It’s the homestretch of the 2011 season, meaning that the cookie cutter intermediate track is taking center-stage. Kansas Speedway marks the first of four 1.5 mile oval races that will ultimately determine the 2011 champion, as well as setting much of the field for the 2012 Daytona 500. And as could be expected, it was a play date up front for the horsepower of Hendrick Motorsports and Roush Fenway Racing. But even as the big guns were busy at work for 400 miles, it was a surprisingly solid day for those at the back end of the garage.
Score One for David
Landon Cassill’s uneventful run seemed doomed for a sour ending late in the going, when contact with Regan Smith sent the No. 51 car sliding across the infield grass on lap 220. That spin ended up being a blessing in disguise though, as the No. 51 had just taken a wave-around and got back on the lead lap as a result of the caution flag that flew. Cassill staying on the lead lap was accomplishment enough on a day that the dominance of Jimmie Johnson up front left only 18 cars to finish on that lap. But even more impressive was that Cassill, despite driving a pseudo-Hendrick entry, finished right ahead of Ryan Newman in the final running order. Only 24 hours after a race that saw Elliott Sadler all over Paul Menard’s case on the radio in Nationwide competition for racing his title-contending teammate too hard, to see Cassill not yield to the No. 39 at race’s end was refreshing to see.
Austin Dillon did exactly what he was supposed to do in his Cup Series debut this weekend; raced his way into the field, logged laps, and brought his No. 98 car home in one piece without a scratch on it. Dillon even proved an able teammate for RCR’s one Chase entry in Kevin Harvick, pushing him around under yellow to help the No. 29 conserve fuel when mileage appeared to be a concern coming to the finish. Perhaps most importantly, Dillon never appeared over his head over the course of 400 miles.
A 28th-place finish is hardly the highlight of Mike Bliss’ stock car racing career, but the result was a positive on two fronts for FAS Lane Racing. For one, it was a solid result that shook off the team’s ugly wreck last weekend at Dover. More importantly though, amongst the Ford teams at the back of the field, Bliss and the No. 32 car outran all three of Front Row Motorsports’ entries as well as the No. 46 Whitney Motorsports entry of Scott Speed.
Also of note, Scott Speed ran the distance for the third time in seven starts with the No. 46 team, finishing four laps down in 33rd. The team claims that they have backing to run three of the final six races to completion, which is always great to see.
Score One for Goliath
Andy Lally lost nearly a third of his points lead over Travis Kvapil and the Front Row Motorsports No. 38 car this weekend after suffering his first DNF since a crash at Michigan back in June; the No. 71 car finished 37th for its worst result of 2011. Lally’s car completed only 72 circuits before bowing out with “overheating issues.” One can only hope these issues were really mechanical woes and not a shortfall in funding; as good as it is to have competition for the final spot in the top 35, it’d be a shame to see a team like TRG that worked as hard as they did to lock themselves back in fall out for lack of resources.
Germain Racing had Mike Skinner and the No. 60 team miss the field for their fourth consecutive race attempt, while Casey Mears had another race without sponsorship have him park the No. 13 car after only 16 circuits Sunday. Just goes to show even for a Truck Series powerhouse just how hard this Cup racing deal is.
David Gilliland finished 32nd driving the No. 34 for Front Row Motorsports, his sixth consecutive finish outside the top 25. That’s the longest such streak of the season for Gilliland and FRM’s flagship team.
The Week’s Winner: David
Nothing flashy to report, but the underdogs got through Sunday’s 400-miler with no wrecks, limited mechanical troubles and without any incidents that ruined other competitors’ days. Considering the inherent disadvantages that the teams at the back of the garage have on these intermediate circuits, both with regard to wind tunnel time and horsepower, this Sunday went about as well as can be expected for them.