Race Weekend Central

The Underdog House: The Great Equalizer

Think Small

Short tracks are popular with race fans because there is almost always some action somewhere in the field.  Cars are close together, tempers flare and drivers are aggressive.  Another reason to enjoy this type of racing is that short tracks (Bristol and Martinsville more so than Richmond) usually level out the playing field somewhat.  The biggest teams usually still win, but there are usually some different faces in the mix.  At Martinsville, AJ Allmendinger is always a threat for a top finish.  He’s often thought of as a road course specialist, and he is, but he approaches the paperclip in a similar fashion and has been strong.  Matt DiBenedetto has emerged as an underdog to watch at Bristol, where he finished sixth a year ago and bagged a top 20 this week in a car his team was worried about early in the weekend.

Short tracks are drivers’ tracks, so it’s fun to watch some different drivers strut their stuff.  It’s interesting to speculate what might be. Who wouldn’t want to see DiBenedetto in a top car at Bristol?

It’s the sport’s smallest tracks and its biggest, Daytona and Talladega, as well as the road courses, that are the best equalizers.  Equipment always matters, often too much, and that will be true no matter where they race, but when things are closer, some drivers always shine who rarely have the chance at the intermediate venues. It’s always good to see a few different faces in the mix, and it’s great for their teams to be noticed when most weeks they toil in anonymity.

Top of the Class: Bristol I

Ty Dillon topped the list this week for the smaller teams, finishing 15th for his Germain Racing team.  Dillon smacked the wall a couple of times but the cautions fell his way as he used three free passes to remain on the lead lap and take rookie honors for the week

Matt DiBenedetto didn’t’ score a repeat top 10 this time around, but he can boast a very respectable top 20, finishing 19th after a slow start to the weekend in practices.  DiBenedetto’s short-track roots were evident on Sunday, where he took his Go FAS Racing team to its sixth top-30 run of the year, matching the No. 32 team’s total for all of 2016 after just eight races.

Another overachiever this week was once again Cole Whitt, who has been impressive for Tri-Star Motorsports, a team which hasn’t had a lot of success in the XFINITY Series, let alone the sport’s top circuit, but they’ve had some strong runs in this group so far in 2017. Whitt came home 21st Monday.

Passing Grades

David Ragan led the way for Front Row Motorsports, finishing a solid 23rd Monday. While the FRM teams have been finishing fairly close to one another for the most part, this time differing strategies came into play. Of course, that isn’t a bad thing, because teams need to try things to learn how to improve as a group.

Corey Lajoie grabbed a top 25 and matched his career-best finish at Bristol.  BK Racing has struggled for the most part in 2017, but there have been a few glimmers of hope like this one.  A top-30 finish should be the goal for both BK teams, and a top 25 is a really good day right now, especially considering that among the three drivers who’ve run for them this year, he’s the oldest at 25.  Taking an untested youngster is a gamble for any team, and a bigger one for a small team.  Teammate Gray Gaulding also left Bristol in the top 30, finishing 29th, so the team should count this week as a good one.

Think technical alliances aren’t important?  Take a look at Michael Mc Dowell’s solid week.  McDowell finished 26th, slightly behind his season average of 24.2, but then compare that and his 2016 average finish of 24.5 to 2015, when McDowell’s average was 30.7, six spots lower.  What happened? An alliance with Richard Childress Racing.  McDowell has done an admirable job this season so far.

Also scoring top-30 finishes were Jeffrey Earnhardt, who scored his best result since Daytona in 27th; Reed Sorenson in 28th, whose Premium Motorsports team has had some solid moments and AJ Allmendinger, who scored a couple of stage points but had some late-race difficulties.

Needs Improvement

Perhaps Premium Motorsports should consider scaling back to one car. While Sorenson has had a couple of decent runs, Derrike Cope hasn’t been strong, and perhaps the team could better channel its resources.  Cope finished 31st at Bristol.

Several drivers had problems during the race that contributed to less-than-stellar runs. Landon Cassill was the only driver on the small team list to lead laps Monday, but a broken wheel stud sent him to the pits for repairs and cost him a better finish.  Ryan Blaney finished 33rd after having power steering issues.  Timmy Hill finished 37th with an early exit for a broken suspension, and Chris Buescher brought up the rear of the field after an early crash.


Bristol was postponed for heavy rain on Sunday, and when some diehard fans stuck it out in the campgrounds, the situation got worrisome quickly as water began to course through many areas of Bristol motor Speedway property.  The drivers’ motorhome lot wasn’t a problem area, but Chris Buescher still saw fans having issues and took action, helping them move to higher ground in his truck.

E.J. Wade construction returns to the No. 32 and Matt DiBenedetto as primary sponsor this weekend at Richmond as well as the No. 83 of Corey Lajoie. Landon Cassill will sport The Pete Store on his No. 34 Ford.  Towne Bank will be on the hood for the No. 33 of Jeffrey Earnhardt.

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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Jerry Punch was one of the layoffs at ESPN! Fox or NBC might be getting a call.

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