Race Weekend Central

Never Fear, the Underdogs are Here: Kansas I Edition

Never Fear, the Underdogs are Here: Kansas I Edition by Amy Henderson

Editor’s Note: This year, we’re going to switch things up a little bit. Instead of just focusing upon one underdog (or underreported) car in the Secret Star section, we will point out three smaller teams that put up good finishes each week.

Underdog Selection No. 1: Regan Smith for Phoenix Racing; started 41st, finished 22nd

Smith was the best of the true underdogs this week with his 22nd-place finish (Kurt Busch finished 15th for Furniture Row Racing, but that team has a technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing that rivals the relationship that Stewart Haas Racing has with Hendrick Motorsports, so calling them a true small team is getting more difficult with each passing week). While that alone isn’t particularly noteworthy, what makes Smith’s Kansas run so impressive is where he started.

Smith began the day at the back of the pack in 41st, but was able to pick off a bunch of cars and outlast still others to gain 19 spots between the flags. Phoenix has dropped off a bit since a torrid start to the season, but they’re running solidly where they should be, and the No. 51 is still a plenty respectable 16th in owner points; a top 20 for the year would be a major coup given the level of competition, but this team could maintain it with a little luck on their side.

Underdog Selection No. 2: Landon Cassill for Circle Sport; started 39th, finished 29th

While on one hand, Cassill finished 29th, lower than a handful of small teams, Circle Sport’s run was impressive for a couple of reasons. One, they gained ten spots from start to finish—finishing consistently better than they start is the hallmark of a team who can improve a car throughout a run, and the No. 33 bunch is doing that this year; their average finish is five sports better than their average start.

Cassill’s 29th-place result was also his best of the year. It was also the best for Circle Sport since a 26th-place run at Watkins Glen last summer with Stephen Leicht driving, and the third-best result for them since the team’s inception in early 2012. For these underfunded teams, a small step is an important one, and Circle Sport is taking them, one at a time.

Underdog Selection No. 3: Josh Wise for Front Row Motorsports; started 36th, finished 26th

Wise is another oft-overlooked driver who had a solid day at Kansas, gaining ten spots from start to finish and ending the day in 26th place, tying his best finish of the year. While Front Row teammate David Gilliland had a better finish, he also wrecked one car and ran into another one—not his best day. Like Cassill, Wise’s average finish is better than his average start, the mark of a driver making the most of what his equipment has to offer.

Also, consider that in 2012, Wise was running at the end of just one race, Sonoma in June. He was forced to start and park for the rest of the year, and failed to qualify for six races. This year, Wise has two DNF’s, but one was due to a crash at Daytona, and the other was past halfway in the race, so it could well have been due to a legitimate failure. No matter how you slice it, 2013 has to be a whole lot more fun for Wise than 2012.

Is your favorite driver among NASCAR’s underdogs? Are you frustrated with the lack of coverage they receive during the race broadcasts? Amy has all the small teams covered each and every week in The Big Six (THIS WEEK’S LINK: www.frontstretch.com/ahenderson/42882/). Be sure to check it out to see how your favorites fared!

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