NASCAR's new charter system shuts out storied Wood Brothers
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- It's been 10 years since the Wood Brothers completed a full NASCAR season, and they stopped trying to make it to the track each week in 2009.
NASCAR's oldest race team didn't have the funds to keep up with the competition, and a scaled-back approach was what the family-owned organization felt was best for the famed No. 21 Ford.
"It would have been an embarrassment to our family, our uncles and our dad, if we just showed up and took a check," said team co-owner Len Wood, the son of founder Glenn Wood. "We didn't. We tried to perform every time we showed up. It didn't always work out that way, but that is what we tried to do."
Their approach led to one of the biggest moments in team history: Trevor Bayne's 2011 upset victory in the Daytona 500. It was the sixth Daytona 500 victory for the team, but first since David Pearson in 1976.
They consider Bayne's win proof that their strategy was best for the proud Virginians, even though it cost them one of the 36 coveted charters that were created this week as part of NASCAR's new franchising model. Only teams that have attempted every race since 2013 were eligible for one of the charters, which guarantee starting spots in the field each week and provide financial security to owners.
The charter system leaves just four open spots in the 40-car field each week, and the Wood Brothers will have to qualify before every race. The timing is bittersweet for the Woods: This dramatic shift in the NASCAR business model came as the team prepared to return to a full schedule with hotshot rookie Ryan Blaney.
Blaney ran 16 races for the Woods last year and failed to qualify for three others because rain washed out the session.
Their faith in Blaney, who is on loan from Team Penske, and belief that they have made major on-track improvements have the organization convinced that being denied a charter won't cripple them.
"I think with our performance this last year, qualifying in these races shouldn't be an issue as long as we perform like we know we can," Len Wood said. "We have talked about in the past that as long as it is a performance related issue like we can't run fast enough, that is when we have a problem. It is hard to overcome something like that. If you are fast enough every week, that shouldn't be an issue."
There were technically two charters up for sale because Michael Waltrip Racing shuttered its organization in November. MWR co-owner Rob Kauffman, the architect of the charter system, is free to sell them to the highest bidder and has completed deals with Joe Gibbs Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing to transfer the slots.
Eddie Wood said he was never in position to obtain one of Kauffman's charters, which went to Gibbs for Carl Edwards and SHR for Kurt Busch.
"It was pretty evident that the two that Rob had were going to go to the 19 and 41, so we couldn't compete with that, so we really never went there," co-owner Eddie Wood said. "I didn't think I could outbid Gene Haas and Joe Gibbs."
Fans have taken to social media to blast the Woods' exclusion from the charter system, but team executives understand the process. The tough part was explaining the situation to Hall of Famer Glenn Wood, who will travel to Daytona on Saturday for the 70th consecutive year.
"The hard part for him was that there was this big announcement, confetti flying and we were kind of not a part of it," Jon Wood, Glenn's grandson, said. "Maybe we should have explained it beforehand because it would have made more sense and not been such a surprise and catch him off guard.
"My grandpa didn't start this team in 1950 to make a pile of money. What you don't do is change your business model. You don't embarrass yourself."
If they could do it all over again and not scale back after the 2008 economic downturn, the team doesn't think it would change a thing - even though that decision ultimately cost them a chance at a charter.
"If you told me I could go back six years and if we wanted to run all the races and you would have a charter, would you swap? No, I probably wouldn't," Eddie Wood said. "We wanted to race in a model that fit us at the time ... which was race part-time but when we show up we are competitive and spending enough money to get all the right stuff, the right people and right driver.
"That actually turned into a Daytona 500 win. You can't take that away. That was one of the biggest wins in our career."