Never Fear, the Underdogs are Here: Richmond I Edition by Amy Henderson
Editor’s Note: This year, we’re going to switch things up a little bit. Instead of just focusing upon one underdog (or underreported) car in the Secret Star section, we will point out three smaller teams that put up good finishes each week.
Underdog Selection No. 1: AJ Allmendinger for Phoenix Racing; started 24th, finished 14th
Phoenix Racing continues to make the right moves and, despite a revolving door of drivers, is getting the finishes to show for it. Sure, they’re a Hendrick Motorsports affiliate, but not at the level some people think. They run Hendrick chassis and engines, but in exchange they develop pit crew members for HMS…meaning they can be taken away, and they have run experimental engine or chassis packages in exchange for a discount.
This week, they looked like several other small teams—a mid-pack effort. Until, that is, they took a late race gamble to stay out on old tires before the green-white-checkered run. While it didn’t pay off with the top-5 finish they hoped for, they did steal about ten spots from where they had been running. That makes the gamble a smart one; too often the smaller teams make the safe choice as a defensive move, and this time, Allmendinger and Co. went on the offense, and it paid off. The team remains 15th in owner points, eight spots higher than the next single-car team.
Underdog Selection No. 2: Bobby Labonte for JTG-Daugherty Racing; started 32nd, finished 19th
The JTG-Daugherty group has struggled a bit in 2013; though they’ve maintained the status quo, the improvement of several of their peers has left them a bit behind. This team expected vast improvement over the last couple of years and had hoped to add a second car…but that hasn’t happened.
At Richmond, though, Labonte was one of several underdogs to remind us that RIR is still a drivers’ track. He scored his first top-20 finish since Daytona and finished on his career Richmond average of 19th. That’s a good beginning, but now the question is whether this team can be a top-20 contender on a more regular basis.
Underdog Selection No. 3: David Ragan for Front Row Motorsports; started 20th, finished 20th
David Ragan hasn’t made a lot of noise in 2013, but he did score his first top-20 at Richmond. Front Row Motorsports is another team who should be performing better by now, their fifth full season in the Sprint Cup ranks. Ragan is a better driver than he’s sometimes given credit for, and, if the equipment was there, should be able to be counted on for a handful of top-15 finishes and a top 10 here and there. He does have a win at Daytona, and the restrictor plate tracks are his forte, so if he can avoid trouble, Talladega is a good chance for this team to capitalize on his talent and swing a little momentum their way.
Is your favorite driver among NASCAR’s underdogs? Are you frustrated with the lack of coverage they receive during the race broadcasts? Amy has all the small teams covered each and every week in The Big Six (THIS WEEK’S LINK: www.frontstretch.com/ahenderson/42943/). Be sure to check it out to see how your favorites fared!