NASCAR Race Weekend Central

2010 NASCAR Driver Review: Bill Elliott

Bill Elliott

2010 Rides: No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford (12 races), No. 26 Latitude 43 Motorsports Ford (1 race)
2010 Primary Sponsors: Motorcraft, Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center (No. 21), Air National Guard (No. 26)
2010 Owners: Eddie Wood, Glen Wood (No. 21), Bill Jenkins (No. 26)
2010 Crew Chiefs: David Hyder (thru 10/8), Donnie Wingo (10/8 – end of season) (No. 21); Frank Stoddard (No. 26)
2010 Stats: 13 starts, 0 wins, 0 top fives, 0 top 10s, 0 poles, one lap led, 41st in points

High Point: Race 36. Elliott and the Wood Brothers race team qualified a surprising fourth at Homestead-Miami Speedway, hung around in the lead pack for most of the race, and then fought valiantly (almost defiantly) with points contender Denny Hamlin to keep the 14th position, before giving it up just before the checkered flag. Elliott ran with the frontrunners and didn’t need a fluke fuel-mileage race to do it – not a bad accomplishment for a small, underfunded team.

Low Point: The October Charlotte race. After starting 37th, Elliott had no chance to move forward. He had to bring the No. 21 to the garage early in the race, because the engine kept turning off. The crew spent multiple laps in the garage with frustration obviously pouring through Elliott and new crew chief Donnie Wingo. They finally fixed the problem, but Elliott ended the night 37th. To make matters worse, ESPN crews never acknowledged the former champion driver and team’s problems, instead focusing solely on covering The Chase.

Summary: Elliott and the Wood Brothers’ second year running a part-time schedule was an up-and-down one. A disappointing run in the Daytona 500 was followed by a promising 16th-place finish in the March Atlanta race, the only event that he led a lap (which brought a bunch of cheers in the No. 21 pit). Every other race the team ran through the year led to a finish outside the top 20, except for the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis (18th) and the aforementioned Homestead race (15th).

Besides being underfunded and armed with less-experienced engineers and an aging driver, the No. 21 team’s biggest disadvantage was the spots it lost on pit road. Elliott often would start races in a good spot, but immediately fall to mediocrity after the first set of pit stops and put him and the team in a deficit they could not erase.

As the season of mediocrity wore on, Elliott started 11th and finished 25th at Kansas Speedway on October 3rd. Five days after that race, David Hyder left the team for greener pastures and ceded the spot atop the No. 21 pit box to Donnie Wingo, who had recently been displaced as crew chief of David Ragan and the No. 6 team. With the No. 21 team not attending Talladega, Latitude 43 Motorsports hired Elliott and his 1988 Cup champion’s provisional to drive the No. 26 Ford for the race.

Elliott ran in the back of the pack for a large portion of the race before receiving damage in a wreck with Clint Bowyer, Marcos Ambrose and Kevin Harvick. The No. 26 team, often a start-and-park outfit, opted not to fix the damage and Elliott finished 41st.

The Wood Brothers team also decided to give youth a chance a Texas Motor Speedway, allowing 19-year-old Trevor Bayne, recently added to Ford’s lineup of drivers at Roush Fenway Racing, the chance to make his Sprint Cup debut. Bayne finished an impressive 17th and Elliott sat that race out, but returned two weeks later for his strong finish at Homestead-Miami Speedway two weeks later.

2010 Team Ranking: First, though the Ford teams are a small unit and operate as one large consortium. The Wood Brothers team, the only part-time outfit in the bunch, does sometimes run experimental parts and setups, like the new FR9 engine, which can add an even further competitive disadvantage to its fate.

Off the Track: Elliott’s life away from the race track can be summed up in two words: Chase Elliott. The recently-turned 15-year-old is setting the Southern asphalt short-track world on fire. After a breakthrough year in pro late models in 2009, Elliott transitioned to super late models in 2010 and ran in both classes, along with the USA Racing Series. Overall, with his dad as a spotter at most races, Chase won over a dozen races and looks positioned for a run at NASCAR once he reaches the age minimum of 18 in late 2013.

Outside of Chase’s short-track success, Elliott’s crew chief and brother Ernie from the No. 9 super team of the 1980s was inducted into the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame. At Jefferson, Ga.’s Gresham Motorsports Park, where Elliott’s other brother, Dan, is president and GM, the first annual George Elliott Memorial 100 ran on September 18th, in honor of the Elliott brothers’ father, who started their legendary race team and owned a Dawsonville, Ga. auto dealership.

2011 Outlook: Wood Brothers Racing will be back next season, but the number of races the team chooses to run and with what driver is a big question mark. If the team can secure sponsorship to run a full schedule, word is that they will run every race. Elliott, 55, may also be interested in running a full schedule despite his age, because he wants to stockpile as much cash as he can to fund his son Chase’s racing career. The No. 21 team is likely to receive the No. 19 Ford’s owner points, since that team is going to shut down, and had a secure spot in the Top 35 in points.

2006 Frontstretch Grade: C-
2007 Grade: C-
2008 Grade: C-
2009 Grade: B-
2010 Grade: C+

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