Wood Brothers: The long journey toward win 100


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.”

MORE: NASCAR Power Rankings: Ross Chastain is No. 1

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.

The late Glen Wood and the American Beech tree that served as his team’s first engine hoist. (Photo by Mike Hembree)

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.

NASCAR Convertibles at Champion Speedway
Glen Wood sits in the front row (No. 21 car, left) as he prepares to start a NASCAR Convertible Division race at Fayetteville, North Carolina, in 1957 (Photo by ISC Images and Archives via Getty Images)

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.

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Axalta presents the Pocono 400
Ryan Blaney celebrates in Victory Lane after winning in the Wood Brothers No. 21 at Pocono Raceway in June 2017 (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images).

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.

Matt DiBenedetto wins NASCAR Truck race at Talladega

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Matt DiBenedetto won Saturday’s 250-mile NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Talladega Superspeedway on a day pockmarked by numerous accidents, including a major one at the finish.

As the field swept to the finish line in overtime, a multi-car crash developed as Corey Heim lost control of his truck in the trioval. Several trucks crashed approaching the finish as the caution flag flew.

NASCAR officials studied video of the final lap to determine that DiBenedetto was in front when the caution lights were turned on, although Bret Holmes appeared to beat him to the finish line by inches. When caution lights appear, the field is frozen at that point, so any position changes after the caution are irrelevant.

MORE: TalladeTalladega Truck results

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The last lap was the only one led by DiBenedetto, who has been racing in NASCAR national series since 2009 but scored his first win.

Following DiBenedetto, a non-playoff driver, at the finish were Ben Rhodes, Holmes, Ryan Preece and Christian Eckes.

With one race remaining in the Round of 8, Ty Majeski has locked in a spot in the final four at Phoenix. Chandler Smith, Zane Smith and Rhodes are above the cutline. Below the line are Stewart Friesen, Eckes, John Hunter Nemechek and Grant Enfinger.

MORE: Denny Hamlin says NASCAR needs leadership changes

A string of accidents left only two playoff drivers — Eckes and Rhodes — in the top 10 with 10 laps remaining.

Carson Hocevar dropped out of the lead group with five laps to go when he lost a tire, prompting a caution flag and pushing the race into overtime.

The race was marred by a fiery crash in the early going as Jordan Anderson‘s truck exploded in flames while running in the top five in a tight draft.

Anderson steered the truck to the inside as flames fired up on both sides of the vehicle. The truck crashed into the inside wall even as Anderson climbed from the driver-side window. He was transported to an area hospital.

On Lap 35, Lawless Alan hit the wall hard after his right front tire blew. He was evaluated and released from the infield medical center.

Another dangerous situation developed on Lap 63 as numerous trucks pitted at the same time under green. As Hailie Deegan attempted to stop in her pit, one of the crew members lost control of a tire, and it rolled into traffic and onto the grass area separating pit road from the track. A Deegan crew member chased down the tire in the grass and later was ejected from the track by NASCAR officials for a safety violation.

On Lap 79, Enfinger’s truck blew a tire and slammed the wall, starting a crash that collected Tanner Gray, Johnny Sauter and Austin Wayne Self.

Stage 1 winner: John Hunter Nemechek

Stage 2 winner: Chandler Smith

Who had a good race: Matt DiBenedetto had been waiting a very long time for this winning moment. … Alabama driver Bret Holmes almost won in front of the home crowd. He finished third.

Who had a bad race: Jordan Anderson had one of the most frightening crashes of the season, bailing out of his flaming truck after it caught fire in the middle of a pack of drafting trucks. … Playoff drivers John Hunter Nemechek (finished 24th) and Grant Enfinger (29th) had rough outings.

Next: The Truck Series is off for three weeks before racing at Homestead-Miami Speedway Oct. 22. The series’ final race is scheduled Nov. 4 at Phoenix Raceway.


Dr. Diandra: How much does Talladega shake up the playoffs?


Talladega Superspeedway is known for shaking up the playoffs. But how well deserved is that reputation?

Playoff drivers usually view the first race in the second round of the playoffs as the best chance to earn points, earn stage points and maybe even a win given that Talladega is the second race. Now that Texas is in the rear-view mirror, let’s turn our data analysis tools to Talladega.

The shake-up index

Determining how much one race shuffles the playoffs standings requires a simple metric that is applicable to all the years NASCAR has had stages and playoffs. In a rare point of consistency, Talladega has remained the 31st race of the season since 2017, when stage racing started.

After trying a couple different approaches, I finally settled on playoff rankings. These rankings are a zero-sum game. For each driver who moves up a position, another driver must move down.

The first graph is playoff ranking as a function of race for the second playoff segment of 2021. It’s a bit of a mess, but stay with me.

A scatter graph of rank changes to help determine how much shaking-up Talladega actually does

Playoff rank runs along the left side of the graph. The highest ranked driver is at the top and the 12th ranked at the bottom.

The leftmost set of dots shows the rankings coming out of Bristol, after eliminating the lowest four drivers and re-seeding the rest. The second column of dots show the rankings after Las Vegas, which was the first race in the second round in 2021.

Each driver is represented in a different color, with lines connecting his rankings. For example, the dark purple lines show Denny Hamlin rising from third to first over these three races. The light blue lines at the bottom show Alex Bowman plummeting from seventh to 12th.

The messier the lines between two races, the more the playoffs were shaken up. Because it’s hard to quantify “messiness,” I counted each time one driver’s line crossed another driver’s line.

Each crossing indicates two drivers changed places in the rankings. The number of intersections between Bristol and Las Vegas, for example, tells you how much Las Vegas shook up the standings.

Three intersecting lines count as three shake-ups because there are three pairs of drivers crossing.

In 2021, Las Vegas had nine intersections, Talladega 13 and the Roval only five. This seems consistent with our hypothesis that Talladega is the biggest shaker-upper in the second round.

Talladega Timeline

In addition to being only one point, the 2021 Talladega contest poses another problem. Bubba Wallace won the rain-shortened race, which went 311 miles instead of the scheduled 500 miles.

That raises the possibility that 2021 might not be the most representative year for Talladega races. I therefore repeated the analysis going back to 2017. Since we didn’t have stage racing — and thus stage points — before 2017, it doesn’t make sense to compare previous years.

The table below shows the shake-up index from 2017-2021. Note that the first and third races changed from year to year.

A table summarizing the shake-up index for Talladega and other races in the second playoff round from 2017-2021

This five years of data show that Talladega wasn’t always the race that most shook-up this round of playoffs. From 2017-19, Dover and Charlotte held that honor. That’s surprising, especially in 2017. That’s the year 26 of 40 cars failed to finish the Talladega race and NASCAR parked Jimmie Johnson and Matt DiBenedetto.

In 2020, the three races had just about equal shake-up indices.

The Roval has been the third playoff race for only two years. It was equally chaotic with Talladega in terms of affecting the standings in 2020, but less so in 2021. Kansas beat the Roval for switching up the playoff standings twice.

 A caveat for the first race

If you’re surprised to see a larger shake-up for the first race in the second round of the playoffs, you’re not alone.

The 2021 fall Las Vegas race was remarkably uneventful. There were only two DNFs, both non-playoff cars. And one single-car accident that, again, didn’t involve a playoff car. Yet it had a shake-up index of nine.

It turns out that this is a side-effect of the re-seeding protocol.

The graph below shows the same time period as the rankings graph, but reports total points for the top-12 drivers.

A scatter plot showing how points changed for the top-12 playoff drivers in 2021 in the second round of the playoffs

Immediately after re-seeding, the drivers are separated by 57 points from first to 12th. If you omit Kyle Larson’s 30-point lead, the bottom 11 drivers are separated by only 27 points.

Since a driver can earn a maximum of 60 points in a single race, the first race in a round has a lot more impact in changing the standings. In effect, the first race decompresses the re-seeding compression.

After Las Vegas, the 12 playoff drivers were separated by 78 points. After Talladega, the margin grew to 98 points.

The larger numbers for the first races in any round are more due to the re-seeding-induced points compression than to the nature of the track.

Applied to 2022

Drivers don’t have to win at Talladega. They just have to finish ahead of the other playoff drivers. In fact, if a given driver can’t win, the next best case for him is if none of the other playoff drivers win, either.

The largest drop in positions a driver has seen from Talladega is five — and that’s from the rain-shortened 2021 race. On the other hand, drivers have also seen as much as an eight-position gain in the standings following Talladega. That gain was after the 2017 race where more than half the field failed to finish, but at least one driver has come out of the fall Talladega race each of the last four years up at least three positions.

As far as the stats for this year’s second round playoffs so far: Last week’s Texas race had a shake-up index of 14. That’s higher than all but the first year of the stage-racing playoff era.

And the William Byron penalty (which Hendrick Motorsports is contesting) has a shake-up index of seven.

Mid-Ohio Truck starting lineup: Corey Heim wins pole


Corey Heim won the pole in the rain for Saturday’s Camping World Truck Series race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

Heim won the pole Friday with a lap of 69.181 mph. He will be joined on the front row by Parker Kligerman, who qualified at 68.869 mph.

MORE: Mid-Ohio Truck starting lineup

The second row features Carson Hocevar (68.647 mph) and John Hunter Nemechek (68.460). The third row has Matt Crafton (68.215) and Matt DiBenedetto (68.120).

The Truck race is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. ET Saturday on FS1.

Nashville Track race results: Ryan Preece wins


LEBANON, Tenn. — Ryan Preece led 74 of 150 laps to win Friday night’s Camping World Truck Series race at Nashville Superspeedway, scoring his second consecutive series win at the 1.33-mile track.

Preece won in his sixth series start of this season.

It is the second win in a row for David Gilliland Racing, which won last weekend’s race at Knoxville Speedway with Todd Gilliland.

MORE: Nashville Truck race results

Zane Smith finished second and was followed by Carson Hocevar, Ty Majeski and Stewart Friesen.

The race had eight cautions for 43 laps. Among those eliminated by an accident were Corey Heim, Grant Enfinger and Matt DiBenedetto.

Stage 1 winner: Zane Smith

Stage 2 winner: Ryan Preece

Next: The series goes to Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for the first time on July 9 (1:30 p.m. ET on FS1).