Trevor Bayne and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane No. 21 Ford Fusion will be back on the track this weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, running race No 2 of their 12-race Sprint Cup schedule.
Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400 is the Cup circuit’s first run of the season on an intermediate, 1.5-mile track, and it promises to be a good indicator of how the 2012 season will play out for Bayne and his Wood Brothers team and the Cup circuit as a whole.
Based on past results, Sunday should be a big day for the Ford Motor Company. They won the first-ever race at Las Vegas, the most recent one last year and five more in between, giving the Blue Oval wins in half of the Cup races ever run at Las Vegas.
Donnie Wingo, crew chief of the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Fusion, said he expects his Ford, as well as the rest of the Fusions, to again be fast at Las Vegas.
“A lot of that speed has to do with the hard work of Doug Yates and the people at Roush Yates Engines,” he said. “At Las Vegas you’re in the gas a long time, so horsepower makes a lot of difference.”
For this weekend’s race, Wingo is taking one of the team’s proven performers – the same Fusion the team ran last year on two similar tracks, at Texas and Charlotte.
“It’s been a good car for us,” he said, adding that Las Vegas has been a good track for the team from a performance standpoint.
Last year, Bayne qualified 16th and was up to third place at one point before a speeding penalty on a pit stop put him nearly two laps behind. The team got back on the lead lap, but with 48 laps to go, Bayne was involved in an incident, brushed the wall and had to settle for a 20th-place finish.
“The car was a lot better than the finish indicated,” Wingo said.
Among the challenges facing Wingo and the crew this weekend are dealing with a new issue – the quirks of the electronic fuel injection system now used on Sprint Cup cars – and an old one – having to qualify on speed instead of having a guaranteed starting position.
The veteran crew chief is confident on both counts.
“EFI is a work in progress,” he said. “We’ve paid a lot of attention to what happened at Phoenix, and we’ve educated ourselves on that fairly well.”
He said the team has focused on the procedures for restarting an engine to prevent an occurrence like the one at Phoenix that saw Tony Stewart lose two laps when he shut his engine off to save fuel but couldn’t restart it.
As for having to qualify on speed, since the team is running a limited schedule and is therefore not among those eligible for a guaranteed starting spot, Wingo said the needed speed hasn’t proven to be a problem. Dating back to last year, the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team has been the top qualifier among the go-or-go-homers in nine of the 10 races it has been in that position.
“There’s actually more stress on Trevor because he has to be more careful and give himself more room on the track,” Wingo said, adding that he typically makes only minor changes after practice so Bayne will know what to expect when he hits the track on the clock. “But we still try to lay down the best lap we can in practice so we can go out to qualify later when the conditions are more favorable.”
Qualifying for the Kobalt Tools 400 is set for Friday at 3:40 p.m. (6:40 Eastern), and the race is scheduled to get the green flag on Sunday just after noon (3 p.m. Eastern) with TV coverage on FOX.