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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Underdogs for NL

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: David Ragan for Front Row Motorsports; started 19th, finished 1st

Just one week after cracking the top 20 for the first time in 2012, Ragan broke down the door to Victory Lane, winning the Aaron’s 499. It’s Ragan’s second win, the first victory for a small team since Regan Smith won at Darlington for Furniture Row Racing in May 2011 and the first ever for FRM owner Bob Jenkins. Ragan drove a flawless green-white-checkered run with help from teammate David Gilliland, whose second-place finish was the best of his Cup career to date. Not to be outdone, FRM’s Josh Wise also scored a career-high 19th-place finish on Sunday.

Ragan, despite gaining an early reputation for being a “dart without feathers” on the racetrack at times, is an excellent and underrated restrictor plate racer. His skills served him well on Sunday as he and Gilliland came seemingly from nowhere to steal the win from Carl Edwards on the final lap. Ragan’s other career Cup win came at Daytona in July 2011 with Roush Fenway racing.

Underdog Selection No. 2: Regan Smith for Phoenix Racing; started 34th, finished 6th

Smith passed a lot of cars on Sunday en route to Phoenix Racing’s best finish of 2013, besting the seventh-place run Smith had at Daytona in February. The team continues to lead all of the small teams in owner points, sitting 14th, ahead of at least one team from Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Penske Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing, Roush Fenway Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing, and Richard Childress Racing.

It was a great weekend for Smith, who looked like he might swap both races. He won Saturday’s Nationwide Series race on a bold last-lap move to beat Kasey Kahne and Joey Logano as the caution flew on the final lap, and powered to the front of the pack on Sunday as well (though he didn’t officially lead a lap, he did lead the pack in the late going). Like Ragan, this team could be a factor at Daytona in July.

Underdog Selection No. 3: Scott Speed for Leavine Family Racing; started 36th, finished 9th

If you did a bit of a double take seeing Speed’s name among the top 10, you probably aren’t alone; this is the first top 10 for Leavine Family Racing in 25 total races, the first for Speed since 2010, and the second-best of the driver’s Cup career. Speed avoided trouble when others couldn’t and was in position to capitalize on the green-white checkered. For this part-time team that often starts and parks to save money, Sunday’s finish was proof positive that when sponsors take a chance on a small team, the team can rise to the occasion.

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/43000/). Be sure to check it out to see how your favorites fared!