(Photo: John Harrelson/NKP)

The Underdog House: Tracking NASCAR’s Small Teams from Michigan to Darlington

Tommy Baldwin Racing
Regan Smith, No. 7 APC Chevrolet
Looking back: Michigan International Speedway was one of Smith’s better runs on a 1.5-to-2-mile speedway this year, with a 26th-place finish and a lap led on his tally. Smith said afterward that he feels like his team is learning some things that will help them in the future, which may end up being the biggest positive of the weekend if the team can improve their finishes weekly. Smith remains 32nd in points after Michigan.
Looking ahead: Smith has one career Sprint Cup win, and it came at Darlington Speedway in 2011, so it’s safe to say he’s looking forward to a return. His Darlington average in six races is a very solid 17.7, and a finish in that ballpark would be a great boost for Smith and his TBR team.  It’s made some gains this season, and a top 25 would be another good day.
Tweets of the Week:

Germain Racing
Casey Mears, No. 13 GEICO Chevrolet
Looking back: Hand it to the No. 13 team as it worked all day to make an ill-handling car better, and there were some gains by the end.  Mears finished 22nd, and though he stays 28th in driver points, he’s been decent enough the last few weeks that another couple of spots are within his reach by the end of the year; he’s currently 14 points behind Clint Bowyer in 27th. 2016 is not going to be the year the team had hoped for (and looked capable of) after a 2015 season that had it hoping for a top-20 points finish this year.
Looking ahead: Darlington comes at a time when this team is finally making some small gains after a slow start to the season, and from that perspective, it doesn’t come at an opportune time; Mears’ average at the Track Too Tough to Tame is 29.1, and he’s never cracked the top 10, making Darlington the worst track of his career.
Tweets of the Week:

HScott Motorsports
Clint Bowyer, No. 15 5-hour Energy Chevrolet
Michael Annett, No. 46 Pilot Flying J Chevrolet
Looking back: It was a long, difficult day for HSM at Michigan. Bowyer was hoping for a good day but had to pit twice just past halfway for a loose wheel, and the worst was yet to come as Bowyer went to garage on lap 123 for a lengthy stay to replace the No. 15’s transmission.  He did get back on track, but a lack of attrition left him last, in 40th.  Annett was also having a decent day, racing inside the top 30, when a cut tire on his No. 46 brought out the last caution of the day and handed Annett a 33rd-place finish.  Bowyer fell two places to 27th in points with a 14-point cushion over Mears; Annett sits 37th, 29 behind Cole Whitt.
Looking ahead: After the team’s struggles at Michigan, Bowyer and Annett will be looking to stop the bleeding at Darlington.  Bowyer’s average there is just inside the top 20 at 19.8, and that’s a good goal for which to shoot. Annett has just two races at Darlington and has never finished better than 39th, but in one of those races he was caught in a crash, so expect him to improve on his top finish by a few spots this week.
Tweets of the Week:

Wood Brothers Racing
Ryan Blaney, No. 21 Motorcraft / Quick Lane Ford
Looking back: Blaney had struggled at Michigan in a couple of previous races, but this year he was on it, in the mix for the win on the final restart and finishing fifth.  Wood Brothers Racing has exceeded expectations in its first year as a full-time Cup team in several years, thanks in part to a technical alliance with Team Penske that’s paying dividends. Without a win, it’s unlikely that Blaney can climb into Chase contention on points alone (he’s currently 18th), and the team looks just short of winning form right now. Still, with a year under its belts, 2017 could be a different story.
Looking ahead: Blaney’s team certainly knows how to dance with the Lady in Black, but its driver has considerably less experience.  He finished 30th in the Southern 500 last year, his only Darlington start.  As strong as Blaney has been on intermediates this season, he can definitely score a strong finish for the ol’ No. 21 this week if he races the track and avoids others’ drama.
Tweets of the Week:

BK Racing
David Ragan, No. 23 Dr. Pepper Toyota
Matt DiBenedetto, No 83 Vector Security Toyota
Looking back: BK racing took a few lumps on Sunday.  Ragan finished 29th, a few spots below what he’s looked capable of recently, and DiBenedetto’s unlucky streak continued with brake issues.  Some fans were upset with DiBenedetto for getting into Kyle Larson, but the driver said after the race that it had not been intentional and that his brake pedal had gone to the floor and he wasn’t able to avoid contact.  DiBenedetto went on to finish 32nd.  Ragan remains 31st in points this week but is now just seven markers behind Chris Buescher (and a role as spoiler to Buescher’s Chase bid). DiBenedetto is 35th on the points chart.  The good news is that a year ago, this week’s results would have been about on average for this team; now it’s a bit of a let down.  There are many ways to measure improvement, and that’s one of them.
Looking ahead: Like Blaney, DiBenedetto has exactly one race at Darlington, but he had a strong run last fall, finishing 25th.  The tracks suits his driving style, so if the car has speed, he can definitely capitalize. Ragan has struggled a bit, with a 27th-place average, but he does have a best finish of fifth.  Don’t expect a top 10, but a top 25 would be a solid performance, especially if both BK cars can do that.
Tweets of the Week:

The Motorsports Group
Josh Wise, No. 30 Curtis Key Plumbing Chevrolet
Looking back: The No. 30 group has struggled to keep up in 2016, and this week was no different, with Wise coming home 38th ahead of two cars with extensive issues. He sits 38th in  driver points. The team is making races this year because there are just 40 teams showing up most weeks.  It’s a hardworking bunch but might be better off putting its efforts into the Camping World Truck or XFINITY series, or even a K&N Pro Series run, where it has a chance at being competitive.
Looking ahead: Wise has a 34th-place average in three Darlington starts, and if he can keep his car in one piece, there should be enough attrition that he can match that number.  Wise has been an asset in that he does keep his car clean when he can, essential for a team without a fleet of vehicles at its disposal.
Tweets of the Week:

Go FAS Racing
Jeffrey Earnhardt, No 32 KeenParts.com / CorvetteParts.net Ford
Looking back: People wonder why someone selling parts for a Corvette, manufactured by Chevrolet, would choose to sponsor a Ford.  The answer is probably twofold: it can afford to sponsor a smaller team like Go FAS, and well, people talk about it, don’t they?  Earnhardt’s strength is his communication with his team, and he gave a lot of worthwhile feedback again this week on the way to finishing 37th; the team’s lack of resources to improve the cars is what’s holding it back at this point. Earnhardt is 42nd in points after 12 starts this season so far.  It might be better for all involved for the team to keep him in the seat for a full season and let the team find a rhythm.
Looking ahead: Earnhardt will meet the Lady in Black for the first time in a Sprint Cup car this week, and his goal will be to finish the race and to continue to communicate with his team as well as he as at the last few tracks.  It will be a learning experience for Earnhardt, and a valuable one at one of the most difficult tracks he’ll race.
Tweets of the Week:

Front Row Motorsports
Chris Buescher, No 34 Dockside Logistics Ford
Landon Cassill, No. 38 MDC Transport Ford
Looking back: Michigan was probably a weekend that both Buescher and Cassill would like to forget.  Buescher, who needs to maintain a top-30 points position through Richmond International Speedway to earn a Chase berth, ran into mechanical trouble early, running off the pace in the first half of the race.  The team replaced spark plugs on multiple pit stops and kept Buescher in the race, but he lost a handful of laps in the process and was only racing one car for position at the end, finishing 35th.  Cassill suffered a spindle failure on the No. 38 late in the race and slid to 39th on the final score sheet.  That bought Buescher a point but was disappointing nonetheless.  Buescher hangs on to 30th in points and Cassill remains in 29th, 23 up on his teammate.
Looking ahead: Welcome to Darlington, Chris Buescher.  The rookie Chase hopeful makes his Cup debut at the track this weekend.  In four XFINITY Series starts, he has a top 5 and an average finish of 17th, and repeating that would go a long way in solidifying his playoff hopes.  Cassill has been strong at Darlington in the past—his 26th-place average is better than some drivers who’ve had better equipment than he has to work with.  A top 25 is obtainable and a top 20 is a possibility for the No. 38 this weekend.
Tweets of the Week:

JTG Daugherty Racing
AJ Allmendinger, Kroger / Scott Products Chevrolet
Looking back: A top 15 is a solid run for this team—if it can run in that area consistently with a top 10 here and there, it can be a Chase contender.  They’re a little short this year, but the improvement has been steady and apparent over the last three years, and there’s no reason to think it won’t continue to get better next year.  Allmendinger dropped a spot in points to 19th despite finishing 15th, as Blaney’s top-5 run moved him up the chart. A top-20 points finish is a realistic goal for this team and would cap off a strong season.
Looking ahead: Allmendinger has struggled a bit at Darlington in the past, with a 26th-place average that’s not quite as good as it could be given his equipment.  This weekend will be a test for this team of how prepared they really are to head into 2017 with a chance of being a top-15 team.
Tweets of the Week:

Premium Motorsports
Reed Sorenson, No. 55 Vydox Plus Chevrolet
Cole Whitt, No. 98 Chevrolet
Looking back: This team has had some decent runs recently, but 2-mile Michigan proved to be a bigger challenge for Whitt and Sorenson, who finished 34th and 36th, respectively. Whitt stayed in 36th place in driver points, and Sorenson remains 39th.  Like the No. 30 team, this organization is making races without a charter because the fields are small, but it might be more competitive in a series that doesn’t cost so much to run.
Looking ahead: Carolina Skiff will be back with Whitt this weekend, but it looks like it could be a tough weekend for both Premium drivers—Whitt hasn’t finished better than 38th in three Darlington starts.  Sorenson has fared a little better, and if he can match his 30.9 average, he’ll be OK, but it would be hard to expect better than a top 30 from either driver, and a top 35 may be more realistic.
Tweets of the Week:

Circle Sport Leavine Family Racing
Michael McDowell, No 95 Thrivent Financial Chevrolet
Looking back: McDowell kicked the weekend off with his first career NASCAR national touring series win in the XFINITY Series race at Road America driving for Richard Childress Racing.  Sam Hornish, Jr. practiced and qualified the No. 95 at Michigan for McDowell. That meant McDowell started in the back, and by the end of the day, he moved up a few spots to 31st.  He remains 34th in driver points. It’s not easy to have someone else practice a car because drivers like different feels, so that could have been an issue for this team Sunday.  Also, Richard Childress Racing has struggled the last couple of years, and that has extended to its satellite teams including CSLFR, JTG Daugherty Racing and Germain Racing.
Looking ahead: McDowell has struggled at Darlington in the past, with a best finish of 28th but three finishes of 40th or worse.  Still, with the improvements this team has made in 2016, a 25th-30th place finish is a reasonable expectation.
Tweets of the Week:

 

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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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    About roscoe pappy hough he wasn’t born in paterson nj…..he was born in new cordon indiana….he was my great uncle