Race Weekend Central

The Underdog House: NASCAR Success Doesn’t Happen Overnight

Think Small

Smaller NASCAR teams are constantly talking about improvement, and it’s something for which there is always room.  However, improvement goals vary, and that is necessary because teams in the group are all at different stages of development as teams. One team’s goal of top-20 finishes may be totally unrealistic for another.

There is a progression for these teams.  They need to first focus on top-35 finishes, then top 30s, top 25s and so on. Throwing the kitchen sink at cars rarely works out, and to make huge leaps would need the kitchen sink. Setting realistic goals is part of the process.  Even the best of these teams might contend for a win or two a year, so trying to win every week isn’t realistic.  Instead, focusing on the races where they can contend and then on a more obtainable finish the rest of the time is going to help a team grow.

Another litmus test is to look at organizations with more than one car and where those cars are running in relation to each other.  If one is outstripping the other by many positions each week, the organization as a whole is really not progressing.  But if the teams in an organization are finishing within a few positions of one another, they’re probably on the right track because everyone is able to give better feedback.

Getting from the bottom to the top in NASCAR is an incredibly long and difficult road; getting from the bottom to the middle is an accomplishment in itself considering the differences in budget and equipment.  It puts in perspective how impressive the journey of the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team has been, because it started at the bottom of the barrel and have become on of the sport’s elite.

Top of the Class: Charlotte II

(Photo: John Harrelson / NKP)
Michael McDowell had a reason to smile after a career-best Charlotte finish (14th). (Photo: John Harrelson / NKP)

Top in this group at Charlotte Motor Speedway last weekend was the No. 95 of Michael McDowell and Circle Sport Leavine Family Racing.  McDowell ran a clean race, and the addition of crew chief Todd Parrott looked like the right one after the team pulled off a 14th-place effort. That’s McDowell’s best-ever finish at Charlotte–by a full 15 positions. Chris Buescher and Clint Bowyer used pit strategy to stay on the lead lap and grab some strong finishes as well, with Buescher in 16th and Bowyer 17th for his best finish since he came in ninth at Daytona International Speedway in July. Buescher’s Front Row Motorsports teammate, Landon Cassill, also had a top-20 run, finishing 19th in the No. 38.  All four drivers had some of their best races of the year this weekend, and this is a good time of the year to get a little momentum, because lessons learned now can carry into a better start to 2017.

Passing Grades

Regan Smith and Tommy Baldwin Racing made noticeable gains at Charlotte, finishing 21st and appearing to be the most competitive within their group that they have been all year.  BK Racing also looked like a turnaround could be coming, as David Ragan (23rd) and Matt DiBenedetto (25th) brought home a pair of top-25 runs.  Also having one of his better races this season was Michael Annett, whose 24th-place effort was his top finish of 2016.  For Annett in particular, improvement is key as his future is uncertain; good finishes fresh in the memories of owners and sponsors are always a good thing.

Needs Improvement

I’m a little on the fence with Jeffrey Earnhardt (26th), Cole Whitt (27th) and Josh Wise (29th) because they did get top-30 finishes, which is a decent result for those teams, but they were helped a bit by attrition.  There’s nothing wrong with that; they stayed clean and raced the track and got better finishes than they otherwise might have, which is part of racing.  Reed Sorenson finished 28th, but with three separate pit road penalties (crew over the wall too soon, too many over the wall and a speeding penalty for Sorenson), the No. 55 team shot itself in the foot.  Mistakes cost positions, whether they’re in the top 5 or the back of the field. Finally, AJ Allmendinger (37th) had a hard crash after a blown tire, but had been running in the top 15 prior to that, so his finish is not indicative of his speed.  It’s also hard to pin poor finishes on Ryan Blaney (31st) and Casey Mears (40th) as both were caught in incidents not of their making.

In the News

The No. 95 team announced last week that Todd Parrott would become the full-time crew chief as Dave Winston moves to another role with the team.  The move has led to some speculation that Ty Dillon will pilot the car in 2017, as Parrott previously called the shots when Dillon was scheduled to be in the seat, with Winston on the pit box for Michael McDowell.  With Richard Childress Racing re-signing Ryan Newman, the organization would need to either start a fourth team, which would not have a charter, or farm Dillon out to a satellite organization.  With both AJ Allmendinger and Casey Mears under long-term contracts with the Nos. 47 and 13, the No. 95 looks like the most likely option as McDowell’s contract is reportedly up after this season.

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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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