it wasn’t their responsibility.

“We just didn’t really talk about it,” Wood told NBC Sports. “It really wasn’t up to Team Penske. It was on us. It wasn’t Ford’s responsibility. We’ve got a great alliance with Team Penske, and the relationship with Ford Motor Co. is second to none in here. I’d put them up against any sponsor in this garage.

“So it shook out, we’re going to be an ‘open’ car, that’s the way it is, and we’ll go do it.”

Wood Brothers Racing has a sponsorship relationship with Ford through the Motorcraft brand, and the team receives chassis and technical support from Penske. It also got help from Penske in securing its driver (Ryan Blaney, a developmental driver with Penske) and crew chief (Jeremy Bullins, who moved over from a winning Xfinity car with Penske).

It will need that strength this season competing against the 36 teams that are guaranteed a spot in every Sprint Cup race. Wood Brothers Racing will be vying weekly for one of the four “open” slots because it didn’t qualify for a charter under the new system that was unveiled Tuesday.

Teams that attempted to qualify for every race since 2013 were granted charters, which guarantee multimillion-dollar annual payouts as well as attendance in every even in NASCAR’s premier series. On Friday, Rob Kauffman said it was NASCAR’s decision to determine charter eligibility, which the sanctioning body confirmed.

The 2016 season will mark the first full-time campaign of the famous No. 21 Fusion since 2008 for Wood Brothers Racing, and that’s why Wood kept reiterating in interviews Friday that “things will be OK” for a venerable team that began in tiny Stuart, Virginia in 1950.

“When you race as long as we have, this is not the worst thing we’ve ever been through,” Wood said. “(The charter system) is still kind of an unknown. A year from now, two years from now, we don’t really know what it’s going to look like. The value of them, somehow that’s going to work out.

“I just have an inner feeling that it’s going to be fine. We’re set up to run all year as an open car. That’s our biggest focus this year.”

There will be no additional charters granted, but the existing 36 can be sold – though it’s unclear what the going rate will be on the open market.

The charters that belonged to now-defunct Michael Waltrip Racing are being sold to Stewart-Haas Racing (No. 41 of Kurt Busch) and Joe Gibbs Racing (No. 19 of Carl Edwards). Race Team Alliance chairman Rob Kauffman, who controls the MWR charters as the team’s former majority owner, hasn’t disclosed a price but said he expected charters to sell in “the single-digit millions.”

Wood said his team knew the price would be too rich.

“We didn’t talk about buying one, because we knew those two (MWR charters) were probably going to be going to someone else,” he said. “You’re not going to go outbid Joe Gibbs or Gene Haas.”

In the long term, Wood Brothers Racing remains optimistic about its prospects for obtaining a charter and is working on finding additional sponsorship for this season and beyond.

“You don’t know what it’s going to look like,” he said. “Rick Hendrick, Roger Penske, Joe Gibbs … they’re not going to be giving up any (charters). But we’ll be listening to every opportunity about one that comes available. If you hear of any, let me know.”

Alex Bowman confident as he returns to racing from back injury


CONCORD, N.C. — Alex Bowman watched the rain-filled skies over Charlotte Motor Speedway Saturday with more than a touch of disappointment.

As weather threatened to cancel Saturday night’s scheduled NASCAR Cup Series practice at the speedway, Bowman saw his chances to testing his car — and his body — dissolving in the raindrops. NASCAR ultimately cancelled practice and qualifying because of rain.

MORE: Wet weather cancels Charlotte Cup practice, qualifying

Bowman suffered a fractured vertebra in a sprint car accident last month and has missed three Cup races while he recovers. Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600, the season’s longest race, is scheduled to mark his return to the Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevrolet.

“It would have been really nice to kickstart that with practice today,” Bowman said. “I haven’t raced or competitively driven a race car in a month. I’m trying to understand where my rusty areas are going to be and where I’m still good.”

Bowman ran 200 laps in a test season at North Wilkesboro Speedway this week, but, of course, that doesn’t compare with the faster speeds and tougher G-forces he’ll experience over 400 laps Sunday at CMS.

Bowman admitted that he is still experiencing pain from the back injury — his car flipped several times — and that he expects some pain during the race. But he said he is confident he’ll be OK and that the longer race distance won’t be an issue.

“I broke my back a month ago, and there’s definitely things that come along with that for a long time,” he said. “I have some discomfort here and there and there are things I do that don’t feel good. That’s just part of it. It’s stuff I’ll have to deal with. But, for the most part, I’m back to normal.

“I’m easing back into being in the gym. I’m trying to be smart with things. If I twist the wrong way, sometimes it hurts. In the race car at the end of a six-hour race, I’m probably not going to be the best.”

The sprint car crash interrupted what had been a fine seasonal start for Bowman. Although winless, he had three top fives and six top 10s in the first 10 races.

“I’m excited to be back,” Bowman said. “Hopefully, we can pick up where we left off and be strong right out of the gate.”

He said he hopes to return to short-track racing but not in the near future.

“Someday I want to get back in a sprint car or midget,” he said. “I felt like we were just getting rolling in a sprint car. That night we were pretty fast. Definitely a bummer there. That’s something I really want to conquer and be competitive at in the World of Outlaws or High Limits races. Somebody I’ll get back to that. It’s probably smart if I give my day job a little alone time for a bit.”




Charlotte NASCAR Cup Series starting lineup: Rain cancels qualifying


CONCORD, N.C. — William Byron and Kevin Harvick will start Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series 600-mile race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on the front row after wet weather cancelled Saturday night qualifying.

Rain pelted the CMS area much of the day Saturday, and NASCAR announced at 3:45 p.m. that Cup practice and qualifying, scheduled for Saturday night, had been cancelled.

MORE: Alex Bowman confident as he returns to cockpit

The starting field was set by the NASCAR rulebook.

Following Byron and Harvick in the starting top 10 will be Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Bubba Wallace, Ryan Blaney, Christopher Bell and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

The elimination of the practice session was particularly problematic for Alex Bowman, scheduled to return to racing Sunday after missing three weeks with a back injury, and Jimmie Johnson, who will be starting only his third race this year. Johnson will start 37th — last in the field.

Charlotte Cup starting lineup

Wet weather cancels Charlotte Cup Series practice, qualifying


CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR Cup Series drivers will start the longest race of the season with no practice or qualifying.

Wet weather and predictions of more to come led NASCAR to cancel Saturday night’s Cup Series practice and qualifying in mid-afternoon. The field for Sunday’s 600-mile race was set by the NASCAR rulebook, placing William Byron and Kevin Harvick on the front row for the  scheduled 6 p.m. start.

MORE: Charlotte Cup starting lineup

MORE: Alex Bowman confident as he returns to cockpit

Weather also could be an issue Sunday as more rain is predicted for the speedway area.

Drivers were scheduled to practice at 7 p.m. Saturday. That session was to be followed by qualifying at 7:45 p.m. The cancellations were announced at 3:45 p.m.

The time-trial cancellation marked the first time in 64 years that qualifying has been canceled for the 600.

Charlotte Xfinity race postponed to Monday by weather


CONCORD, N.C. — Persistent rain forced the postponement of Saturday’s scheduled 300-mile NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway to Monday.

The race is scheduled to start at noon ET. It will be televised by FS1 and broadcast by the Performance Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Driver introductions and other pre-race activities were held at the track Saturday, but rain that had dampened the track in the morning hours returned. After several attempts at drying the track, the race was postponed after heavier rain returned in mid-afternoon.

Justin Allgaier will start the race from the pole position.