For Matt DiBenedetto and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team, the Speedweeks preliminaries are over, a Sunday rainout is behind them, and the focus now is on a Monday afternoon conclusion of the Great American Race, the 62nd annual Daytona 500.
Sunday’s Daytona 500 was halted after 20 laps due to persistent rain with the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Mustang in 13th place.
The events leading up to Monday have been memorable for DiBenedetto and the Wood Brothers. DiBenedetto has made his first competitive laps since taking over the driving duties of the No. 21 Mustang. He qualified 16th last Sunday then ran a strong Bluegreen Vacations Duel, running second for much of that 150-mile qualifier before finishing seventh and securing the 16th starting position for Sunday’s Cup Series season opener.
He also picked up four Stage points, which he’ll carry throughout the season.
He’s had a chance to work with crew chief Greg Erwin and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team as well as shaking off the rust from a long offseason.
DiBenedetto was 18th fastest in Friday’s practice session, and the team felt good enough about their preparation to skip Saturday’s final practice.
"The car is fast," said Eddie Wood, who is participating in the Daytona 500 for the 48th straight year. "We only got 20 laps in on Sunday, but everything looks good so far."
Even before the green flag dropped on the 500 Sunday afternoon, Speedweeks offered an opportunity for the Wood Brothers to get to know a new driver, and to participate in some of the signature events of Speedweeks.
The Woods debuted their 1954 Ford, a tribute to the late team founder Glenn Wood. The recently completed black No. 22 made laps on some historic ground during the North Turn’s Legends Beach Parade, which covered some of the same ground Wood raced on – and won on – in the mid-1950s.
And the family members got back into the at-track routine that comes with team ownership.
Like many at Daytona this February, Eddie Wood senses a promising level of excitement about the new season, not just for the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team and for Ford Motor Company but for the sport as a whole.
"I’ve got a good feeling about where things are headed for our sport," Wood said. "There was a good vibe all week, and the atmosphere was electric on Sunday with a sold-out crowd in the grandstands and a visit from the president.
"It was a big day for our sport."
Wood, who was on hand to see President Reagan at the track in 1984 and President Bush in 2004, said the sight of Air Force One landing alongside Daytona International Speedway stirs one’s patriotic spirits no matter who is riding inside.
"Regardless of one’s politics, it’s a huge deal to have the President on hand and serving as Grand Marshal for a race," he said. "It brings a huge amount of attention to our sport."
The Daytona 500 is set to get the green flag just after 4 p.m. Monday with TV coverage on FOX.