Did You Notice? … Front Row Motorsports has experienced more success than you might think? Sure, it doesn’t seem like it right off the bat. Monday’s improbable win by Chris Buescher, the first for the team at an unrestricted track is just their second Sprint Cup victory overall.
How unexpected was Buescher’s break? He had never led a single lap prior to Monday, had yet to score a top-10 finish in Sprint Cup and was 25th in his only other race at Pocono. The 1,000-1 Las Vegas odds on him entering the Pennsylvania 400 make the rookie the biggest underdog victor in NASCAR betting history.
“I think everybody knows it’s not just a pure run to the end and all-out speed,” reminded Buescher after the team’s strategy call combined with a little luck from Mother Nature. “There was a lot of other things going on. But you take advantage of every situation that’s presented to you, and that’s what we did today.”
FRM, despite their disadvantages has excelled at making the most of those situations. They focus energy on places where they know the team can be more competitive (plate tracks, short tracks) rather than dilute resources on events where they’ll struggle regardless.
David Ragan, as the result of an improbable last-lap draft at Talladega scored the only other win for FRM in the spring of 2013. That now gives the small, underfunded program two victories in the last 120 Sprint Cup races. Here’s a breakdown of wins by owner over that span:
Wins Since Talladega in Spring 2013
Joe Gibbs Racing – 33
Hendrick Motorsports – 30
Team Penske – 25
Stewart-Haas Racing – 16
Roush Fenway Racing – 4
Richard Childress Racing – 3
Michael Waltrip Racing – 2
Front Row Motorsports – 2
Furniture Row Racing – 2
JTG-Daugherty Racing – 1
Richard Petty Motorsports – 1
Chip Ganassi Racing – 1
As you can see, FRM ranks above several well-funded teams on the list during that span. They’ve earned more trophies than CGR, who boasts one of the sport’s great young talents in Kyle Larson and have just as many wins as single-car powerhouse Furniture Row Racing and the year’s laps led leader, Martin Truex, Jr. Also keep in mind how Childress has not won since Kevin Harvick left the team at the end of the 2013 season; ditto for Roush since Carl Edwards left at the end of 2014. Other teams, like Michael Waltrip Racing are simply no longer in existence.
The bigger question is whether this improbable win can spur Buescher and the FRM organization to grab more sponsorship and become more competitive at more than just a handful of tracks. Despite increased help from Ford and RFR the two-car team has struggled to gain consistency; Buescher’s first top-15 finish all season occurred at Indianapolis just two weeks ago. Landon Cassill, for his part contended at Bristol before wrecking but has just one top-15 finish of his own. It’s 11th at – you guessed it – the restrictor plate track of Talladega.
Yet if Buescher makes the Chase FRM’s model for the regular season could be more cost effective. Think of the millions more that Childress, Ganassi, and RPM spend only to get shut out of Victory Lane. It’s also not inconceivable that teams like RPM and RFR get shut out of the championship battle completely while Buescher sneaks inside the top 30 (and the postseason) by Richmond.
Perhaps there’s still room for the little guy after all.
Did You Notice? … One of the sport’s most successful road course ringers, Boris Said, is back on the entry list for Watkins Glen? Said, 53, will continue a streak of competing in every Cup event at the raceway since 2005.
To show how much the series has changed in a decade, here’s a quick look at the field when Said started this streak a decade earlier.
- There were at least seven “ringers” in the race (eight if you count Terry Labonte, a temp hire at the time for the No. 11 JGR team). Two of them, Said and Scott Pruett finished in the top 5. Compare that to the 2016 edition where only two of 40 drivers on the entry list, Said and Alex Kennedy would be considered “ringers.”
- The top-10 finishers came from eight different organizations: Gibbs, Robby Gordon Motorsports, MB2 Motorsports, Ganassi, Hendrick, Penske, Roush, and Dale Earnhardt, Inc.
- The listed attendance was 85,000 and there were nine lead changes. Both were more than what we saw two weeks ago in Indianapolis for just a 92-lap race.
- The top 5 in points after this race were Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, Greg Biffle, Rusty Wallace and Mark Martin. By the end of this season, three of those five drivers will have retired while Biffle, 46, moonlights as the oldest full-time driver on the circuit.
Back then, Said’s part-time No. 36 team, sponsored by Centrix was able to pop up on the racetrack and compete with those around him. His current team? The No. 32 Ford has struggled to simply crack the top 30 this year at all tracks and Said has run no better than 22nd with them at the Glen. A top 20 for them would be considered a win.
Did You Notice? … Quick hits before we take off…
- The longer Dale Earnhardt, Jr. sits out the more you wonder how it’s affecting his long-term plans to stay behind the wheel. Earnhardt’s contract at Hendrick runs through the end of the 2017 season. Will the soon-to-be-married superstar, approaching age 42 feel it’s worth it to keep going when the risk of a future concussion is there? Keep in mind Jeff Gordon, Earnhardt’s sub for at least two more races retired last year at the age of 44.
- Speaking of Hendrick, Monday’s victory puts a potential further squeeze on their Chase chances. While Johnson is firmly in the field, Earnhardt and Kahne are on the outside looking in while Chase Elliott can’t seem to stop this recent downward spiral. A winless Elliott has fallen from “would take a Herculean collapse to miss the postseason” into “Oh God, that collapse is actually happening” territory.
- Larson may be at the bottom of the Chase field right now but his spot above the cutline should scare some of his main rivals. The No. 42 team hasn’t finished outside the top 20 in ten straight races and even without a win is flexing the type of consistency muscle necessary to advance through each round.