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Wood Brothers optimistic, sticking to plan

- jutter@charlotteobserver.com
Saturday, Mar. 19, 2011

BRISTOL, Tenn. – Ten years ago, the Wood Brothers ended a long winless streak in the Sprint Cup Series with a surprise victory by a young driver in the spring race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

It was supposed to be the beginning of a comeback for one of NASCAR’s legendary and most successful organizations.

Instead, another lengthy winless streak followed – spanning nearly a decade – that was snapped last month with Trevor Bayne’s stunning upset victory in the Daytona 500, in his second series start.

What lies in store for the Wood Brothers this time as Bayne makes his first Cup start at Bristol in Sunday’s Jeff Byrd 500?

Will the team contend for victories, or fall victim to the familiar problems?

Co-owner Eddie Wood believes the organization is in better position now than when Elliott Sadler won at Bristol in March 2001. That was the team’s first visit to Victory Lane in nearly eight years.

“We helped Elliott earn his first Cup win and now we did the same for Trevor. I just hope it’s not another 10 years before we win again,” Wood joked.

“Honestly, I think we are on road upwards. We’re lined up with Roush Fenway Racing with our cars and engineering, we’re in better shape after winning the 500 than we were after that win with Elliott.”

In 2001, Wood Brothers Racing was still based in Stuart, Va., and its cars were built in-house. The Woods were leasing engines from Roush then, but the organization was for the most part still operating on its own.

Since Sadler’s win, the organization had managed only 10 other top-five finishes before – 10 years later – Bayne stunned the NASCAR world with his win last month.

“I just think there are bigger and better things still coming,” Wood said. “Trevor is the real deal.”

The Wood Brothers are now based in Harrisburg, N.C., near Charlotte and get the engines and car chassis from Roush Fenway. Even Bayne has a Roush connection. He was hired by Roush to run in the Nationwide Series this season and loaned to the Wood Brothers to run about 17 Cup races this season.

A performance turnaround for the Roush teams has paid benefits for the Wood Brothers as well this season.

“Our race team is better now than it even was last year,” Wood said. “You can’t live off one race, but can build from that race, which is what we’re trying to do.”

After Bayne’s win, the team now plans to run every race at least through the April 17 event at Talladega, Ala., before taking a week off.

“We’re not going to run all the races; we’re still running a limited schedule so we can pick and choose and be super-prepared for every race we go to,” Wood said.

“On the other hand, if the money came along, we could run more races, whether it was one more or 18.

“We’re in position to do that quickly and do it well.”

So for now, the Wood Brothers and Bayne are sticking with their original plan – run when they want, where they are most prepared and with the expectation that anything is possible.

“I think that we’re making progress now. You set Daytona aside and kind of look at your steps,” said Bayne, who recently turned 20.

“We finished 17th at Texas in our first race (last year). Obviously, we crashed out of Phoenix, but then (Las) Vegas we finished 20th, so we’re consistently a top-20 team.

“Now, we just work on that and make that better to try and be a top-15 team and just gradually take those steps until you’re a top-10 team every week.”

And who’s to say that’s not possible?

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