Race Weekend Central

The Underdog House: Smaller NASCAR Teams Could Use Factory Support

Think Small

It’s a given that NASCAR’s small teams don’t have the money and equipment that the bigger ones do. But a closer look reveals there is another piece of the puzzle missing many people don’t think about: factory support.

While several of the smaller teams do have alliances with larger ones, manufacturer funding is generally reserved for the top contenders.  Sure, a single-car/megateam alliance is sharing varying amounts of information, for example, but it’s hard to compete with the additional sponsorship dollars and support, much of it also monetary, coming from Ford, Chevrolet, and Toyota.

Take Furniture Row Racing, the single-car team that could which is now among the sport’s elite. They bucked the trend last year and contended for a title without factory backing, maximizing their Chevy partnership with Richard Childress Racing. Now? They’re a powerhouse, earning four victories behind maximum monetary support from Toyota through their top team, Joe Gibbs Racing. RCR’s place on the totem pole, by comparison could not compare, nor could the amount the Bowtie Brigade could offer the No. 78 car to stick around.

There are definitely a number of factors the smaller teams face in their uphill climb in the sport; that’s a given.  Factory backing isn’t as obvious as corporate sponsorship, but it’s a notable boon in an era where just the littlest bit of extra speed makes the difference between fifth and 35th.

Top of the Class: Kansas

(Photo: John Harrelson/NKP)
Ryan Blaney had a strong run at Kansas. (Photo: John Harrelson/NKP)

AJ Allmendinger led the way for the small teams this week. He started 10th, then ran inside the top 10 and sometimes the top 5 before finishing eighth on the day.  JTG Daugherty Racing has certainly come a long way on ovals over the last couple of seasons, and while the team hasn’t found consistency yet, it’s made progress. Runs like the one they had Sunday will help boost confidence going forward.

Ryan Blaney also had a good weekend in the No. 21 Wood Brothers machine, starting 17th and finishing 14th.  Blaney hasn’t looked as close to a win as he did earlier in the season – running the full schedule for the first time in years may be taking its toll on this hard-working group – but this rookie is still heading in the right direction.

Chris Buescher and Michael McDowell were also among the best of the smaller teams this week, finishing 21st and 22nd.  Both Front Row Motorsports and Circle Sport Leavine Family Racing have improved this season; Kansas highlighted their progress nicely. Buescher even snuck past Jamie McMurray for 15th in points out of the 16 original Chasers.

Passing Grades

Casey Mears had one of his better recent outings at Kansas, using good pit strategy to lead a handful of laps and finish on the lead lap in 23rd. Mears ran inside the top 20 late, and this team should be capable of finishing there, so it’s not quite running at full potential… but it’s close.

Matt DiBenedetto ran a smart, solid race and also had a lead-lap finish, the first time he’s done so with the No. 83 since Bristol in August.  DiBenedetto remains an underrated talent, one who’s starting to make a difference within his BK Racing team.

Clint Bowyer finished 26th in the No. 15 this weekend, a respectable effort at his hometown track. Bowyer’s entering the homestretch of his stint with HScott Motorsports, a team that’s definitely got some question marks heading into 2017 without this driver at the helm.

Landon Cassill didn’t match his teammate Buescher’s top-25 run this week. But he still had a decent outing, staying out of trouble and running 27th.  If you’re looking for a low-budget fantasy pick at Talladega this week, both Cassill and Mears are excellent plate racers with a real shot at quality finishes.

Needs Improvement

With the exception of David Ragan (36th after some on-track issues at Kansas), who really should be running better than he has this season with BK Racing, the others on the back half of the small-team field are realistically running about where they should among this group.

Regan Smith (29th) had a fair day with Tommy Baldwin Racing — he’s a talented driver but the equipment isn’t quite on par with teams like BK or Front Row. Meanwhile, Michael Annett (32nd) is racing for his future.  He’ll find a ride in 2017, as he brings sponsorship from Pilot Flying J, but whether it will be in the Cup Series remains to be seen.

Cole Whitt (33rd) and Reed Sorenson (34th) weren’t strong at Kansas, but they did finish close to each other in the field, though Whitt was a lap ahead of his teammate at Premium Motorsports. That’s actually a good thing, though, because it means that both drivers are likely getting the most out of their equipment. A wild swing between them might mean the team isn’t working well or improving.

Joey Gase (35th) ran the race he needed to run, finishing several laps down but clean and in one piece, though Go FAS Racing might be a stronger team if they stopped the revolving door of drivers.  (Bobby Labonte will drive the No. 32 at Talladega this weekend.)  Finally, Josh Wise (39th) smacked the wall hard enough Sunday that his No. 30 team packed it in — The Motorsports Group (TMG) doesn’t have a fleet of cars to choose from and bowing out with the least possible damage was a good move.

In the News

BK Racing announced Monday Jeffrey Earnhardt will pilot the team’s third car at Talladega this coming weekend and Homestead later this year.  Earnhardt will be sponsored by Starter in both races and will be the first member of his racing family to race a Toyota in Sprint Cup competition.

“I’m really excited to drive the No. 83 Starter Toyota Camry for the fall race at Talladega,” said Earnhardt Monday. “It’s my first Cup Series race at Talladega, my first race with BK Racing, the first time anyone from our family competes in a Toyota and it’s the 25th anniversary of my grandfather’s victory at Talladega. Having this opportunity with an iconic American partner like Starter is an incredible honor. I can’t remember being so pumped up for a race and sincerely appreciate our friends at Starter for their support.”

David Gilliand will attempt to qualify at Talladega in Front Row Motorsports’ No. 35 car, sponsored by Dockside Logistics.  Gilliland, along with Matt DiBenedetto (in the No. 93 this week), Ryan Blaney, Ryan Reed in the Roush Fenway Racing No. 99, Cole Whitt and Reed Sorenson will need to qualify on speed.  42 entries this week means that two teams will go home early.

On the sponsorship side, sweetFrog frozen yogurt returns to back David Ragan’s No. 23 entry at Talladega this weekend.

Say Anything


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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