Wood Brothers still part-time -- for now
February 09, 2014, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com
In the mid-2000s, when a sponsorship squeeze led some race teams to merge with one another or take on partners in order to survive, one of the sport's oldest organizations took the opposite approach. In a move urged by its manufacturer partner, Wood Brothers Racing scaled back to part-time -- a decision that's kept the historic franchise on the race track, and netted a Daytona 500 victory three years ago.
The Woods will continue that trend in 2014, where the team's famous red and white No. 21 car will compete in 12 Sprint Cup Series events with Trevor Bayne once again behind the wheel. But the 64-year-old organization continues to make inroads toward returning to full-time status, something it might find itself forced to consider should Bayne pull another shocker in The Great American Race.
"We would be really love to be back full-time," said team co-owner Eddie Wood. "With so much emphasis now on the championship with the Chase … we work toward getting back full-time all the time. My kids Jon and Jordan, they do a lot of research and try to generate marketing strategies, and we're open to anything to find more funding."
Particularly given NASCAR's move to revamp the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, which has been expanded to 16 drivers, and will almost certainly accommodate everyone who wins a race. Since playoff hopefuls must attempt to qualify for all 36 points races and remain in the top 30 in the standings to be eligible, a potential sixth Daytona 500 victory for the Woods would demand some hard decisions about whether to accelerate full-time plans.
"That would change the game a little bit," Wood said. "If you're fortunate enough to say, win the Daytona 500, then you’d figure out a way to do it. But that would be huge."
As far as infrastructure and support, Wood said the team is more prepared for an expanded schedule than its current limited slate might indicate. The Woods have 30 people working in their Charlotte-area shop, and receive cars from Roush Fenway Racing and engines from Roush-Yates. With support from Ford and its Motorcraft brand, the team has purchased four new race cars. Its over-the-wall crew will be the group that pits the No. 43 Nationwide Series car each weekend at Ford stable mate Richard Petty Motorsports, and crew chief Donnie Wingo receives technical information from Roush whether he's at the track or not.
"The engineering and data that happens on a particular weekend, Donnie has that live whether it's in the shop, or on his phone, or at home," Wood said. "So we're the same as being there, we're just not there. We've got all the information and all the input, and know what's going on live. It's like real-time. So it's really not a disadvantage in that sense. You just don’t get to go."
The missing piece is funding. Wood said the team is open to using other drivers in the No. 21 car beyond Bayne, should they bring some sponsorship to the table that would help Wood Brothers expand its schedule. Jon and Jordan Wood send out "half a dozen proposals a week," to prospective sponsors, he added, some of which have shown interest.
"We're getting calls back," Eddie Wood said. "It's getting better, and there are some new sponsors coming in. But for us, people are calling back now, and asking questions, and asking for more information. We've got a couple of things working, knock on wood. They may or may not happen, but we got close to some things in the offseason for half a dozen more races or something like that. We couldn’t go jump right back into all the races in one year like right now. If you knew you had the funding to do it in '15, yeah, you could. You'd need a lot of buildup time. But we could run 20 to 25 races easily with the people we've got."
For now, though, a team with 98 career victories remains a part-time competitor, limiting its schedule to the restrictor-plate tracks and fast intermediate venues where it has the best chance for success. Although Bayne also races the full Nationwide slate for Roush, the limited Sprint Cup schedule brings some challenges from a driver's perspective. After Daytona, he'll be in the No. 21 car just twice -- at Las Vegas and Texas -- before the next plate race at Talladega. Late in the year, he'll go nine weeks at one point in between starts.
Drivers who compete on a weekly basis are able to lean upon trends that help them better identify what setup packages fit them best. For Bayne, those trends don’t necessarily exist, so he has to use practice time to find comfort levels that full-time drivers might have established weeks ago. And because the No. 21 car usually has to make the event on speed, the Woods must carve out even more practice time for qualifying, all while the competition is working on getting better for the race.
"We spend the majority of our practice doing one-lap, two-lap runs, and then when it gets to race practice time, we kind of have to rely on the information we have, which makes it extremely tough," Bayne said. "If we have a little more speed this year and don't have to worry about qualifying as much, especially with the new (group) format, if that plays to our advantage them we could spend more time in race practice, and that would extremely help our races."
And yet, every week the Woods are at the race track, Eddie Wood said, they're there operating as if they're running every race. The limited schedule doesn't lower the team's competitive goals, as evidenced by a test the No. 21 car took part in this past week at Talladega.
"We still have an opportunity to win races," Bayne said. "These guys really believe in our superspeedway program. … It's kind of an even playing field there. The thing that Donnie and I will work on is just communication, because we pretty much race once a month, and that makes it a little bit more challenging. But we know that. We know what we’re up against, and we know our strengths and our weakness, and we'll try to make more of this season to where we can contend for those top-10s and top-15s, and then that leads to those top-fives and wins that you're looking for."