Race Weekend Central

The Underdog House: Viva Lost Vegas

Top of the Class

The bright lights of the Vegas strip bring all the underdogs out in hopes of striking a big win and becoming a big dog instantly. Rarely do such things happen in the city and certainly nothing like that happened on the racetrack Sunday.

Ty Dillon carried the torch for the underdogs this week but it was pretty well snuffed out by the teams playing with a full deck. Playoff drivers occupied the top 10 finishing positions and the big teams overran the running order. Dillon’s 16th-place result was a decent showing for him, but hardly impressive when you consider that was the best of the rest.

For Dillon, it was his fifth straight top-20 finish, four of which have come since the suspension of his crew chief Matt Borland following the Michigan weekend in August. Interim crew chief Justin Alexander seems to have this team trending in the right direction.

Honorable Mention

Behind Dillon, the only other underdog to slip into the top 20 was Chris Buescher in 18th. Despite it not being an overly impressive outing, Buescher did manage to lead a lap and kept his streak of top-20 finishes intact, now at 16.

Worth noting is the incident between the No. 52 Rick Ware Racing Ford, driven this week by Garrett Smithley, and Kyle Busch. Busch was running in the top 10 late in the event and approached Smithley’s lapped car. Busch was told by his spotter that Smithley would go high, so Busch took the middle lane. Instead of going under Smithley, the Joe Gibbs Racing star went straight into the back of the lapped car, damaging the nose of his car and ending his shot at victory.


The Xfinity Series capped the on-track action Saturday, with the event turning into a fuel mileage race in the late going. Gray Gaulding stretched the contents of his tank to perfection, landing in the seventh position at the checkered flag. His Bobby Dotter owned Chevrolet was the lone underdog car to score a top 15. After the race, Gaulding spoke about the gamble his team made to try to maximize their chances to make the playoffs.

“Yeah, I saved my rear end off,” Gaulding said. “They said it was going to be close, but about 20 laps to go, they said, ‘You’re good.’ So I thought I could pick it up a little bit, but the racer in me thought that I needed to save as much as I can, even if they say I might not need to. Luckily enough, I saved enough fuel. The calculations were dead on because I ran out right at the checkered flag.

“It says a lot about that call, but what a place to do it in Vegas. People roll the dice every day, and we rolled the dice to get in. We got a great finish, but didn’t get in.”

As for the Gander Outdoors Truck Series, Brennan Poole earned a sixth-place finish on Friday night. It marked his fourth top 10 in just 12 races in the Steven Lane owned No. 30.

Also winding up in the top 15 were Tony Mrakovich (13th), Jordan Anderson (14th), and Gus Dean (15th).

History Lesson: 1990 Daytona 500

The 1990 Daytona 500 is not lost in history, nor has it faded into obscurity. Rather, it remains one of the most famous underdog wins of all time. But it holds this status not because of who won but rather who didn’t win. Almost everyone knows the story of the bell housing and the tire that robbed Dale Earnhardt of his most prized victory. But the meek that inherited the trophy also has a story to tell.

Derrike Cope and team owner Bob Whitcomb had similar records in racing when they linked up in 1989 to run a part-time schedule. Both had less than 60 races under their belt. Both had only a few top-10 finishes to show for their efforts. Then came 1990, their first year of full-time competition.

Cope wasn’t viewed as a threat to win at Daytona, or anywhere else for that matter. He started the race in 12th and led a couple of laps at two different points during pit stop sequences. In the closing laps, Cope found himself on the rear bumper of Earnhardt’s dominant car. He snuck past to lead a couple more laps, but the black No. 3 was simply too strong. As Earnhardt took the white flag, Cope was resigned to the fact that he would be the runner-up on this day. But a bell housing that would change his life lay in the groove at the entrance to turn 3.

Cope was as stunned as anyone to watch Earnhardt bobble and shoot up out of line. Cope barely cleared the RCR Chevrolet and never took his foot off of the throttle until he flashed across the finish line.

As improbable as his Daytona win was, he and Whitcomb did it again four months later at Dover International Speedway. The two victories were the only top-five results for the team during that year.

Cope ran more than 300 Cup Series races following the 1990 season, never finishing better than second. Whitcomb folded his team after the 1992 season when he and Cope parted ways. But they will forever be connected by NASCAR’s most infamous tire.

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About the author

Frank Velat has been an avid follower of NASCAR and other motorsports for over 20 years. He brings a blend of passionate fan and objective author to his work. Frank offers unique perspectives that everyone can relate to, remembering the sport's past all the while embracing its future. Follow along with @FrankVelat on Twitter.

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Poor Ty looks and drives like his dad. Weak chin and tiny mouth.

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