(Photo: Anthony Lumbis, Sr.)

The Underdog House: Tracking NASCAR’s Small Teams From Bristol to Michigan

Tommy Baldwin Racing
Regan Smith, No. 7 APC Chevrolet
Looking back: Smith had a brush with the wall just past the quarter mark of the race, bringing out the first caution of the day after the restart Sunday following the earlier competition yellow.  Even so, he managed to avoid further trouble while others couldn’t do the same, and by the end of the day, Smith had hung on to finish a respectable 26th.  He entered the day 32nd in driver points, and that’s where he remained after the race.
Looking ahead: Michigan is the kind of track that’s merciless to teams that are even the slightest bit underpowered, and it’s also a track that Smith has struggled at in the past.  In nine starts, he has a 27th-place average finish and just two lead lap finishes.  The average isn’t terrible, though, and if he can finish 27th this weekend, it’ll be solid.
Tweets of the Week:

Germain Racing
Casey Mears, No. 13 GEICO Chevrolet
Looking back: Mears continues to be impressive each week in qualifying, but the team has struggled to find speed during races.  He struggled with handling early, and the car was bottoming out hard enough early that there were visible sparks.  After an unscheduled pit stop for a vibration, Mears was caught five laps down.  He still finished 25th thanks to late attrition, but the team wasn’t happy with the car. Mears stayed 28th in points, 25 behind Tony Stewart.
Looking ahead: Mears’ 23.3 MIS average puts him near the top of this group.  He’s led a handful of laps and has three top-10 finishes at the track, so he’s definitely able to navigate the two-mile oval.  This week, though, a top 20 would be a step in the right direction.  If Mears can qualify well and finish better then he starts, it would be a shot in the arm.
Tweets of the Week:
The video shows a really interesting angle…and props to someone for fitting eight GEICO stickers and a Bryan Clauson tribute under there.

I’m guessing he figured it out on his own.  But the mental picture of a crew guy stuffing him in the window made me laugh out loud.

HScott Motorsports
Clint Bowyer, No. 15 5-hour Energy Chevrolet
Justin Allgaier, No. 46 Pilot Flying J Chevrolet
Looking back: Bowyer had a great run at Bristol in the spring, finishing eighth, but he wasn’t able to duplicate his success this time around. A brush with the wall in qualifying and a mechanical issue during the race, which caused another meeting with the wall meant that Bowyer had to settle for 31st.  Allgaier filled in for regular driver Michael Annett in the No.46 after Annett became ill with flu-like symptoms on Saturday. Allgaier started at the back of the field and had worked his way into the mid-20s before getting collected by a spinning Kyle Busch.  Busch had harsh words for Allgaier afterward, though the replay showed Allgaier making the move to avoid Regan Smith on the apron, which sent him up the track into Busch’s car.  Allgaier wound up with more damage than the team could fix, and finished 40th.
Looking ahead: MIS is one of those tracks that’s probably not going to do much to ease Bowyer’s frustration with 2016.  He’s been good there in the past, but as has been the case this season, he’s likely to be held back by his equipment this week.  Still, what Bowyer has done to help this team improve this year has been impressive, and he should consider the year a small success on that front.  Look for Annett to be back in the saddle of the No. 46 this week after the flu kept him out at Bristol.  He needs to be able to improve his average finishes at various tracks, and if he can do that by just a spot or two this weekend, it’ll be a top-30 run that the team can build on.
Tweets of the Week:
You know a driver isn’t feeling well if he’s willing to give up the seat.

But his teammate has a sweet tractor…

Wood Brothers Racing
Ryan Blaney, No. 21 Motorcraft / Quick Lane Ford
Looking back: Early on, it looked as though Blaney might be in contention for his first Cup win, and he was racing near the front with fellow rookie contender Chase Elliott for those honors as well.  Blaney spent most of the first half of the race inside the top 10, before something changed with the handling where the car was rapidly falling off after several laps.  The team was working on addressing the issue when Blaney was collected in a 10-car pileup with just over 100 laps left in the race, ending his day early and relegating him to 35th after his promising start.
Looking ahead: Blaney looks to run his fourth career Michigan race this weekend, and he’ll also be looking to step it up a bit over his 21.7 average. It would be an added bonus if he could record his first laps led at the track in the process. This team has looked on the verge of a breakthrough this season, and a good run would put it that much closer to doing it.  A Chase berth is unlikely at this point, but that’s OK.  This team has performed admirably in their first full-time season in several years.
Tweets of the Week:
Wow, that’s quite a rug!

You know the rain delay is long when…

BK Racing
David Ragan, No. 23 Dr. Pepper Toyota
Matt DiBenedetto, No. 83 Cosmo Motors Toyota
Looking back: DiBenedetto has been strong at Bristol almost from the start, making the second round in qualifying in two of four races and racing his way to a career-best sixth-place finish in the spring race this year.  This race saw DiBenedetto grab a top 20 start and a top-20 finish, in 17th.  DiBenedetto has a short track background and his talent behind the wheel has been obvious at Bristol this season.  Ragan, in contrast, has had his share of struggles, qualifying 33rd for this edition, but he was able to do something a lot of others could not: avoid trouble, and that netted him a 21st-place finish, making it a very good weekend all around for the BK group.
Looking ahead: Michigan is likely to be less kind to the team than Bristol was, but Ragan does have a 21st-place average and a couple of top 10s, so counting them out of a top 20 would be a touch rash.  DiBenedetto is less likely to make waves, and his team needs to concentrating on beating his 34.3 average by a couple of spots.  He’s still learning how to race the bigger tracks, though, so there’s reason to think he can get a better finish.
Tweets of the Week:
Have to love rain delays.

Yes, this happened:

The Motorsports Group
Josh Wise, No. 30 Curtis Key Plumbing Chevrolet
Looking back: The team’s performance at Bristol was not due to lack of effort on anyone’s part.  The crew hustled all weekend at the track, with Wise pitching in where he could, but they were outpaced from the drop of the green flag, never running better than the 36th-place finish Wise brought home.  Wise is a driver who has real potential to be a fan favorite (remember his All-Star fan vote win courtesy of Reddit?) and is worth a follow on social media.
Looking ahead: Wise has a MIS average of just slightly better than 36th, and realistically, that’s about what can be expected this weekend unless there’s a high attrition rate. Wise and the team have worked hard, but they haven’t been able to find enough power to keep up at the bigger tracks.  It’s not a reflection of talent or dedication, but of reality.
Tweets of the Week:

Seems fair…

Go FAS Racing
Jeffrey Earnhardt, No. 32 Can-Am/Kappa Ford
Looking back: One thing Earnhardt did consistently well all weekend was talk to his crew about the car.  He was very thorough during both practices and the race as well, and that’s something that can only help this bunch improve.  Earnhardt still lacks experience and hasn’t had opportunities in really good cars, so he hasn’t experienced what a really good car feels like, but this group is definitely making the effort to improve.  A top-30 run is a small step in the right direction, and Earnhardt did that this week, finishing up in 29th. He remains 42nd in driver points.
Looking ahead: Earnhardt finished 37th in his lone Michigan race earlier this year after a crash, so he’ll be looking to do one thing: finish in one piece.  Rookie Earnhardt has done a decent job of that this season with just one DNF in 11 starts to date.
Tweets of the Week:

Admit it, the Emoji Garage is pretty fun…

Front Row Motorsports
Chris Buescher, No. 34 Loves Travel Stops Ford
Landon Cassill, No. 38 MDS Transport Ford
Looking back: Buescher entered the race with a chance to leave Bristol with a provisional Chase spot.  He needed to gain a few points on 30th-place David Ragan to do that, and Buescher did so with style, finishing fifth and taking home rookie honors in the process.  The challenge now is to hold on to that spot for three races, but Buescher has shown much improvement this season and is capable of keeping his Roush Fenway-built Ford in the mix.  It would take a lot of luck for Buescher to contend for the title, but the extra attention he’ll get in the Chase would be a boost to this team who has worked hard to be competitive in the Cup garage.  Cassill did his part this weekend as well, snagging a top 20 and finishing a spot ahead of Ragan.  His cars are prepared in-house at FRM, and there is a noticeable difference in equipment, but Cassill has definitely taken the team a step forward this year as well. With more sponsorship, he could be the best in this group. Cassill is currently 29th in points.
Looking ahead: The pressure is on for Buescher to stay in the top 30 in points for the next three races.  He finished 20th in his only MIS Cup start earlier this year, and a similar steady performance this week would go a long way toward solidifying his Chase hopes.  On the surface, it might looks though a poor performance by Cassill would shore up Buescher’s position, but what the team really needs is for Cassill to run strong enough to put a cushion between Buescher and Ragan.  In other words, Cassill can help the team by beating Ragan and keeping him from collecting points.
Tweets of the Week:

Yeah, he’s grown up just a little.

Um, oops?

JTG Daugherty Racing
AJ Allmendinger, No. 47 Bush’s Grillin’ Beans Chevrolet
Looking back: Bristol sent Allmendinger spinning in the spring, but this time around, the driver was ready to take on the bullring.  The bottom groove quickly found favor with Allmendinger, who used some good old-fashioned Bristol beating and banging to his advantage and wound up ninth, his fifth top 10 of the season.  The summer has been a long one for the No. 47 bunch, which had Chase aspirations earlier in the season.  Allmendinger did move up a spot in points this week, to 18th, but he’s more than a full race worth of points out of Chase contention.  The good news is that the team has shown that if they can find consistency, they can take it to the next level. They’ve made a good case for themselves as a team on the level with several who have more resources.
Looking ahead: Allmendinger hasn’t quite got MIS figured out: in 16 starts, he’s never had a top 10.  So while he’s got a slightly better average than Casey Mears at 22.1, he needs to find a way to up his game another notch.
Tweets of the Week:

Yep, it was Bristol alright.

Premium Motorsports
Reed Sorenson, No. 55 Chevrolet
Cole Whitt, No. 98 Carolina Skiff Chevrolet
Looking back: Along with the No. 30 and 32 groups, you have to give this team credit for simply showing up each week and trying to improve, despite being outclassed and underfunded even among other teams on this list.  They have noticeably less equipment and crewmen than most of the others at the track.  This week, Sorenson made the most of what he had, finishing 27th, the best among the teams without the luxury of a NASCAR charter.  Whitt didn’t fare quite as well, spending time in the garage making repairs to a smoking engine, though he did get back on track to finish 34th.  Whitt lost a spot in points to DiBenedetto and now sits 36th, with Sorenson remains in 39th.
Looking ahead: Sorenson’s Michigan numbers are surprisingly good with a top 5 and a pair of top 10s.  They came in better equipment than he’s got now, but a driver’s success can give a team a place to start. That’s still good news, though a top 30, which is slightly below Sorenson’s average, would be a good day.  Whitt has less experience at MIS than his teammate but a similar average at 27.8 to Sorenson’s 27.3 Again, a top 30 would be a goal for this team, and unless there’s attrition, it won’t be an easy one for either driver.
Tweets of the Week:

https://twitter.com/DancingBear17/status/767397148136730624

Circle Sport Leavine Family Racing
Michael McDowell, No. 95 Thrivent Financial Chevrolet
Looking back: The No. 95 bunch might just be the most improved team in the garage this season as they snagged their 13th top-25 run of the year in the team’s first season as a full-time competitor in the Sprint Cup Series. In 16 races last season, the team had just two top 25s, so the upswing is noticeable.  They also have six top 20s between McDowell and Ty Dillon, up from just one in 2015.  McDowell’s 19th-place run at Bristol sees him in 34th in driver points.
Looking ahead: McDowell will rack up a few extra frequent flier miles this weekend as he’ll race for Richard Childress Racing in the XFINITY Series race at Road America in addition to driving the No. 95 at Michigan. McDowell’s MIS average is the lowest among all active drivers, but with this year’s RCR alliance and the team’s improved performance, expect him to be well above that 40th-place number this week.
Tweets of the Week:
We see what you did there!

 

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About Amy Henderson

Amy Henderson
Amy is a 15-year veteran writer and a five-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. Amy pens The Big 6 (Mondays) Frontstretch 5 (Wednesdays) and Holding A Pretty Wheel (monthly - Fridays). A New Hampshire native living in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits extend everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports.

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