Race Weekend Central

The Underdog House: Tracking NASCAR’s Small Teams From Darlington to Richmond

Tommy Baldwin Racing
Regan Smith, No. 7 Nikko RC Road Rippers Chevrolet
Looking back: Smith is a former Darlington winner, and he raced the track very well on Sunday night and netted a top-20 finish to show for it.  It was exactly the kind of race TBR needs to have: smart, clean, and driver getting the most out of the car. Smith gained a point on 31st-place David Ragan, but remains 32nd by 17 markers
Looking ahead: Smith has run respectably at Richmond in the past.  He’s got 10 Cup starts there with a 25.7 average.  He won’t be a threat to win, but his average would be a good solid day for the team as they begin to look toward 2017.
Tweets of the Week:

Germain Racing
Casey Mears, No. 13 GEICO Chevrolet
Looking back: Mears felt like something was off from the start Sunday, worrying on the radio that something was hitting the ground when he touched the brakes. That seemed to work itself out, but Mears was never happy with the handling of the car, though he did have good speed, with lap times within a tenth of a second of the leaders’ times. Mears did avoid trouble and his 25th-place finish, while unremarkable, reflects that. Mears remains 28th in points, but is just 17 points behind 26th-that’s attainable by the end of the year.
Looking ahead: Mears has a top 10 at Richmond and has generally been okay there-it’s not one of his best tracks, but it’s not one of his worst, either.  His best finish with his current team at RIR is 17th, and a repeat of that would be an excellent day for this team, which needs to figure a few things out down the stretch in order to come out swinging next season.
Tweets of the Week:

HScott Motorsports
Clint Bowyer, No. 15 5-hour Energy Chevrolet
Michael Annett, No. 46 Pilot Flying J Chevrolet
Looking back: Darlington went south early for Bowyer, who was forced to make an unscheduled pit stop for a flat tire, costing him two laps. He worked his way forward into the op 20 as others also got lapped, only to tangle with Aric Almirola with just under 20 laps remaining.  Despite all that, Bowyer finished a respectable 22nd and gained a spot in points, moving up to 25th over Tony Stewart. Annett had the night he needed to have, racing the track well enough to finish 28th, besting his previous top Darlington finish of 39th by 11 positions.  That’s the kind of improvement that’s reasonable to expect for his team, if not on a weekly basis, at least some of the time. He’s 37th n points heading to Richmond.
Looking ahead: Bowyer’s involvement in the now-infamous Michael Waltrip Racing cheating scandal at Richmond unfortunately overshadows that Bowyer is very, very good there—he has two wins and a dozen top 10’s, and his 12.3 average finish is fifth-best among active drivers. Look for one of his better runs of the year this weekend. Annett has just five races at RIR, with an average finish of 36.4. With Bowyer in the stable, it would be an excellent opportunity for Annett to work with his teammate to try and improve that number.
Tweets of the Week:

Wood Brothers Racing
Ryan Blaney, No. 21 Motorcraft / Quick Lane Ford
Looking back: Blaney had a host of minor probelems at Darlington.  A flat tire mired him in the field after an unscheduled pit stops, and he was alter involved in an incident with  AJ Allmendinger.  Blaney hung on and made some good moves at the end to finish 13th – which was also good enough to gain a spot in points, moving him to 17th.  Barring a miracle win in Richmond, he won’t make the Chase, but that’s actually not a terrible thing as it will allow his team to spend 10 races trying to win and looking toward 2017. Remember, this is a team that has not run full time in several years, so 2016 is a success on that alone.
Looking ahead: Blaney has just one Richmond start with a 28th-place result.  Expect him to better that this time around; his team has been getting stronger all season and will be gunning for wins to swing the momentum their way for next season.
Tweets of the Week:

BK Racing
David Ragan, No. 23 I’m A Pepper Toyota
Matt DiBenedetto, No 83 Orange Crush Toyota
Looking back: Ragan and DiBenedetto clearly enjoyed the throwback atmosphere at Darlington and they also raced the track well, putting both cars in the top 30 with Ragan a strong 21st and DiBenedetto 26th.  Top 30s are attainable for this team on a weekly basis which is something that wasn’t the case a year ago.  They won’t be there every week; competition is fierce, but that the capability is there is a big gain. Ragan is currently 31st in driver points, 11 behind Chris Buescher, and DiBenedetto remains 35th.
Looking ahead: Ragan is solid at Richmond, with an average finish of 22.2, better than a few drivers who’ve enjoyed better equipment throughout their careers, so this could be a good weekend for BK Racing overall if short track specialist DiBenedetto can follow in his teammate’s tire tracks.  Top 30’s for both is a reasonable goal and top 25’s an attainable one with a little luck.
Tweets of the Week:

The Motorsports Group
Josh Wise, No. 30 Incredible Bank Chevrolet
Looking back: This team had one of the best stories of the week heading into Darlington.  A tweet that they needed a sponsor to run a throwback scheme yielded results, with Incredible Bank getting onboard at the last minute, showing that there is still value in race teams, especially in a week were they all get some attention for their paint jobs. And on a night where avoiding trouble and racing the track yielded results, Wise took his tiny team into the top 30, finishing 29th, a good night for this bunch. Wise remains 38th in points.
Looking ahead: Wise needs to do at Richmond exactly what he did at Darlington—race the track and put himself in the position to capitalize on any opportunity that comes along. His average there is 37.6, so it’s not going to be an easy weekend, but it can be a successful one if he can get a top 35 with a clean car at the end.
Tweets of the Week:

Go FAS Racing
Jeffrey Earnhardt, No 32 Otter Pops / Corvetteparts.net Ford
Looking back: Earnhardt’s car lacked speed all night at Darlington, and a heavy brush with the turn 4 wall shortly after halfway ended his night in the blue-and-yellow car reminiscent of one his grandfather, Dale Earnhardt, drove early in his Hall of Fame career. The rookie is 42nd in points heading to Richmond.
Looking ahead: Earnhardt has a 39th-place average in two previous starts, and while he can do better this weekend, don’t expect a lot better…30th-35th is reasonable.  Earnhardt isn’t the problem here, and the team is working hard to improve, but the funding hasn’t been there for them to really put an improvement plan in place.
Tweets of the Week:

Front Row Motorsports
Chris Buescher, No 34 Loves Travel Stops Ford
Landon Cassill, No. 38 Rumple Furniture / Bailey Excavating Ford
Looking back: Buescher had exactly the race he needed to have—a good call to pit late in a cycle nabbed him several positions, and he was able to capitalize well, with a lead-lap finish in 17th spot, 14 positions better than he started. It was a finish he needed, because with David Ragan having a strong race as well, every position was crucial.  Buescher gained a few points on Ragan and hangs on to 30th in points, the Chase cutoff.  Cassill had a difficult night, dropping quickly back from his 29th-place start and running dead last for a bit until attrition helped him out.  He rebounded to finish 30th because he ran clean and avoide trouble, something others could not do, and grabbed a few spots as a result.  Cassill is 29th in points heading to Richmond.
Looking ahead: All eyes will be on Buescher in Richmond as he will seal his Chase fate there one way or the other. He finished 34th in his lone Richmond start, but has improved vastly since spring, and had a strong run in his Darlington Cup debut, playing what proved to be the right pit strategy early on when he held out as long as possible and hit the caution jackpot
Tweets of the Week:

JTG Daugherty Racing
AJ Allmendinger, Kroger / Tyson Chevrolet
Looking back: Allmenginder ran midpack for most of the night, but went for a spin in the second half.  The good news is that Allmendinger didn’t hit anything and his team sent him back out to salvage a decent finish, which he did, working his way back into the top 25. He gained a spot in points, moving into 19th.  A top-20 points finish this year would be a nice feather in this team’s cap.
Looking ahead: Allmendinger has a handful of top 10s at Richmond, and his team has been solid enough that a top-20 is a reasonable goal and a top 25 should be the expectation (his average there is 20th).  This team has grown vastly over the last two seasons, and they are in good shape heading into the homestretch and looking ahead towards 2017.
Tweets of the Week:

Premium Motorsports
Reed Sorenson, No. 55 Vydox Plus Chevrolet
Cole Whitt, No. 98 Carolina Skiff Chevrolet
Looking back: The Lady in Black wasn’t kind to either Sorenson or Whitt.  Whitt had an electrical system failure and completed only 250 laps before heading to the garage.  Sorenson was the lowest-finishing driver in the field who didn’t have some kind of failure or on-track incident.  Whitt hung on to 36th in points after Darlington, while Sorenson fell back a spot to 41st, behind Jeff Gordon, who has run five races to Sorenson’s 17.
Looking ahead: Neither Whitt nor Sorenson has a great track record at Richmond, though Sorenson’s is just inside the top 30.  For this team, a goal of top 30’s each week is about right—it’s a bit of a stretch, but if they get there consistently, it will mean a real step forward.  At Richmond, a top 30 for Sorenson and a top 35 for Whitt would be a decent weekend for a team that needs experience as well as funding.
Tweets of the Week:

Circle Sport Leavine Family Racing
Michael McDowell, No 95 Thrivent Financial Chevrolet
Looking back: McDowell scored a career-best 27th-place finish at Darlington Sunday, showing once again that given a chance to race in a better car than he’s had in recent years that McDowell is a talented driver who can move his team forward.He’s 34th in driver points, just four behind Brian Scott, and could easily secure that spot as soon as next week.
Looking ahead: McDowell has struggled at Richmond, but he’s also in better equipment this year, and his finishes have been steadily improving, so expect no different this time out.  Remember, he did several start-and-park seasons, so running to the end at many tracks is something he’s still learning to do.  If he can beat his 31s-place effort from the spring race, it’ll be a successful day
Tweets of the Week:


About the author

Amy is an 20-year veteran NASCAR writer and a six-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found working on her bi-weekly columns Holding A Pretty Wheel (Tuesdays) and Only Yesterday (Wednesdays). A New Hampshire native whose heart is in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.

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What happened to an article about the ganassi boys. 2 car team. Come on.

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