Alex Bowman is back leading the points after the National Motorsports Appeals Panel rescinded the 100-point penalty to each Hendrick Motorsports driver and team Wednesday. The Appeals Panel also rescinded the 10-point playoff to each Hendrick driver and team.
The Appeals Panel kept the $100,000 fine and four-race suspension to each Hendrick crew chief: Cliff Daniels, Alan Gustafson, Blake Harris and Rudy Fugle. All four sat out the past two races, meaning they’ll miss this weekend’s race at Richmond and next weekend’s race on the dirt at Bristol before returning the following weekend at Martinsville.
The Appeals Panel did not give a reason for its decision.
Bowman had been 16th in the standings with the 100-point penalty. He now has a 15-point lead on Ross Chastain after getting all those points back.
Byron goes from 22nd to third after getting his points back. He’s 29 points behind Bowman, 14 points behind Chastain and five points ahead of Kyle Busch. Byron also gets his 10 playoff points back for his wins at Las Vegas and Phoenix.
Larson goes from 27th to ninth with getting his points back.
“We are grateful to the National Motorsports Appeals Panel for their time and attention,” said Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports, in a statement. “Today’s outcome reflects the facts, and we’re pleased the panel did the right thing by overturning the points penalty. It validated our concerns regarding unclear communication and other issues we raised. We look forward to focusing on the rest of our season, beginning with this weekend’s race at Richmond (Raceway).”
NASCAR stated its displeasure with part of the penalty being rescinded.
“We are pleased that the National Motorsports Appeals Panel agreed that Hendrick Motorsports violated the rule book. However, we are disappointed that the entirety of the penalty was not upheld. A points penalty is a strong deterrent that is necessary to govern the garage following rule book violations, and we believe that it was an important part of the penalty in this case and moving forward. We will continue to inspect and officiate the NASCAR garage at the highest level of scrutiny to ensure a fair and level playing field for our fans and the entire garage.”
The panelists on the appeal were former driver Bill Lester, Kelly Housby and Dixon Johnston.
HAMPTON, Ga. — A look at what drivers said during and after Sunday’s Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway:
Joey Logano — Winner: “We lost our track position there for a minute, but was able to just stay patient and work on it and this amazing fast race car allowed me to really make some great moves on the racetrack and getting the push there on the last lap to get to the outside of Brad (Keselowski). Just getting to break the plane of his back bumper was gonna be my only chance there, and I was able to get him there and get the push from the 20 (Christopher Bell) on the backstretch. Overall, just a really fast Ford Mustang is what it came down to. It’s nice to win with Autotrader on the car. I don’t think I’ve ever won a race without Shell on the car. It means a lot to get this one in Victory Lane. It’s been a lot of years coming. The intensity ratcheted up, obviously. I’ve got great teammates, and I wanted to stick with them. There were plenty of times I could have moved up, but I didn’t want to leave my teammates down there. I wanted them behind me. I knew how fast their cars were. If I could pick one, that’s the one I want, so I was able to try to keep them with me. I thought with two to go the outside lane got three cars, four cars clear and I was like, ‘I don’t know if I’m gonna make it here,’ but I got a good push – enough to get to the outside of the 6, and that was the big difference.”
Brad Keselowski — Finished 2nd: “The bottom came with a huge run. I don’t know how. I thought I had it blocked. Joey just kept shaking. His car didn’t stall out. I couldn’t get the push down the back. I thought, ‘Just get a push down the back.’ The 20 car (Bell) just hauled down there. But great run all in all for the RFK King’s Hawaiian Ford Mustang. Glad a Ford won. A heck of a battle. The coolest thing about this race is two veterans showed you can run a race here side by side, bump-drafting, and not wreck the field. It can happen if you race respectfully. I thought everybody did a great job. We were right there. Proud of my team and the effort. Nothing much we could do there at the end. Night and day from where we were a year ago. 100%. Keep running like this, the good finishes and the wins will happen.”
Christopher Bell — Finished 3rd: “Got a good finish out of it, and I’m happy with that. I don’t know, I had the position the 22 (Joey Logano) had, and I decided to bail on it and go to the top. To come so close is disappointing, but very happy with a third-place result. It was a pretty smooth day really. We started in the back, and we were able to get up front and get some stage points at the end of Stage 1, so that was pretty cool. Stage 2, the green flag cycle didn’t really work our way. Ultimately, we were able to keep the DeWalt Camry clean all day and put ourselves in position at the end of the race, so that’s all you can ask for. Speedway racing is a lot about luck and, fortunately, it worked out for us at Daytona and now here.”
Corey LaJoie — Finished 4th: “It’s like this taboo, second sucks. Fourth is great. Fourth is great for our CELSIUS Camaro and our small team. Just a great points day. We started off the year, West Coast swing, really solid. To come back here, a bit of a crapshoot. To get another career best here… I don’t expect to show up and instantly win a race. You have to keep putting yourself in these positions, like Joey (Logano). That is why he wins all the time, because he’s up front all the time. As I get some more confidence, race around these guys, these guys see me up there racing with them, our day is going to come. I hope he (Logano) gives me a shout-out for pushing him — gave him a good shot there at the end. I was probably fourth or fifth in the top lane there. I had an opportunity to get down and as soon as I didn’t take it, I was like – man, that was the race. That was probably with 18 or 20 to go. That’s why these guys make millions of dollars, They’re pretty good and know where to put their car. Honestly, I think as this track gets a little more wear and abrasiveness to it, it’s going to be like old Daytona where you’re bumping and sliding around, and your car has to be fast. I felt like the track lost 10 to 15 percent of grip from last year, so handling was a big thing. You could really drive or push if you wanted to, or you could be sideways. Our Chevy drove great. We were able to pick the right lanes at the right time, just a little short.”
Tyler Reddick — Finished 5th: “We’ll try to just go back and look at it. Our Xfinity Toyota Camry TRD was as fast as the Xfinity 10 G network. We had Toyotas lined up there, and I didn’t know if that was our move there with all three together or Christopher (Bell) was going to do it on his own. We’ll talk about it, for sure. I don’t know, maybe if we all would have went it would have worked out for one of us. I’m not really sure. It didn’t really work for one of us, so it’s definitely something for us to think about so that one of us can win the race there. It’s a bummer that we let someone else get it done. There was definitely some hard work going on. Joey (Logano) was doing Joey things. He was making the bottom work really good. … I was also at the same time trying to create an opportunity where all three – myself, Christopher Bell and Denny Hamlin — could all break away and take advantage of momentum. It didn’t quite work out timing-wise as it needed to for that. All in all, it was an okay day.”
Denny Hamlin — Finished 6th: “The last pit road incident where cars are coming in and I’m coming out, that’s just part of it. The traffic jam that you get there. But speedways in general like this one, it’s just kind of two-by-two and you can’t really pull out to a third lane. I just restarted I think fourth on the outside row and that’s where I ended up. You have to stay in line and just watch the cars in front of you to see if you can make a hole. It’s just so circumstantial that you want to be able to stay as close as you can to each other to give each other runs. I thought there was one opportunity there where we all were clear and we could have all pulled down in front of the 22 (Joey Logano), and we didn’t. That probably was the key moment for us, but overall it is what it is, and it’s probably the most Toyotas we’ve had in the top 10 all year. Just have to continue to get better. We just need more speed, more handling, more everything to get a little better.”
Erik Jones — Finished 8th: “Just looking at the day, I thought we were just stuck farther back. It was just hard to pass. We didn’t qualify good, so it just took a while for us to get up there, and we never really did, and then we got in a crash there. Happy to get a top 10 for the No. 43 Allegiant Chevy. We needed that. We just needed a good finish. We haven’t had one this year, so it was nice to do that. I hope we keep it rolling. We just kind of squeaked that one out there at the end with some stuff working out on the last two laps for us. But happy with that, proud of that. Glad we can hopefully get some momentum going and keep rolling.”
Ty Gibbs — Finished 9th: “I feel like from where we started to where we finished, we made really good progression. The team, my 54 group, never gave up on me, and we had great stops all day. We had a very fast Monster Energy Toyota Camry TRD, just ran out of laps there. Probably could have worked our way up a little bit and been more aggressive, but it just comes with experience, but we’re plate racing and that’s just part of it and just learning and we’ll move on and go to the next race.”
Kyle Busch — Finished 10th: “We had a decent day. Our No. 8 Lenovo Camaro was fast enough. I think there were probably 20 of them that were fast enough. It was just a matter of positioning yourself and getting positioned there toward the end. I got shuffled out to around 16th and then made our way back into the top 10. Tried to make a move there with four to go on the outside and just hit a block or a wall of air and just slowed up. Top-10 finish. We’ll take that and head to COTA.”
Noah Gragson — Finished 12th: “It was a smooth, solid day for the No. 42 Sunseeker Resorts Chevy team. I felt pretty competitive running in the top 10 or 15 throughout the race. Really felt like we had a decent shot, we were just a little too far back there at the end to really make anything happen. But solid execution and solid job by everyone on the No. 42 Legacy Motor Club Chevy team.”
AJ Allmendinger — Finished 16th: “I thought we made the best of it. We got a little bit of damage in one of the wrecks, and that probably didn’t help our speed, but we were just lacking speed in general, which made it tough for us to make moves and we kinda got stuck. Pit stops were really good, strategy was really good. We did everything right and the car handled well, just got stuck there in pack racing and we didn’t have a lot of raw speed in the car. We just tried to make the best there with what we had and we got out with a clean race car.”
Josh Berry — Finished 18th: “I thought it was a solid day for the No. 9 NAPA Chevy. I feel like we definitely improved. We got up there in the top 10, and we were pretty solid before that wreck. After that, the car was just a little too damaged to be too aggressive. All-in-all, we finished the race, learned a lot and had some fun.”
Bubba Wallace — Finished 27th: “Long hard-fought day. Proud of our team for never giving up and getting us past the checkered. Onward to Texas.”
Aric Almirola — Finished 30th: “I’m OK. It knocked the wind out of me, mostly because it caught me by surprise, but I’m OK. I blew a tire. I just blew a tire. I have no idea why. We had way less laps on that set of tires than we had earlier, so I don’t know.”
Kyle Larson — Finished 31st: “There was nowhere to go. Nobody had been having tire issues, so I wasn’t even expecting the No. 10 (Aric Almirola) to have a tire issue in front of me. Even if I did, I didn’t have time to react. It’s a bummer. Just frustrating. I was finally up front on this style of race track and still end up with a DNF. I don’t know, just frustrating.”
William Byron — Finished 32nd: “It was superspeedway-type racing. I thought, for the most part, it was pretty single-file all day. That was a little discouraging because the bottom lane wouldn’t really go that much. But as we all started to save fuel on the top, the bottom started to surge there. It looked like the No. 1 (Ross Chastain) and the No. 4 (Kevin Harvick) just got connected there into Turn 1 and got the No. 4 loose. It’s just part of racing. That’s the way it goes — not really in our control. We were up there running in the top five and doing what we needed to do.”
Kevin Harvick — Finished 33rd: “I think he (Ross Chastain) just caught me so quick right there in the middle of the corner, and then he kind of was up on the right rear part of the corner and he came back down and when he came back down it just spun the thing out. I don’t think he actually even hit me, but it started chattering the rear tires, and then I was just along for the ride.”
Harrison Burton — Finished 34th: “I don’t even know what caused our wreck. I was looking back and forth between the windshield and the mirror trying to block people from being aggressive and taking you in the middle of three-wide. I looked back and forth, and by the time I looked back they were wrecking in front of me. It’s just one of those deals. It was such a frustrating deal. I feel like our qualifying effort was not very good, obviously. I about crashed in qualifying, but I felt really good about our car in the race, but I just could not gain track position to maintain it. It’s really, really hard to leapfrog your way forward a lot of spots. It’s just frustrating how that worked out. Once you’re back there, you’re bound to get pushed into all the wrecks for sure.”
Chris Buescher — Finished 35th: “First off, our Violet Defense Ford Mustang was really fast, and I’m proud of everybody for that. I made a mistake on pit road by getting a speeding penalty, and that put us back in the field. We drove back up to third. The speed was there, and we were doing it without unnecessary pushes in the center of the corner. I haven’t seen a replay to know exactly what happened, but I’ve got a pretty good feeling.”
It was Berry’s first Cup race in two years and his first time in the Next Gen car. While the other Hendrick cars finished 1-2-3 that day, Berry placed 29th, hindered by a throttle issue.
As Earnhardt tried to sleep early Monday morning, the JR Motorsports team owner and NASCAR on NBC Sports analyst said he “worried about whether (Berry) would get another chance at Phoenix in (Elliott’s) car. That’s the friend in me wanting the best for him, wanting him to have another shot to redeem himself.”
Earnhardt said that the mechanical issue with Berry’s car meant Berry “didn’t get a chance to prove what he could do.”
“I couldn’t have been more thrilled,” Earnhardt told NBC Sports about when car owner Rick Hendrick and Hendrick Motorsports Vice Chairman Jeff Gordon told him that Berry would run more races in Elliott’s car.
Berry is a driver Earnhardt has bet on. They met racing online and became friends. When Berry moved to North Carolina, he lived with Earnhardt’s mother and her husband. Berry is as close to being family without sharing the same last name.
When Elliott won the Richmond Xfinity race for JRM in September 2015, Earnhardt spent nearly as much time in the post-race press conference talking about Berry, who finished seventh in his lone start of the season with the team.
“I’m ready to race Josh every week,” Earnhardt said that night. “We’ve just got to find a partner.”
It didn’t happen.
Berry ran three Xfinity races in 2016 and one in 2017, while continuing to run Late Models. He wasn’t back in the Xfinity Series until 2021. Earnhardt put Berry in the No. 8 car to run 12 of that season’s first 15 Xfinity races before Sam Mayer turned 18 years old and took over the ride.
“I felt like I had watched my own son or brother win a race,” Earnhardt said.
That victory started conversations with sponsors and led to Berry returning to JRM in 2022. He reached the championship race, finishing fourth that year and gained more sponsors to fund another year with JR Motorsports.
As for next year, Earnhardt has high hopes for Berry, who has drawn interest from Cup car owners.
That’s why Earnhardt was worried if Berry would get another chance in Elliott’s car after Las Vegas.
“Vegas didn’t go the way we hoped,” Earnhardt said. “With these people that are interested in Josh for next year, whoever’s looking at him, I badly, dearly wanted him to have another shot at Phoenix so he could somewhat improve on what he did. … I was just terrified that Josh wasn’t going to get that chance and would he ever.
“He was telling me, he said, ‘Man, I was riding around there those last 50 laps thinking these might be the last laps I run in a Cup car ever in my life.’”
Earnhardt said he could relate. He recalls being among one of 15 drivers who failed to make the 1997 fall Charlotte Busch Series race. He crashed in practice and his team didn’t have a backup car. Earnhardt said he worried about his future in the sport.
“I went home and I sat on the couch, and I thought my racing career was over,” he said. “I was never going to make it outside a Late Model stock car. I was convinced that it was over.
“Drivers, we go on these massive roller coasters. Obviously, the reality of the situation is different, but we take it way, way lower than it has to go. We take the highs way, way higher than they have to go or should go.
“That’s where I was (early Monday). I was sitting there going, ‘God I hope he gets a chance.’ I don’t know what Hendrick is thinking. I don’t know what they might be looking at. I know that people are wondering why he didn’t run better at Vegas.”
“(Drivers in the CARS Tour) can at least sit there and think, man, if I can go out here and I win this race, with all the people that are watching on Flo (Racing) and all the people that are now tuned into a series like this because of the investment we’ve made … the right person might notice.
“While that path that Josh went on is unlikely for a lot of people, there’s still that chance. There is at least a glimmer of hope that if they do enough, the right person is going to mention their name and their name starts cycling into the conversation.
“If a Mark Martin or Harvick or anybody was to positively comment on any of these drivers at the grassroots levels on social media, that introduces that driver to everybody that sees that comment. They’re now in the pipeline of the discussion of who should we be paying attention to, who’s a good guy that deserves a chance.”
For now, the focus is on Berry and what he’ll be able to do in Elliott’s car. Earnhardt can’t wait to see what’s next for Berry.
“My hope is that by the end of this year he’s got a deal for next year at the Cup level with someone,” Earnhardt said. “That would be the best-case scenario.
“JR Motorsports, even if we were going Cup racing, I would be hesitant to make Josh have to deal with that growth and building that program. He’s 32 years old. He’s Cup ready.”
2. Fill-in experience
David Ragan understands better than most what Josh Berry is likely to experience in his fill-in role for Chase Elliott.
The injuries sidelined Busch for 11 Cup races. Ragan drove Busch’s No. 18 car for nine of those events, scoring a fifth-place finish at Martinsville for Joe Gibbs Racing.
When Busch returned, he won five races on the way to the first of his two Cup championships.
Ragan, who does wheel-force testing, simulator development and driver coaching for Ford these days, understands the challenges for any fill-in driver to excel with an elite team.
“What I would encourage Josh to do,” Ragan told NBC Sports, “is to take this opportunity to learn and to enjoy it, but also remember that you’re just keeping that team rocking and rolling.You are keeping them moving forward so when Chase comes back, he will be 100 percent and the team still will be 100 percent.”
Ragan points to his fifth-place finish at Martinsville as a key example from that 2015 season. When the series returned to Martinsville in the playoffs, Busch finished fifth, better than he had placed in his previous three races at the short track.
“I remember Kyle texted me after that race, ‘Thank you for all the things you did in the spring because it helped us today,’” Ragan said. “That kind of made me proud … I felt like the effort that I put in six months earlier, it allowed them to not miss a beat and they ended up running well in the fall at that same track.”
Ragan admits it took a little time for him to feel comfortable in how he fit in with the team until a conversation with crew chief Adam Stevens.
“I was a little hesitant the first several weeks to really criticize the car or to say certain things because you just didn’t know how they would take it, and I didn’t really know my role just yet,” Ragan said. “After the first couple of weeks, Adam was like, ‘Look, you’re the driver. You tell us if the thing is not driving good. You feel free to talk to me about the pit crew. Feel free to talk to me about what setup direction we’re going to unload at a racetrack.’”
Communication between a driver and crew chief can be critical to a team’s success. How long it takes for a driver and crew chief to work together varies. That adds a challenge for a fill-in driver.
“I think the crew chief is certainly going to put in some extra effort into that communication,” Ragan said. “It took me a few weeks to relax and take a deep breath. The newness was pretty intense those first couple of weeks.
“You’re stepping into one of the most well-known cars in the circuit and replacing one of the most well-known drivers. It’s a fast car.
“You do have a lot that could make you nervous, but, at the end of the day, you take a deep breath and remind yourself as a driver, they chose me for a reason, I need to go do my job and be who I am.”
3. SHR’s start of the season
Kevin Harvick heads into Sunday’s race at Phoenix Raceway third in the season standings. No other Stewart-Haas Racing driver is in the top 20 in points after three races.
Chevrolets have been strong, winning the first three races: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Daytona 500), Kyle Busch (Auto Club) and William Byron (Las Vegas). Fords have struggled. Stewart-Haas Racing, other than Harvick, has not had strong results.
Aric Almirola is 21st in the points, Ryan Preece is 31st and Chase Briscoe is 32nd. Almirola and Preece have each failed to finish two races because of accidents. Briscoe has failed to finish one race because of an accident. Almirola’s best finish this season is 16th, Briscoe’s best result is 20th and Preece’s best finish is 23rd.
Asked about what’s happened among the Fords, Harvick said:
“I think everything is kind of a crapshoot right now for us because our cars are a little bit different than what it was before. We raced in the top five at California and Daytona most of the day, so Vegas wasn’t spectacular and we raced seventh to 10th all day.
“I think we have some things that we need to work on on the 4 car and try to get our balance right and do some things differently than what we did last year based upon the balance of the race cars and the things that we’ve done, but sometimes you just have to survive the West Coast swing and get home and start working on your cars.
“You’ve got what you’ve got is basically what I’m telling you until you get back to Atlanta and start working on things. Atlanta is kind of a unique racetrack, but we definitely have a few things to work on, but, really, in the end, it looks pretty similar to what the Chevrolets had last year when we started the season.”
4. A long time ago …
Kevin Harvick has scored 19 consecutive top-10 finishes — including six wins — at Phoenix. The last time Harvick did not finish in the top 10 there was March 3, 2013, when he placed 13th in what was the season’s second race.
That race was won by Carl Edwards. Thirty-three of the 43 drivers in that field no longer compete full-time in Cup.
In that race, Harvick raced against the fathers of three sons he now races against in Cup: Jeff Burton (son Harrison), Dave Blaney (son Ryan) and David Gilliland (son Todd).
After starting on the pole, Chandler Smith led 118 of 200 laps in last weekend’s Xfinity race at Las Vegas but was passed for the lead by Austin Hill with two laps to go.
Smith went on to finish a career-high third in just his sixth series start. Hill won his second race of the year.
To have had the dominant car and lead 53 laps in a row before losing the lead so close to the end can be devastating.
Kaulig Racing President Chris Rice used lessons he learned two years ago in how he approached Smith after the race.
Rice pointed to the September 2020 Xfinity race at Darlington that Ross Chastain, driving for Kaulig at the time, finished second. Chastain lost the lead to Denny Hamlin with less than two laps to go, but Hamlin hit the wall and Chastain ran into the back of him, allowing Brandon Jones to win.
“(Chastain) had a heck of a race,” Rice told NBC Sports, recalling that Darlington race. “It was devastating for him because he had tried all year to win and finished second quite a few times. He kind of taught me how to deal with that situation.
“(At Las Vegas) I basically told Chandler, ‘You’ve got to lose them before you win them. Don’t be negative, be positive. … At the end of the day it’s only three races in. You’ve been a competitor and competing for the win each time. That’s the positive.’
“We’ve got to remember he’s 20 years old and he’s run six Xfinity races.”
Inside the Wood Brothers Racing hauler last month in the Daytona International Speedway garage area, oblivious to the orchestra of noise outside, Eddie Wood is flipping through a NASCAR history book.
On so many of the pages, it is as much a Wood family album as a NASCAR history. This is because Wood Brothers Racing and NASCAR have enjoyed parallel lives and storied peak moments. Eddie Wood participated in many of them, remembers most of the others and has studied the history behind the ones that predate his birth.
Wood Brothers Racing started before NASCAR, helped to create NASCAR’s brand and style, won its biggest race five times and provided a driver’s seat for an honor roll of motorsports’ biggest names.
“There’s Tiny in 1963,” Wood said, pointing to a photo of Tiny Lund on the way to winning the Daytona 500 that year. The same colors – red and white, with the bold number 21 on the side, a number that also would carry Cale Yarborough, A.J. Foyt, David Pearson and Trevor Bayne to victories in the 500.
“And Pearson driving for us in ’74,” Wood said, “and there’s the big finish in ’76, and Neil Bonnett winning for us at Dover in 1981. So many things to remember. Great drivers, great times.”
Perhaps most striking in Eddie Wood’s ride through this particular piece of NASCAR history is a photo of his father, Glen, the team’s founder, sitting in the 21 for the start of a NASCAR Convertible Division race in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Glen was a lumberman, a lover of fast cars and a pioneer of motorsports. The team he built with his first fast engine, Ford parts and pieces and shade-tree (literally) mechanical skills drives on today, in search of historic team win No. 100.
The Wood Brothers team began in the front yard of the family’s modest home near Stuart, Virginia. The mountain valley where the Woods – Walter and Ada, their sons Glen, Ray Lee, Clay, Delano and Leonard, and their daughter, Crystal, lived is known as Buffalo Ridge. There, in the yard of the farmhouse, grows a huge American Beech tree, and it was the sturdy lower limb of that tree that held the chain that was used to pull the engine from the brothers’ first race car.
In those early days, the brothers had no workshop. They tinkered with cars under the Virginia blue sky. Eventually, a series of shops were built, even as Glen recorded the team’s first NASCAR wins and it became evident that more money could be made at the racetrack than the family sawmill.
Over the years, the wins came in bunches as the No. 21 hosted a string of successful drivers: Dan Gurney, Marvin Panch, A.J. Foyt, Curtis Turner, Cale Yarborough, David Pearson, Neil Bonnett, Kyle Petty, Dale Jarrett and, most famously in recent years, a kid named Trevor Bayne.
Bayne stunned everybody, including himself, by winning the 2011 Daytona 500 for the Woods, an upset of epic proportions for a relatively obscure driver who had turned 20 years old only a day before the race. A wild celebration followed, and Glen Wood, then 85 years old, almost missed it.
Richard Petty, a driver and team owner who went fender-to-fender with the Woods across so many years but also treasures their friendship, tells that story best.
“I wound up near the Woods’ pit when the race was over,” Petty remembered. “All of their crowd went to the winner’s circle. Glen was just sitting there. They left him. I said, ‘Glen, do you want to go to the winner’s circle?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ ”
Petty escorted Wood to Victory Lane, two old racers on the way to NASCAR holy ground. Petty knew the process. He won the Daytona 500 a record seven times as a driver.
“So that’s how Glen got in there and got to celebrate, too, and it’s why I wound up there,” Petty said.
That circle remains unbroken today. Glen Wood died in 2019 at the age of 93, but his brother, mechanical wizard Leonard, and Glen’s sons, Eddie and Len, remain close with the extended Petty family, a bond that became even tighter in the years (1985-88) Kyle Petty, Richard’s son, drove for the Woods.
“We always respected what Leonard and them were able to do, being up there in the country away from everybody else,” Richard Petty said. “We knew we had to outrun the 21. They knew they had to outrun the 43. We were both family operations, and we knew each other. My wife and kids would be in the infield, and so would theirs. We’d eat with each other. It was a friendly but competitive thing.”
Walk around today’s Cup garage and talk to any number of old-timers long gone from the weekly grind, and there is deep respect for the Woods, their history and their “good guys” posture in the racing community. And, despite the fact that success has been rare in recent years, many fans cling to the aura of the No. 21 with the gold numbers and the golden history.
Even in years when the team did not run the full schedule, choosing to focus on races with bigger payouts, the Woods usually raced at Martinsville Speedway, their “home” track. Clay Campbell, the track’s president, worked to make that happen.
“We always tried to work with them,” Campbell said. “We were the only short track they ran for a long time. We didn’t want to have a Cup race at Martinsville without the Wood brothers, considering all that they meant to NASCAR and to Martinsville. It was a bad look if we didn’t have them. So, we did a deal with them. They realized, too, the significance of running Martinsville. It was a win-win for both of us with them being just up the road in Stuart.
“They’re such an integral part of how this sport got to where it is. Leonard, Glen, Eddie, Len, the entire family — they’ve done so much. When you talk about the history of NASCAR, you’re not going to talk long before you talk about the Wood brothers.”
Dale Jarrett drove for the team in 1990 and ’91, scoring the first of his 32 Cup wins in the No. 21 at Michigan in 1991. He remembers being absorbed quickly into the Wood family, including mandatory visits to the home of Glen and his wife, Bernece, for lunches. The food came from Glen’s garden, one he tended until his final months.
“You felt like when you went to work for them you literally were part of their family,” Jarrett told NBC Sports. “They included you in everything they did. You had to look around and understand how much knowledge was there. They had seen and done a lot of things. There were things they had come up with that had changed the sport, but they also were quick to adapt to things that they saw others doing.
“You really do become part of their family. Still to this day, Eddie and Len are some of the best friends I have in the world. I can always count on them.”
This is echoed by Ryan Blaney, who, like Jarrett, drove the No. 21 to his first career win, this one coming at Pocono Raceway in 2017.
“Those years were a blast, an absolute pleasure,” Blaney told NBC Sports. “Working with Eddie and Len and getting to know Leonard. Just being around those guys and talking about how the sport has evolved and changed – it’s such a pleasure. I always go down to where they are in the garage and see them and find out what’s going on.”
The only negative point to Blaney’s 2017 victory with the Woods is that the No. 21 has not visited Victory Lane in the six years since that win. Through drivers Paul Menard (2018-19), Matt DiBenedetto (2020-21) and Harrison Burton (2022-current), the Woods’ win counter has been locked at 99.
The 100th victory will be cause for major celebration within the family, within the larger Ford motorsports community and, to a large degree, up and down pit road. The chase for that checkered flag isn’t talked about that often (bad luck and all, you know, to do that), and Eddie Wood runs far away from any thought that there might be “Wood Brothers 100th Win” caps or other paraphernalia sitting around waiting for the win.
“You’ll jinx yourself,” he said.
“You just can’t go win a race. Winning a race always has been hard, but it’s really hard now. For everybody. I think you just have to put it all together. It has to be the right day. The right things have to happen. You have to be there at the end.”
Burton, in his second full season of Cup racing after scoring four wins in the Xfinity Series, said win 100 is there for the taking. “For me, it’s week in and week out doing our job,” he said. “If we control what we can control, we’re capable of winning a Cup race. We just have to prove it. Obviously, there’s a lot of pressure to get that. I want it for the Wood brothers. They deserve it.”
When that moment arrives, the history book, and the stuffed memory banks of everyone who has had contact with Wood Brothers Racing across the years, will have another page.