For most of the 62 years that the Wood Brothers have been competing in NASCAR, races truly were a test of man and machine. Often in the early days, components would fail and cars wouldn’t finish races. It was an accomplishment just to be running at the end of a 500-mile grind.
In recent years, the cars have become almost indestructible from a mechanical standpoint, but Donnie Wingo, the crew chief of the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion, said this weekend’s Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway could become a real test of engines.
The NASCAR rules implemented to limit two-car tandem racing have made overheating a big concern. Heat was on Wingo’s mind back at Daytona in February and even more so this week.
“At Daytona, it was cool and at night,” Wingo said. “We’ve got the same package at Talladega, and the temperature is going to be in the low 90s.” Wingo said that even though he doesn’t expect any heat-building tandem racing until the closing laps, he believes that even running in the pack could make temperatures rise.
“You’re going to really have to take care of the car and the motor,” he said. “The heat is going to be an unknown for all of us.”
Wingo’s far more upbeat about the car he’s taking to Talladega. It’s the same Fusion the team ran in the Daytona 500. It was fast there, but driver Trevor Bayne was involved in a Lap 2 crash, ending any hopes the team had of repeating as Daytona 500 winners.
“It’s all fixed up,” Wingo said. “I feel really good about it.”
For Bayne, having fast cars at Daytona and Talladega has become almost a given.
“The Wood Brothers always have fast cars at the superspeedways,” he said. “I just have to make sure that we make it to the end. Having a fast car is half of the battle.”
But the first step for Bayne and the Wood Brothers team is securing a starting spot for Sunday. Because they run a limited schedule, the Woods are not among the top 35 in car owner points and therefore not assured of a starting berth.
But Wingo said he believes that’s one hurdle the team should clear.
“I’m pretty confident,” he said. “Barring any unforeseen issue, we should be fine.”