this week in nascar

by Monte Dutton

‘Awesome Bill’ Elliott still

SPEEDWAY, Ind. — Veteran driver wound up finishing 26th Bill Elliott, the 1988 champion of what is now known as the Sprint Cup Series, in the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard, but not before he turned heads with a fourth-place qualifying effort. Elliott, 53, now competes only part time for what was once one of NASCAR’s premier teams, the Wood Brothers. The most recent of his 44 career victories occurred Nov. 9, 2003, at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham, a track no longer on the Cup schedule. The second-row qualifying effort erased a particularly bad memory for Elliott, who won at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2002. Wood Brothers Racing, a team that dates back to 1953, has won 96 races over the years.

After his Indy qualifying run, Elliott said, “All that kept going through my head was here a year ago, and how bad we screwed up in qualifying. It hurt so bad, missing this race a year ago, and being able to come back here [and qualify near the front] meant a lot. “[Co-owners] Len and Eddie [Wood] have really worked to give me something to drive, and I’ve been working my butt off making sure that I haven’t let them down on the other side.” Elliott, from Dawsonville, Ga., is paired with crew chief David Hyder. “I can’t say enough good things about [the team],” said Elliott. “We’ve kind of meshed. We’re able to get input back and forth. We’re working so well together right now, and that’s so important.

“I’m proud to get in this race car when we come to the track. They’ve done so much work.” Elliott takes heart in the performance of another veteran, Mark Martin, who, at age 50, has already won four Cup races this year. “If a 50-year-old can win, I think a few more years ain’t going to hurt a thing,” he said, referring to Martin. Among Elliott’s predecessors in the No. 21 Motorcraft Ford were team co-founder Glen Wood, Cale Yarborough, Neil Bonnett, Buddy Baker, Dale Jarrett, Kyle Petty and, most notably, David Pearson. Monte Dutton has covered motorsports for The Gaston (NC) Gazette since 1993. He was named writer of the year by the National Motorsports Press Association in 2008. His blog NASCAR This Week ( features all of his reporting on racing, roots music and life on the road. E-mail Monte at Copyright 2009 King Features Syndicate