Race Weekend Central

2009 NASCAR Driver Review: Bill Elliott

Bill Elliott

2009 Ride: No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford
2009 Primary Sponsor: Motorcraft/Ford (12 races)
2009 Owners: Glen Wood, Eddie Wood, Len Wood, Kim Wood
2009 Crew Chief: David Hyder
2009 Stats: 12 starts, 0 wins, 0 top fives, 0 top 10s, 2 DNFs, 42nd in points

High Point: Pinpointing a definite apex in Bill Elliott’s success this season is tough, as three finishes of 16th flanked his best finish of 15th in the Coca-Cola 600. However, the top 15 at Lowe’s in May occurred the same month as his teenage son Chase’s first career late model win. Considering his son’s success a high point for the 53-year old champ is not hard to imagine.

Low Point: In September, Elliott sat out the first night race held at his home track, Atlanta Motor Speedway, after cracking his rib in a dirt bike spill. In the following three races in which he and the Wood Brothers competed, the No. 21 finished 19th, 29th and 34th. Elliott did rebound to finish 16th in the finale race at Homestead.

Summary: Some may have considered the Wood Brothers’ choice to trim the No. 21’s schedule back to 12 races (eventually, they added one more) as a death sentence for the legendary team; instead, it was the opposite. A tighter budget left them at a competitive disadvantage over the past few years, as the No. 21 found itself routinely outside the Top 35 while trying to complete a full schedule.

As the Air Force and Little Debbie departed from the team after 2008, the team was only left from Ford’s Motorcraft brand. This turned out to be a blessing as the Wood Brothers could focus its full efforts on qualifying for and running well in select races, instead of spreading its resources thin – they did just that.

With Elliott and his past champion’s provisional behind the wheel for a third season (except for the aforementioned Labor Day AMS race), the Woods qualified for every race it attempted and used the provisional only once. Elliott ran in the top 20 at some point in most of those races and likely would have completed almost every race in that bracket, if not for slow pit stops (from a crew composed of men who doubled as fab shop workers or shock specialists) or mechanical failures.

Elliott had five bad races in 2009. Sam Hornish Jr. took him out in the March Atlanta race, sending him to a 36th-place finish. At the team’s next race in Texas, Elliott finished three laps off the pace in 37th. The No. 21 also ran poorly in the fall race at Lowe’s Motor Speedway and Chicagoland, finishing 29th at each track and then broke a transmission in its fall appearance at Texas en route to a 34th-place run.

In the other seven races that Elliott competed, he guided the Motorcraft Ford to five lead-lap finishes. Keeping in mind the struggles among much bigger teams, especially the Roush Fenway Fords, Elliott and the Wood Brothers’ “Little Ford That Could” ran incredibly well.

Off-Track News: Three words: Bill Elliott Racing. When Elliott is not in the cockpit of the No. 21 Ford, he is assisting his son 14-year old Chase in his budding racing career. Chase won three times this season in the No. 9 Aaron’s Ford, competing and running well in both pro late model and super late model races all over the southeast. Chase also captured the 2009 Georgia Asphalt Series points championship and rookie of the year honors.

BER’s other star driver, 17-year old Casey Roderick, also won and ran well in the GAS races with Chase. He also finished runner-up in his ARCA debut at Rockingham in October, running in a collaborative effort with BER and Phoenix Racing, where owner Bill served as crew chief. Elliott runs his Dawsonville, Ga. race shop weekdays and still answers the phone despite his celebrity status.

2010 Outlook: Despite rumors he was returning to BAM Racing, David Hyder is returning as crew chief of the No. 21 team. The official question is whether or not Elliott will. While no one with either Elliott or the Wood Brothers has officially announced their pairing for next year, indications are that he will return in 2010.

In fact, BER and the Wood Brothers both are preparing an ARCA car for Roderick to test and possibly race and Elliott, the Woods and Roderick were all supposed to test at Rockingham last week, but canceled that test session. The No. 21 will run only 12-15 races again, a schedule which suits Elliott’s semi-retired status, so expect them together for the 2010 season.

Stats of the Year: Five lead-lap finishes and five top 20s in 12 races this season for the No. 21 team, as compared to four top 20s and four lead-lap finishes in 28 races in 2008.

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

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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