Kevin Rutherford · Friday July 5, 2013
As Talladega’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race this past spring showed, anything can happen at a superspeedway, and as long as you can keep the draft, anyone can win. David Ragan wasn’t the first underfunded driver to take a checkered flag at a superspeedway, and he likely won’t be the last. Seeing some of the smaller teams of NASCAR even contending for a victory has become a tradition at Daytona and Talladega — an expectation rather than a surprise.
Nearly 10 years ago, one team defied the odds to score its first (and, to date, only) Nationwide Series victory. If that team qualifies into Friday’s Subway Firecracker 250, the race will mark the team’s return to the track that gave it its taste of glory, its first superspeedway start since 2006.
The team in question is Biagi-DenBeste Racing, whose No. 4 GEICO car, driven by Mike Wallace, made a last-lap pass to win 2004’s Winn-Dixie 250 at Daytona. Though that win may have provided good tidings for one of the series’ smaller teams, it proved to be the only such ones for a very long time within Fred Biagi’s modest organization. Wallace departed the team after the 2004 season, though the GEICO sponsorship remained. The team managed only one top-10 finish in 2005, a sixth at Richmond by Jeff Green, and could manage one other in 2006, with a Daytona car driven by Jeff’s brother Mark. After 2006, the team closed due to lack of funding.
Of course, the organization resurfaced last year, with a new number, new look and new driver. The longtime No. 4 became the No. 98, the red colors turning to black and gold with backing from Shelby Engine Co. Multi-race winner Reed Sorenson got the nod to run the Ford, and produced three top-20 finishes in five races. Not bad for a part-time team that had returned to the track after six years, a timeframe during which much changed in the series, from technology to the level of competition. Late in the year, dirt racing standout Kevin Swindell got a shot in the car and immediately rattled off a ninth at Texas, the team’s first top 10 since Mark Green’s Daytona showing in February 2006. Something had clicked.
In 2013, Swindell and Biagi-DenBeste have driven in six Nationwide races, with a best finish of 10th. Together, the pairing has produced an average finish of 16.8, finishing on the lead lap every race but one. Again, not bad for a part-time team.
This week, the team returns to the site of its only victory, the high point in a decidedly solid tenure in the series. Can the little team that could pull off another upset?
Swindell, son of dirt racing legend Sammy Swindell, has two superspeedway starts in his racing career, both coming in the ARCA Racing Series. While unable to score a top 10 in either of those races, he kept his nose clean, showing he can mix it up without doing anything stupid. Granted, the Nationwide Series is higher competition than ARCA, but his NASCAR record thus far seems to indicate he won’t be a roadblock, despite it being his first NASCAR superspeedway start.
Plus, remember, anything can happen. The team hasn’t shown an incredible amount of speed, at least compared to some of the best of the bunch, but the No. 98 has shown it can at least hang with the draft, judging by its practice runs Thursday evening. As has been seen time and time again, at Daytona and Talladega, as long as you have a car or truck that can keep in the draft, you have a chance. Simple as that. All the team needs now is to beat two fellow go-or-go-home teams and Biagi-DenBeste is golden.
Entering Friday night’s race, Swindell and his team will probably not be on a lot of spectators’ minds in terms of a potential challenger for the win. But Mike Wallace, despite a fairly impressive track record at the superspeedways in each series he ran, wasn’t exactly a favorite in July 2004 either. He certainly isn’t this year, as he straps into his No. 01 for Johnny Davis Motorsports.
Like Wallace, Swindell has the opportunity to do well — very well, in fact — simply because of the unpredictability that is restrictor plate racing.
Few in the Nationwide Series know that better than Biagi-DenBeste Racing.
- If you see a fairly familiar green-and-yellow City-sponsored Chevrolet Friday night under the lights, you’re not witnessing the filming of Days of Thunder 2. In keeping with his movie theme at restrictor plate races, Kurt Busch will pilot a Phoenix Racing car that’s a near mirror image to the No. 46 that Cole Trickle drove in 1990’s Days of Thunder. Busch promoted the paint scheme with a video, posted Wednesday, that features the driver, alongside crew chief Nick Harrison and Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick, quoting lines from the film. The former Cup champion drove a Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby-themed No. 51 in last year’s spring Talladega race in the Sprint Cup Series.
- Mike Bliss’s No. 19 for TriStar Motorsports often runs with a blank hood, but in a deal starting at Daytona, the multi-race Nationwide Series winner will receive sponsorship from Tweaker Energy Shot. The backing is for five races, with Tweaker also partnering with Bliss at Indianapolis, Bristol, Texas and Phoenix. Tweaker Energy Shot is a Dallas-based energy shot brand, along the lines of 5-Hour Energy, a mainstay in NASCAR the last few years, most recently with Clint Bowyer.
Looking Ahead: Daytona
Stats (Entered Drivers)
Most Wins: Joe Nemechek (2)
Most Top Fives: Matt Kenseth (7)
Most Top 10s: Matt Kenseth (9)
Most Poles: Joe Nemechek (4)
Top Average Finish: Alex Bowman (3.0, 1 race), Landon Cassill (3.0, 1), Matt Kenseth (6.8, 12), Joey Logano (8.4, 8), Parker Kligerman (9.0, 2)
Entered Past Winners: Joe Nemechek, Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano, James Buescher, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Mike Wallace
Daytona Nationwide Debuts: Ty Dillon, Dexter Stacey, Kevin Swindell
Season Nationwide Debuts: None
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