By admin | February 8, 2009
By Richard Allen
Last year, Wood Brothers Racing and driver Bill Elliott missed the Daytona 500. This year, Elliott was the fastest car in both pre-qualifying practice sessions and posted the fifth fastest speed in Sundayâ€™s time trials. The significance of Elliottâ€™s speed is that he was the fastest of the so called go or go-homers, and thus, is now locked into NASCARâ€™s premier event.
What has brought about this increase in speed?
There are any number of factors that could possibly explain the sudden resurgence of one of NASCARâ€™s legendary teams and of NASCARâ€™s all time fastest driver. Body modifications and wind tunnel testing are always essential in preparing a fast car for the super speedways in Daytona and Talladega.
Any number of other refinements and massages can be performed on these temperamental machines to squeeze a few tenths of a second out of a run, which could mean the difference in qualifying or going home. Even weather conditions could play a role.
While it is possible, it is hard to imagine that the Wood Brothers have some aerodynamic edge with their Ford that powerful Roush Fenway Racing, with their team of engineers, does not have.
One other possibility could also explain the new found speed. Could it be that Ford is putting its new engine through its paces by giving it the best test of all, running in an actual race?
Last month a few details were released about the â€˜FR9â€™. It is the first purpose built NASCAR racing engine ever to come from Ford.
Yates Racing does virtually all of Fordâ€™s race engine development. Doug Yates, the owner of Yates Racing, stated last month that it is not his intention to rush the FR9 into anything and that the engine would probably not make its debut until the second half of the 2009 season.
However, Wood Brothers Racing is only planning to run a limited schedule this season. For them, if given a choice the decision to use the new power plant would seem to be a no brainer. If the engine has demonstrated that it can produce more horsepower on the dyno, then why not give it a try?
Points are not a concern for a team only scheduled to compete in 12-15 races. If some extra power could be provided it would certainly seem worth the risk, even if the engine has not yet proven its durability.
The Woods have also said they have received a good deal of help from Ford this off season. That could be a significant clue as to whether or not the new engine is being put to use.
The engine requires new engine mounts and changes to the chassis to accommodate the new mounts. So, if the Woods are using the FR9 the chassis will have had some modifications to fit the engine into the car.
If in the many hours of television coverage during Speed Weeks we see that the Woods are particularly guarded when it comes to allowing cameras near the front of the #21 car, that could be another significant clue.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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