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Wood Brothers’ lifeline started with a phone call: ‘I’m going to fix that’

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DOVER, Delaware — Shortly after the Coca-Cola 600 ran without the Wood Brothers for the only time in the event’s history, co-owner Eddie Wood’s cell phone rang.

On the other end was Edsel Ford II, great-grandson of Henry Ford, founder of Ford Motor Company, a longtime supporter of the Wood Brothers.

Edsel Ford called for other reasons, but the conversation turned to the team’s struggles. Although it was late May, the 2008 season already had been difficult for the team.

The Wood Brothers failed to qualify for the Daytona 500, marking the first time since 1962 the family didn’t have a car in NASCAR’s most prestigious race.

The team failed to make the races at Las Vegas, Atlanta and Bristol in consecutive weekends. The Woods had the most wins among any team in NASCAR history at Atlanta at that time. They also didn’t qualify at Richmond before failing to make the 43-car field at Charlotte.

All that hung over Wood when he answered his phone in the Pocono Raceway garage during a test two days after the 600.

“Why haven’t we talked lately?’’ Edsel Ford asked Wood.

“Mr. Ford, we’ve run so bad and I’m so ashamed,’’ Wood said. “I’m ashamed to call you.’’

“So you’re telling me my 21 is broke?’’

“Yes sir. It’s broken. Really bad.’’

“I’m going to fix that.’’

SURVIVORS

When Ryan Blaney held off 2014 series champion Kevin Harvick to win at Pocono in June, he gave the Wood Brothers their 99th career Cup victory and qualified them for the playoffs for the first time.

For as storied as Wood Brothers history is — nine NASCAR Hall of Famers have run at least one race for the team — the organization has only one championship. The team won the 1963 car owner’s title less than three weeks before President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

Ryan Blaney. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Blaney enters Sunday’s race at Dover International Speedway in position to advance to the next round. That the Wood Brothers are competing for a championship is remarkable considering what they overcame to remain in a sport that left many contemporaries behind.

More than 30 teams that competed in the Daytona 500 at one time or another between 2006-16 have faded away. They ranged from powerhouses to low-budget endeavors put together on a hope and a prayer.

Those teams relegated to history include Dale Earnhardt Inc., Petty Enterprises, Yates Racing, Evernham Motorsports, Bill Davis Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing and Red Bull Racing. They combined for 10 Cup titles and 16 Daytona 500 victories.

While they are gone, the Wood Brothers remain.

LOYALTY

Edsel Ford II calls the No. 21 Wood Brothers car Ford’s “company car.’’

He’s not exaggerating. The Wood Brothers always have run Fords, starting with Glen Wood. He and a friend paid $50 for a 1938 Ford Coupe to race in 1950.

In Glen Wood’s first race, contact in his heat bent the rear-end housing. It didn’t seem major until afterward when they towed the car back to Stuart, Virginia. The axle broke. Gas spilled and ignited from the sparks as the car’s rear end scraped the ground. Flames shot from the back of the car and spread.

The fire eventually burned out and the damage was minimal to the engine. So a few weeks later, Glen Wood again was racing that car, beginning a legacy with Ford.

Leonard Wood and Glen Wood pose with their car at the NASCAR Hall of Fame on January 22, 2012. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images for NASCAR)

For as much loyalty as the Wood Brothers have shown Ford Motor Company, Edsel Ford II felt the same way with the team.

“We were dedicated to them, and they were dedicated to us,’’ Ford told NBC Sports.

Loyalty, though, doesn’t pay the bills and can’t always prop a team back up when it has fallen.

The Wood Brothers’ falloff was gradual, more like water dripping from a faucet instead of flowing.

Elliott Sadler led them to a 20th-place finish in the points in 2001, but the team’s performance yo-yoed through Sadler and Ricky Rudd before declining with a series of other drivers.

The organization expanded, adding a Truck team, but that didn’t prove effective. Decisions didn’t work out as hoped, and soon the Wood Brothers fell further behind the leading teams.

While they attempted to run every race in 2007, the Wood Brothers failed to qualify for two races. At Talladega, they were among nine teams that didn’t make the field. That included Red Bull Racing (AJ Allmendinger and Brian Vickers), Bill Davis Racing (Dave Blaney) and Michael Waltrip Racing (Michael Waltrip).

Then came the woes of 2008. The team failed to qualify for eight of 36 races.

“As far as racing goes, that’s about as bad a spot as you can be in, going to a race track and not being fast enough to qualify and race,’’ Eddie Wood said.

He and brother Len stayed at the track for the Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600 and Brickyard 400 (they also would miss that race that year) without a car competing.

“That’s the hardest part,’’ Len said. “You have no hauler, nowhere to go, no car to show anybody, nowhere to sit down.’’

Said Eddie: “You have nowhere to be.’’

FAMILY

The day after Edsel Ford’s call to Eddie Wood, another call came. Eddie and Len were told to fly to Detroit that day to meet with a Ford executive. Four hours later, they were in the air, but there was a problem. Neither had proper clothes for an executive meeting since they had been at a race. So after landing, they went to a Dillard’s department store for proper clothes.

Their meeting was postponed a day, but when it was held, it began a process for the Wood Brothers to become more competitive.

Eddie and Len Wood at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 23, 2016. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

“They’re such an important part of our family, they’re an important part of our sport, Ford Motorsports,’’ Edsel Ford II said. “To lose them would have been inconceivable to me.’’

More engineering help was added. Later, another idea emerged from Edsel Ford II.

Maybe the team should not run a full season beginning in 2009.

“Eddie and Len knew that the future was going to be there, now it was just a question of hanging on and how do we get there,’’ Ford said. “I think the three of us spent a lot of time strategizing, what does the long-term look like, so we’ll have to make some short-term sacrifices in order to get to the long-term. We all knew that some of these half-seasons were not what they wanted, certainly not what we wanted, but it was going to get us there.’’

But what races to skip? Len Wood examined the costs incurred at each track from hotel bills to tire bills and more. Eventually, the team decided it would be best to run the Daytona 500 and focus on tracks from 1.5 to 2.5 miles. That way they didn’t have to prepare cars for short tracks or road courses, saving costs there.

After having attempted to run every race from 1985-2008, the team ran 13 races in 2009 and 2010.

VICTORY

They met at a Steak ‘n Shake for lunch.

There sat the heirs to one of the most famous teams in NASCAR history and one of the sport’s most popular drivers. Eddie and Len Wood sat with Bill Elliott.

The Wood Brothers were aligned with Roush Fenway Racing. Through it, they acquired a couple of cars and a new crew chief when they parted ways with their crew chief late in the 2010 season. Soon after, Roush requested that Trevor Bayne drive for the Wood Brothers in the fall Texas race to be eligible for the 2011 Daytona 500. It was at that lunch the Woods told Elliott, their current driver, about the change of plans. Elliott said he’d help Bayne any way he could.

After the season, there was more talk about Bayne running for the team in 2011. He ended up in the No. 21 car for the Wood Brothers at Daytona.

Trevor Bayne celebrates after winning the 2011 Daytona 500. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Bayne’s Speedweeks did not go smoothly. A rookie, few would run with him in the tandem style of that period. Then his car was damaged in an accident on the last lap of his qualifying race. With help from Roush Fenway Racing, the team repaired the car instead of going to a backup.

The repairs were perfect. The race went beyond the scheduled 200 laps, and Bayne took the lead for the first time on Lap 203. He led the final six laps to win in just his second series start. Bayne’s victory provided one of the more memorable scenes that season when Richard Petty escorted Glen Wood to victory lane.

The feel-good moment didn’t turn into much more money. The team added a few more races in hopes of enticing sponsors to come on so it could run a full season. It didn’t happen. While the team ran 17 of 36 races that season, it would be five more seasons until there was the sponsorship and support to run a full season.

NIRVANA

Eddie and Len Wood won’t think about the possibility that in less than two months, the Wood Brothers could be champions. When you spend your life in the sport, it is dangerous to look too far ahead. Instead, focus on the what needs to be done and worry about what’s down the road when you come upon it.

Edsel Ford II can’t contain himself. For as much as he doesn’t want to look too far ahead, he smiles and his eyes widen at the thought of the Wood Brothers and Ryan Blaney winning the championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“What does nirvana look like?’’ Ford asks.

Then he answers the question.

“I think to go to Las Vegas and be with them,’’ he said of where NASCAR celebrates its champion, “it would be pretty close to nirvana for me.’’

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Appeals panel amends penalty of suspended former Xfinity crew member

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The National Motorsports Appeals Panel announced Wednesday it had amended a penalty assessed on May 9 to former Xfinity Series crew member Michael L. Hayden.

Hayden was suspended indefinitely by NASCAR after getting into an altercation with JP Motorsports owner Jerry Hataway in the infield of Dover International Speedway on May 4 and breaking his jaw.

After hearing Hayden’s testimony, the appeals panel rescinded the indefinite suspension.

Hayden is now required to pay a $1,000 fine and must immediately enroll in NASCAR’s Reinstatement Program and follow all requirements issued.

According to the Dover Police Department, Hayden, 33, and Hataway, 56, were in a “verbal argument over issues pertaining to Hayden’s employment with the team” when Hayden began punching Hataway.

Hayden later told ESPN that he was acting in self-defense.

“He came at me first,” Hayden said. “He put his hands on me first and I hit him. He kept coming after me after I had hit him. Even when we were getting separated from NASCAR officials and by people from other teams, he kept coming after me.”

The three-member appeals panel was made up of Richard Gore, Hunter Nickell and Mike Skinner.

Hayden can appeal the decision to the National Motorsports Final Appeals Officer.

 

Momentum building from some drivers to run All-Star package again

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Some Cup drivers are for trying the package used in the All-Star Race again, with one driver saying he’d be for running it again this year.

All-Star winner Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin both spoke highly this week of the racing at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“The show was better,’’ Harvick said on his SiriusXM NASCAR Radio show on Tuesday night. “Bottom line, the show was better to watch. Like I say, I don’t know that everyone can wrap around their arms around restrictor-plate racing every single mile-and-a-half race. I think the cars need to be faster. I think we need to figure out which race tracks that we want to race them on because the All-Star Race was a good test, but it wasn’t a 100 percent test of this is where we need to be and everybody just wants to jump right there.’’

As to running the package again this year, Harvick said on his show “Happy Hours” that the decision will have to come from others:

“That’s going to come down to NASCAR and the teams and whether they can financially make that happen and efficiently make that happen with the engine shops and all the people involved. The hardest thing about all of this is how do you do that. If I had to make a choice, and it was my decision, I’d love to see it on the race track in a true environment. In my opinion, we kind of dabbled something out there that everybody tried and looked really great on TV, but what’s going to happen when everybody is prepared, everybody is at the race track, there are 40 cars on the race track. What it’s going to look like then? I don’t think anybody knows.”

Hamlin is open to running the package again this season.

“As a driver, I had fun, I really did,’’ he said Wednesday after unveiling a FedEx Cares paint scheme for his car at Daytona in July.

“Didn’t have the fastest car, but at least there were moments where you had to be very strategic in what you had to do. It was a mix between a normal open race and a superspeedway. … I’d like to see it at a few other tracks. if it came this year, It would definitely be OK by me.’’

So where to run it?

“I think Michigan is the perfect race track for it honestly,’’ Hamlin said. “There’s no better track that I can think of than Michigan to have a package like this. Pocono would be another great candidate for it. Anywhere you got long straightaways where drafting could be a big factor would be a good place for this package to go.’’

The Xfinity Series is scheduled to run a similar package at Pocono (June 2) and Michigan (June 9).

If NASCAR chose to run the package in Cup at Michigan on June 10, what kind of challenge would it be for teams to make the switch?

“I think JGR and Toyota could actually do it and probably be at the forefront as anybody, but I think the engine package is probably a bigger concern,’’ said Mike Wheeler, crew chief for Hamlin, noting that engines are done further ahead of time. “I think as far as setups and tire data and areo data, we can get there pretty quickly. I’m not sure about other teams. Ultimately we didn’t have the parts to play with to do the testing beforehand. We would do that before we went there with points on the line.’’

Harvick suggested this package actually could be used elsewhere.

“I think that this would be a great Daytona and Talladega package,’’ he said. “It would be great to see the Daytona and Talladega package to be able to be the same type of package that you run at Indy, Pocono and Michigan, so that you could have the engines be able to be used. If you had to adjust the spoiler size and maybe the splitter size here and there to be able to get the speeds where you want them to be, instead of adjusting the engine, I think that would be more efficient for the teams.

“It’s still going to come down to a dollar and cents type of thing. In the end, the teams are the ones that flipped the bill to put on the show. … How do we make it efficient for the teams?’’

Richard Buck, managing director for the Monster Energy Cup Series, said “we’ve heard a lot of great response from the fans.’’

But he cautioned Wednesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio of doing too much too soon with the package.

“There’s a lot to digest there and that’s what we’ll do, we’re only a couple of days removed from the event,” he said. “There’s still a lot of data to look at. It definitely passed the eye-ball test.

“We’ll circle back with the industry. We’ve got some of the brightest minds and engineers and engines builders and manufacturers and we’ll all collectively take a look at it and start working on the details of what was good and what could be better and we’ll take that into the future for sure.’’

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NASCAR America: Hall of Fame inductees announcement at 5 p.m. ET

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The 2019 class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame will be announced tonight exclusively on NASCAR America on NBCSN.

The broadcast will air from 5 – 6:30 p.m. ET and will reveal the next five inductees into the Hall of Fame located in Charlotte, North Carolina, and the winner of the Landmark Award.

Krista Voda hosts with Kyle Petty in Stamford, Connecticut. Steve Letarte, Nate Ryan and Dave Burns join them from the Hall of Fame.

There are 20 nominees, including the new additions Jeff Gordon, Harry Gant, John Holman, Ralph Moody and Kirk Shelmerdine.

Gordon, 46, won four Cup titles and 93 races as a full-time driver from 1993-2015.

Gant, 78, competed in NASCAR from 1973-94, winning 18 races and 17 poles. He won four consecutive races in September 1991. He remains the oldest Cup winner. He was 52 years, 7 months, 6 days when he won at Michigan in August 1992. He’s also the oldest pole winner in series history. He was 54 years, 7 months and 17 days when he won the pole at Bristol in August 1994.

Shelmerdine, 60, won four championships as crew chief for Dale Earnhardt in 1986-87 and 1990-91.

Holman and Moody formed one of the sport’s most famous teams. Between 1957-73, Moody and Holman built cars that earned 83 poles and won 96 times. They won the 1968 and ’69 titles with David Pearson. Holman died in 1975. Moody died in 2004.

Here are the returning 15 nominees.

Davey Allison … 19-time Cup winner who won the 1992 Daytona 500. He was the 1987 Rookie of the Year. He died in a helicopter crash in 1993 at Talladega.

Buddy Baker … 19-time Cup winner who won the 1980 Daytona 500. He was the first driver to eclipse the 200 mph barrier, doing so in 1970.

Red Farmer … Records are incomplete but the 1956 modified and 1969-71 Late Model Sportsman champ is believed to have won well more than 700 races. Continued racing beyond 80 years old.

Ray Fox … Renowned engine builder, car owner and race official. He built the Chevrolet that Junior Johnson won the 1960 Daytona 500 driving. Fox won the 1964 Southern 500 as a car owner with Johnson as his driver.

Joe Gibbs … His organization has 148 Cup wins and four Cup titles (Bobby Labonte in 2000, Tony Stewart in 2002, 2005 and Kyle Busch in 2015).

Harry Hyde … Crew chief for Bobby Isaac when Isaac won the 1970 series title. Guided Tim Richmond, Geoff Bodine, Neil Bonnett and Dave Marcis each to their first career series win.

Alan Kulwicki … 1992 series champion who overcame a 278-point deficit in the final six races to win title by 10 points, at the time the closet margin in series history. He was the 1986 Rookie of the Year. He was killed in a plane crash in 1993.

Bobby Labonte … 2000 series champion who won 21 Cup races. He was the first driver to win an Xfinity title and a Cup championship in a career.

Hershel McGriff … Made his NASCAR debut at age 22 in the 1950 Southern 500 and ran his final NASCAR race at age 90 earlier this month in a K&N Pro Series West event. Was selected as one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998.

Roger Penske … Team owner whose organization has won 107 Cup races and one series title. Has been a car owner in auto racing for more than 50 years.

Larry Phillips … Weekly short track series driver believed to have more than 1,000 career wins. During an 11-year span, he won 220 of 289 NASCAR-sanctioned starts on short tracks.

Jack Roush … Team owner whose organization has won 137 Cup races and two series titles (Matt Kenseth in 2003 and Kurt Busch in 2004). Team has won more than 300 races across NASCAR’s three national series.

Ricky Rudd … Won 23 Cup races, including 1997 Brickyard 400. He is known most as NASCAR’s Ironman, once holding the record for consecutive starts at 788. He ranks second in all-time Cup starts with 906.

Mike Stefanik … Nine-time NASCAR champion with his titles coming in the Whelen Modified Tour and the K&N Pro Series East.

Waddell Wilson … Famed engine builder and crew chief. He supplied the power for David Pearson’s championships in 1968 and ’69 and Benny Parsons’ 1973 title. Wilson’s engines won 109 races. He won 22 races as a crew chief, including three Daytona 500 victories.

Nominees for the Landmark Award are Alvin Hawkins Sr., Barney Hall, Janet Guthrie, Jim Hunter and Ralph Seagraves.

Here are this year’s members of the voting committee.

National Motorsports Press Association (1)
1. Ben White, NMPA President

Eastern Motorsports Press Association (1)
1. Ron Hedger, EMPA President

American Auto Racing Writers & Broadcasters (1)
1. Dusty Brandel, AARWB President

Print & Digital Media (7)
1. Zach Albert, NASCAR.com
2. Jenna Fryer, AP
3. Mike Hembree, USA Today
4. Al Pearce, Autoweek
5. Nate Ryan, NBCSports.com
6. Jim Utter, Motorsport.com
7. Matt Yocum, FOXSports.com

Broadcast Partners (7)
1. Rick Allen, NBC
2. Jeff Burton, NBCSN
3. Alex Hayden, MRN
4. Jamie Little, FS1
5. Dave Moody, SIRIUS/XM
6. Doug Rice, PRN
7. Marty Smith, ESPN

Car Manufacturers (3)
1. Jim Campbell, Chevrolet
2. Edsel Ford II, Ford
3. David Wilson, Toyota

Drivers (3)
1. Ned Jarrett
2. Richard Petty
3. Ricky Rudd (recused)

Owners (3)
1. Tommy Baldwin
2. Junior Johnson
3. Eddie Wood

Crew Chiefs (3)
1. Dale Inman
2. Buddy Parrott
3. Waddell Wilson (recused)

Reigning Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion (1)
1. Martin Truex, Jr.

NASCAR Community Leaders (5)
1. Paul Brooks
2. Mike Harris
3. Tom Higgins
4. Ken Squier
5. Humpy Wheeler

Nominating Committee (24):

NASCAR Hall of Fame (2)
1. Winston Kelley
2. Tom Jensen

NASCAR officials (8)
1. Brian France
2. Jim France
3. Mike Helton
4. Brent Dewar
5. Steve Phelps
6. Steve O’Donnell
7. Jill Gregory
8. Scott Miller

ISC (3)
1. Lesa Kennedy
2. John Saunders
3. Clay Campbell

SMI (3)
1. Marcus Smith
2. Ed Clark
3. Eddie Gossage

IMS (1)
1. Tony George

Dover (1)
1. Denis McGlynn

Pocono (1)
1. Looie McNally

Historic short track operators – one representative from each track: (4)
1. Bowman Gray Operator – Dale Pinilis
2. Rockford Speedway Operator – Jody Deery
3. Holland Motorsports Park – Ron Bennett
4. West Coast Short Track Representative – Ken Clapp

Media (1)
1. Mike Joy, FOX

Fan Vote (1)

If you can’t catch the announcement on TV, watch it online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Weekend schedule for Cup, Xfinity at Charlotte Motor Speedway

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The weekend begins a day early for NASCAR teams this week. Cup and Xfinity teams will be on the track Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway in preparation for the weekend races. Those teams are on track Thursday because there is no track activity Friday before the action kicks in with the Xfinity race on Saturday and the Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday.

Austin Dillon is the defending winner of the Coca-Cola 600.

Here is this the track schedule:

(ALL TIMES EASTERN)

THURSDAY, May 24

11:30 a.m. – 9 p.m. — Cup garage open

1 – 9 p.m. — Xfinity garage open

2:35 – 3:25 p.m. — Cup practice (Fox Sports 1)

4:05 – 4:55 p.m. — Xfinity practice (FS1)

6:05 – 6:50 p.m. — Final Xfinity practice (FS1)

7:15 p.m. — Cup qualifying; multi-vehicle/three rounds (FS1, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

9 p.m. — ARCA General Tire 150; 100 laps/150 miles (FS1)

FRIDAY, May 25

No track activity

SATURDAY, May 26

6:30 a.m. — Xfinity garage opens

7:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. — Cup garage open

9:05 – 9:55 a.m. — Cup practice (FS1)

10:10 a.m. — Xfinity qualifying; multi-vehicle/three rounds (FS1)

11:05 – 11:55 a.m. — Final Cup practice (FS1)

12:15 p.m. — Xfinity driver/crew chief meeting

12:30 p.m. — Xfinity driver introductions

1 p.m. — Xfinity Alsco 300; 200 laps/300 miles (FS1, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

SUNDAY, May 27

12:30 p.m. — Cup garage opens

4 p.m. — Driver/crew chief meeting

5:20 p.m. — Driver introductions

6 p.m. — Coca-Cola 600; 400 laps/600 miles (Fox, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)