Race Weekend Central

Evaluating Cup’s Smaller Teams, 2012 Edition

These days, the brunt of both fan and media attention is focused on the larger, more well-funded teams of NASCAR — and rightfully so. They’re, after all, the organizations that challenge for top-10 finishes each week, let alone wins and championships.

However, those teams only take up about two-thirds of a full 43-car field. The remainder is a mix of fledgling and underfunded organizations, many of which are simply happy with a top-20 finish, while others are lucky to get to run a full race instead of starting and parking.

It’s always interesting to see how those teams fared in a given season. Sometimes there’s noticeable improvement, while other instances may see a team decrease in quality or even close shop before year’s end.

This is a look at those teams from start to finish. How did their seasons fare? Did they even make it to the end of the year? Can we expect improvement in 2013? Note that single-car teams JTG Daugherty Racing and Furniture Row Racing will not be touched on in this article, but most other one-car or lesser-funded efforts will be mentioned — starting with the teams that ran full-time in 2012.

Phoenix Racing (No. 51): Of NASCAR’s smaller organizations, James Finch’s Phoenix Racing stood to gain the most in terms of notoriety and prowess in 2012 following the signing of Kurt Busch. But after just two top-10 finishes and multiple accidents, Busch left the team and was replaced by Regan Smith and A.J. Allmendinger. Phoenix didn’t have a poor season, but there didn’t seem to be much progress made aside from being able to run every race without parking. The real test in 2013, if they’re still around, will be for the team to replicate the results Busch was able to give them — or would have given them had he not been involved in accidents or had parts failures.

BK Racing (Nos. 73, 83, 93): Rising from the ashes of the old Red Bull Racing team, BK Racing fielded two full-time rides for Landon Cassill and Travis Kvapil in 2012 while receiving some amount of funding from Burger King via one of the owners’ status as a Burger King franchisee. Of all the new NASCAR teams, they were the most impressive, with Cassill in particular rattling off four straight top-20 finishes around mid-season and Kvapil scoring the team’s first top-10 in the form of an eighth at the fall Talladega event. Assuming all is constant in 2013, expect both cars to move from calling 25th-place finishes a good day to competing for 20th or higher regularly.

Germain Racing (No. 13): After fielding Truck Series teams full-time for many years, Germain Racing turned its focus solely to the Cup Series in 2012 with Casey Mears receiving increased financial backing from Geico. The increased focus on the Cup team showed, with the No. 13 moving from a sub-30th organization to generally finishing 25th or higher. The team even scored a pole position at the Bristol night race. Germain may never have the resources or expertise of NASCAR’s larger organizations, but the team has made great strides, especially considering their days with Max Papis behind the wheel.

Front Row Motorsports (Nos. 26, 34, 38): As they seem to every season, Front Row Motorsports picked up the pace just a little bit more in 2012, though the improvement was slight. Many expected the team to have its best season yet with David Ragan behind the wheel of the No. 34, but Ragan only managed a fourth and a seventh as top-10 finishes in 2012, both at Talladega. David Gilliland, meanwhile, was unable to score a top-10 result all year, and Josh Wise was resigned to parking most of the season. Still, Gilliland’s average finish rose a position in 2012, nearly equaling Ragan’s (27.3 to 27), which is an improvement — even if it wasn’t too obvious.

Tommy Baldwin Racing (Nos. 10, 36): Tommy Baldwin fielded two cars for the majority of the season for the first time in 2012, with the new No. 10 running races in which Danica Patrick was not entered in her Stewart-Haasmobile in order to keep Patrick locked into the top 35 in owners points. Primary drivers Dave Blaney and David Reutimann kept both cars locked in the show in 2012, but aside from Blaney’s near-win in the Daytona 500 following Juan Pablo Montoya’s altercation with a jet dryer, there was little to smile about; it was as if the organization was stretched too thin with two cars. If the team goes back to one full-time car in 2013, expect slightly better showings.

Swan Racing/Inception Motorsports (No. 30): After running a limited schedule in 2011, David Stremme and Inception Motorsports entered all races in 2012, though the road courses were run by Brian Simo and Patrick Long. Stremme was running at the finish of a mere five races, starting and parking throughout the majority of 2012. Prior to the fall Talladega race, the team was bought by Swan Energy, so it’s tough to say where the organization will head in 2013 — particularly, if more full races will be attempted. If they do begin running more races, Stremme and co. could become the next Germain Racing.

Nemco Motorsports (Nos. 87, 97): Little changed in 2012 for Joe Nemechek’s Cup effort, which functions primarily as backing for Nemco’s full-time Nationwide ride. In fact, Nemechek ran only two full races all year in 2012, garnering a best finish of 28th in the season’s first race. Chances are 2013 will be more of the same.

FAS Lane Racing (No. 32): As in 2011, Frank Stoddard’s FAS Lane Racing featured a rotating cast of drivers in 2012 — nine in total, with Ken Schrader’s 13 races with the team being its longest tenure, albeit not in succession. FAS Lane’s strength remains in the team’s consistency; the No. 32 doesn’t park and experiences few DNFs, which kept it in the top 35. However, results aren’t coming yet; restrictor plate tracks tend to be the strong point, with Terry Labonte driving. Perhaps a more permanent driver would do some good, but the buy-a-ride program has worked well enough so far.

Phil Parsons Racing (No. 98): In 2012, the newest iteration of Phil Parsons’ race team ran five full races, parking the rest due to lack of sponsorship. Michael McDowell, the team’s primary driver, topped out at 23rd at Bristol, his best finish of the year. Each season, the team seems to attempt more races than the last, so bank on McDowell running somewhere around 5-7 races in 2013, sponsorship pending.

Circle Sport Racing (No. 33): After Richard Childress stopped fielding his No. 33 each week, he turned the team over to Joe Falk, who owned LJ Racing in the late ’90s. Under Falk’s ownership, Stephen Leicht won Rookie of the Year with the team, though of his 15 races with the team, only five were full races. Circle Sport is reminiscent of Parsons and Inception when it goes the distance, keeping decent pace but finishing multiple laps down most of the time. 2013 will be a telling year to see if Falk keeps the team going and if he decides to run more races — and if Austin Dillon runs a No. 33 for Childress at all in 2013.

R3 Motorsports (No. 23): Like Nemco Motorsports, R3 Motorsports’ Cup effort is primarily to fund its Nationwide program. Robert Richardson did run two races for the team, but crashed out in both, and Scott Riggs parked the race car for the rest of the season. If R3 returns to the series in 2013, it’ll probably be the same setup, with Richardson running restrictor plate tracks.

Leavine Family Racing (No. 95): In its second season, Leavine Family Racing was at the track a lot more, but its ratio of full races to start-and-parks increased on the latter side. Scott Speed ran merely three races start-to-finish for the team, two of which were at the road courses. That said, LFR only missed one race all year, which denotes some improvement. Word is the team will be showing up even more in 2013.

Robinson-Blakeney Racing (No. 49): Robinson Blakeney Racing, the first major Cup effort of longtime Nationwide owner Jay Robinson, started off admirably in 2012 for a new team, making four of the first five races and parking only once with J.J. Yeley. The team continued on through the second Dover race, running seven full races with Yeley and Jason Leffler, before folding.

Humphrey Smith Racing (Nos. 19, 91): Another Nationwide team-funding Cup effort, this time with former Phil Parsons partner Randy Humphrey forming a partnership with Tristar Motorsports owner Mark Smith. The team parked the entire season while Tristar’s Nationwide team ran the majority of its cars without parking. HSR first showed up a first races in in 2012; no word on if the team will be around for all of 2013.

Max Q Motorsports/Rick Ware Racing (No. 37): Larry Gunselman’s team started off the season with the intent of running Timmy Hill for Rookie of the Year honors as a partnership with Rick Ware Racing. Those plans faltered and the team disappeared until the summer, sans Ware and plus an alliance with Tommy Baldwin Racing. The No. 37 proceeded to park every race but Homestead, when J.J. Yeley finished 35th. The Baldwin alliance may help going forward, but it could also hurt both teams if resources are stretched too thin.

Turn One Racing (No. 74): Usually a Truck Series team, Turn One made the leap to Sprint Cup, though the team parked seven races and ran none before disappearing, truck team and all (though resurfacing in Trucks at Martinsville).

Go Green Racing (No. 79): Like Turn One Racing, Go Green Racing made the jump to Cup in 2012 part-time, though in this case from the Nationwide Series. And like Turn One, the team never ran a full race, parking in six with Kelly Bires, Mike Skinner and Scott Speed while its Nationwide program continued to chug along. The intent with GGR’s Cup program may be similar to that of Nemco, mostly parking to help fund the lower organization.

Hamilton Means Racing (No. 52): Jimmy Means returned to the Cup Series in 2012 with a new team, but only made one race with Mike Skinner at Darlington, a race in which the team parked. Means’ Nationwide program seems to be getting the largest share of attention, so HMR may go down as a failed attempt at a return to NASCAR’s top division, unless sponsorship can be found.

Robby Gordon Motorsports (No. 7): After attempting the first few races of 2012, Robby Gordon scaled back his Cup schedule drastically, only appearing at Sonoma for the remainder of the year. With his stadium truck series starting up soon, it seems Gordon’s team may be out of the running, save for the possibility of the Daytona 500 in 2013 and perhaps some of the road courses.

Steve Scharr Motorsports (No. 0): This team debuted at Richmond in September with a DNQ. The smallest of the small, they plan to return in 2013 and will be announcing plans soon.

Xxxtreme Motorsports (No. 44): The former Nationwide team made its first race in its first attempt at the penultimate race of the season at Phoenix, though lack of funds relegated driver David Reutimann to parking. They’ll be back next year, and will likely run some full races, at which point their prowess during a race can be better evaluated.

Hillman Racing and RAB Racing (No. 44, No. 09): Both teams, the former a Truck team and the latter in Nationwide, attempted the Daytona 500 and failed to qualify, and never appeared again.

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