Kansas City: Jon Wood - NASCAR spotlight

Kansas a logical place for Wood to reach next plateau. DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 3, 2002) - Jon Wood, the youngest fulltime competitor on the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, has yet to make the sudden impact that he and others had ...

Kansas a logical place for Wood to reach next plateau.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 3, 2002) - Jon Wood, the youngest fulltime competitor on the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, has yet to make the sudden impact that he and others had envisioned.

Wood, who won't celebrate his 21st birthday until October, has been grouped in that can't-miss class of"young guns" since joining the series with Roush Racing in mid-2001.

That's not to say the third-generation member of the Wood clan that has made Stuart, Va. one of NASCAR's most famous small southern towns, has fallen flat on his seat cushion.

Hardly.

Last season, Wood, driver of the No. 50 U.S. Navy Racing Ford, finished 17th in NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series points standings. Along the way, he posted a pair of top-five finishes, among them a stellar, season-closing third-place at California Speedway where he led 16 laps.

Wood, who had minimal racing experience on weekly tracks and in regional touring series before joining Roush Racing, still looks for his first top five of the 2002 campaign. He's finished among the top 10 four times, most recently in the June 29 GNC Live Well 250 in which Wood's Ford F-150 truck finished.

This week's O'Reilly 250 at 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway, however, could be Wood's coming-out party.

First, he's got as many or more laps on the track than any of his NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series rivals. Wood won the pole and finished third in last year's NASCAR Winston West Series inaugural event at Kansas Speedway, and then returned to claim fourth in NASCAR Craftsman Truck competition.

Also, Wood will be heading for a venue in which youth - and inexperience - was served in 2001. Ricky Hendrick, who Wood battled for last season's Raybestos Rookie-of-the-Year honors, won the O'Reilly 250 to become the youngest winner of a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series event at 21 years, three months.

"I fell in love with the place instantly. This is my kind of race track," said Wood, who enters the 10th of the season's 22 races ranked 11th in NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series points." It's big and fast and that's the type of racing I like the most.

"It's extremely nice to come back to a track where I know not only what to expect but also what it takes to perform well here."

Roush Racing, a part of the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series since 1996, hit it big with the first two members of its"future stars" program. Auditions tapped Greg Biffle, who won a season-record nine times in 1999 and the championship the following year.

Biffle moved to the NASCAR Busch Series, where he was Raybestos Rookie-of-the-Year in 2001 and, last Sunday at The Milwaukee Mile, won for the second time this season.

Kurt Busch also thrived on the Michigan-based team, winning four times in 2000 to finish second in points to Biffle and earn a promotion to the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. Busch enters Saturday's Pepsi 400 ninth in the standings, with a victory at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Busch's younger brother, Kyle, was supposed to partner with Wood this year. The mandatory age limit of 18 - Kyle celebrated his 17th birthday in May - will keep the Las Vegas teen out of the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series until next year. Rather than go with another driver who would be an obvious substitute for Wood, Roush decided to park the No. 99 Ford.

That's worked against Wood's learning curve, according to Max Jones, general manager of Roush's NASCAR Craftsman Truck team. Jones has faced a season of hit-and-miss opportunities.

But the tide seems to be turning. Wood recently moved to Michigan to work alongside his crew in the Livonia shop.

"The hardest thing for a young driver to learn and to really grow comfortable is communicating with the crew chief," said Jones."This year, his communication level has improved. He lives in Michigan and comes to the shop every day. So, he now has constant communication with Jeff Campey and the rest of the crew.

"But it still takes a long time to mainstream that communication and to be able to pinpoint exactly what on the truck needs improvement. The smallest details in racing are the difference between having a truck fast enough to win the pole or to start out of the top 10. John has done a good job and we will work with him to keep improving."

There will be several constants in Kansas this week. A noon start guarantees temperatures will be climbing. But that won't deter a huge contingent of fans from America's heartland from coming out and cheering on their favorite drivers.

That's another big reason that Wood - and other members of the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series family - can't wait for the green flag to drop.

"Quite possibly, Kansas Speedway has the best fans that we will see on the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series circuit," said Wood."It's the only place where you can actually hear crowd noise as you are racing down the frontstretch of the track.

"It is truly unbelievable and makes me wish that we could race every race at Kansas Speedway."

-nascar-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Truck
Drivers Greg Biffle , Kurt Busch , Ricky Hendrick , Jon Wood