Think Small. That’s the motto for this column as I take a larger look at the teams still trying to make a name for themselves in the Cup Series despite fewer resources and a far more difficult mountain to climb.
Writer’s Note: What follows is another fresh look for this column, one I expect to stick with. There are some really great stories and great people on the back half of the garage, and this is the place to find them, mixed with a little commentary, a little race analysis, and a little fun.
Top of the Class: Chicago
Ryan Blaney and his Wood Brothers team played strategy perfectly on Sunday. Blaney had a top-10 car, but a gamble on the final caution gave him a top-5 finish. While Blaney missed the Chase this season, strategy calls like the one his team made, when they pay off, are the kind of thing that will only see this team get better. AJ Allmendinger also had a strong race at Chicago, finishing 17th. Top 20s are a big step for this team, and they’ve been able to get them fairly consistently this year. Finally, Clint Bowyer has been frustrated with his HScott Motorsports team at times this year as he’s used to top equipment, but Bowyer has done a credible job of helping the team improve, and he should be proud of what he has accomplished, all things considered.
Finishing in the 20s this week were Ty Dillon (who filled in for Regan Smith in the Tommy Baldwin Racing No. 7), Chris Buescher, and Landon Cassill. While Buescher and Cassill might have been capable of finishing five spots higher, they had solid, drama-free runs, just nothing to write home about. Matt DiBenedetto had an OK if uninspired day in 30th. For him, just staying out of trouble and having a smooth race was important, and he did do that. Michael Annett, in 33rd, finished about where expected.
Bottom of the barrel this week was Joey Gase driving for Go FAS Racing. To be fair, Gase lacks experience, and the team has struggled all season regardless, but they need to stick with one driver. Jeffrey Earnhardt has done a decent job for them, and he’s a thorough communicator, which the team needs right now. It might be the best move for all involved to commit to Earnhardt. Michael McDowell had what has become an uncharacteristically poor finish this week, thanks to a blown tire that really doesn’t reflect his performance at Chicago. It happens, and it shows how far this team has come that what was a weekly occurrence last year will leave them grumbling about bad luck in 2016. David Ragan also had some bad luck that led to a 35th-place run that’s a little atypical for him. The flip side of bad luck is that you make your own luck and Casey Mears made his bed Sunday with not one, but two speeding penalties which cost him multiple laps. He had a better car than his 34th-plcae finish, but wasn’t able to capitalize. The No. 13 team has lost a step this year, and mistakes won’t help them get it back.
Finally, Premium Motorsports, with drivers Reed Sorenson (39th) and Cole Whitt (36th), and The Motorsports Group with Josh Wise (38th) continued their struggles. The difference between their finishes and those of McDowell and Mears is that it’s hard to say they should be finishing higher than that. They need a lot of work going forward if they stay in the series; the addition of a couple teams with more money in the next few years will leave them without starting spots most weeks.[yop_poll id=”22″]
The biggest story of the week in this group was Ty Dillon helping out Regan Smith and driving the No. 7 while Smith was at home with his wife, Megan, as she delivered the couple’s second, a girl named Eliza Grace, who joins big brother Rhett. Smith Tweeted about Eliza’s arrival on Sunday:
The two most beautiful girls I've ever laid my eyes on.
We welcomed Eliza Grace Smith to the world this afternoon. pic.twitter.com/l9xqpxNeJH
— Regan Smith (@ReganSmith) September 18, 2016
Congratulations to the Smith family!
“With it being the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400, we have Bebop on our Ford Fusion. He’s one of the bad guys — he’s a mutant warthog. And, sticking with the kids theme, we also have Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago on the car as well. Front Row Motorsports has worked with them in the past through Love’s Travel Stops, and they do amazing work with kids. So, we’re happy to have them on this cool-looking scheme at their home track.”-Landon Cassill on his Chicago paint scheme
Wow wow wow wow wow wow wow….. That was painful. Long day at the track 👎🏻. Monday can't get here soon enough. Bring on Louden… #13
— Casey Mears (@CJMearsGang) September 18, 2016
Rough day for us. Sorry all the @chaseelliott fans out there. Nothing I could have done tire blew just before I got to turn 3 headed to pits
— Michael McDowell (@Mc_Driver) September 18, 2016
hey… heck of a call on staying out. i was gonna say it was stupid if it didn't work but thats how i roll. great job by crew & Blaney P4
— Wood Brothers Racing (@woodbrothers21) September 18, 2016
— Clint Bowyer (@ClintBowyer) September 14, 2016