Race Weekend Central

Jon Wood Looking for Wood Brothers Improvement, Talks State of the Sport

If you reflect back on the 2000s, you will probably remember the name Jon Wood. The grandson of NASCAR Hall of Famer Glen Wood and son of Eddie Wood spent time between all three series from 2001-2008, with two wins in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.

Now, he is a father, baseball coach, and serves as the Senior Vice President and Co-Owner of Wood Brothers Racing, who fields the famed No. 21 in the NASCAR Cup Series for Harrison Burton.

Frontstretch caught up with Wood following the April 16 race at Martinsville Speedway, where he discussed the team’s performance, the state of the NASCAR economy, and how he would like to see the team get that elusive 100th victory.

Luken Glover: When you look at the season so far for your group, you had good speed at the Daytona 500 and a couple of top 15 finishes. What are your thoughts so far?

Jon Wood: [Eddie Wood, Wood’s father] says that I dig myself in a hole and then spend the rest of my time on the call-in [to a radio show in Stuart, VA] trying to dig out of it. Basically, I’m too critical, too negative, so I’m trying to be a little more positive and not be so much doom and gloom.

I would not say our season so far has been remotely close to what any of us expected or hoped for. We’re not supposed to be running 30th, we’re not supposed to be qualifying close to the 30s. I have to be very careful because I’m not pinning this on Harrison. We wind into a period of time, and in that period of time was Matt Dibenedetto, right before that would have been Paul Menard, and shortly before that would have been [Ryan] Blaney. With those three, moreso with Blaney than Matt or Paul, we got to where we were disappointed with a 10th-place finish or 12th. If we finished 12th, I’m not going to call it a bad day but we weren’t over the moon about it. Certainly, if we were in the high teens to 20s, that was like, “we messed up.”

You expect that sort of thing with a rookie, and we haven’t had that except, again going back to Blaney, his first season in 2015. We went full-time in 2016, he had some days that were similar to the ones that we’re having. But what we look for now in Harrison’s second season and Brian Wilson’s [crew chief] second season, you kind of want to see some improvement … If I had to make an assessment right here today, up to this point in 2023 has not even been where we were at the end of ’22. I can’t imagine Harrison just forgot how to drive. I can’t imagine Brian forgot how to work on a racecar … You can’t say that they got any worse because you can’t really do that in racing. To give an answer to why we’re suddenly having so much trouble, I don’t really know. I don’t think they know, but we have to be better.

Glover: Looking at Martinsville … what would you like to see at short tracks or with this car in general for the future?

Wood: I think we’re backed in a corner here where there’s not a lot that can be done. Bob Pockrass [FOX Sports] actually made a pretty good point. Someone asked if there was potential for a horsepower change. That can’t happen the way we have the new engine usage rule where you have to reuse it in multiple races. We’re in a bad spot if you’re in the camp that thinks the racing is bad, I’m not really forcing an opinion one way or the other. If you subscribe to the group that says it’s not good, I don’t think there is much that can be done in the short term.

Glover: Is the passing problem a product of the horsepower and the package or is it solely the fact that these cars are so competitive now?

Wood: It could maybe be a bit of both. With the older car, it was easier to run 20th because if you had a top-tier car, you could drive to 20th pretty quickly because there would be 14 to 16 guys that were just there to run laps … It was easier to pass with those cars, and once you got to about 15th, everybody was a little more equal. Now, everybody is about the same. Obviously, there is a difference between a car that’s winning and a car that runs 30th. But look at Martinsville up through the end of stage one, there were 30 cars on the lead lap, and that historically never happens … It’s harder to pass, the cars are more equal, and what causes that, I don’t know. It’s probably a product of both of the things you asked.

Glover: Have you and other teams … seen the cost-cutting procedures that were emphasized when this car was being produced?

Wood: I don’t know if this year that’s starting to take shape. I know last year was not a cost-saving [year]. Mostly everybody spent an extreme amount of money compared to what was projected. We needed more transaxles, we needed more body panels and more of this, more of that. The projections that were originally forecast for what you would need weren’t right. Last year cost, industry-wide, a lot more money than what we thought. I don’t know where that stands at this point.

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Glover: One of the big stories over the last couple of weeks was the owners’ ‘boycott‘. Do you know what kind of message was trying to be sent there, or is it being hyped up to something it wasn’t?

Wood: I think the narrative got out of control. I think the term ‘boycott’ was used incorrectly maybe. If I show up to Riley’s (his son) baseball practice Thursday night and everybody is busy or has something going on that they feel like is more productive for them to do than whatever it is they’re doing other than going to practice, did they conspire to not show up collectively, or is it everybody had the same mindset and decided I can better use my time doing something else than going to this baseball practice? That’s probably a better analogy than everybody got together and said, ‘Let’s do this all or nothing.’ Boycott was probably not the right word, but maybe it looked like that because everyone opted not to go.

Glover: What would your ideal revenue sharing look like to you?

Wood: I think even if you were to ask my dad this very same question, he would probably say we want to be able to not only just survive but continue to build on a legacy and have something that he can pass down to me that I can pass down to my kids. To do that, it’s going to take money. Sponsorship is getting harder and harder to find, these racecars are costing more and more to race, and this stuff is not cheap. So, if we can’t get money from sponsorship, we have to get it from somewhere. Goodyear is not going to cut us a deal because we can’t find sponsorship … these vendors have to make their bottom line too, so we’ve got to figure it out. NASCAR has a role to play in that, and so do the teams.

Glover: Looking at your team, it’s no secret that win number 100 is kind of the next thing. How special will win number 100 be for you guys?

Wood: It will be a big deal. You try to not really think about it. Let me say this: I would not want that type of a win to come in a situation where we lucked into it. A win is a win, don’t get me wrong, but I think with these certain milestone wins, you remember them because they’re all achievements. I wouldn’t want this one to be one where we stay out, everyone pits, and it rains. You take them anyway you can get them, but in a perfect world, you earn that win, similar to Trevor Bayne’s Daytona 500 win. There have been guys that have won the 500 in a fashion where the record book still shows that they won it, but if you remember that day and you watched it, they lucked into it. It’s almost like there’s an asterisk beside that name and that win.

About the author

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Luken Glover joined the Frontstretch team in 2020 as a contributor, furthering a love for racing that traces back to his earliest memories. Glover inherited his passion for racing from his grandfather, who used to help former NASCAR team owner Junie Donlavey in his Richmond, Va. garage. A 2023 graduate from the University of the Cumberlands, Glover is the author of "The Underdog House," contributes to commentary pieces, and does occasional at-track reporting. Additionally, Glover enjoys working in ministry, coaching basketball, playing sports, and karting.

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