NASCAR Race Weekend Central
(Photo: Matthew Thacker/NKP)

The Underdog House: NASCAR’s House of Cards Falling Down?

Think Small

The news that’s trickled in through the last week should be making everyone in the sport take pause and think about the health of several of its teams.  The snowball got rolling last week when it was reported that Tommy Baldwin Racing was in the process of selling its charter to Leavine Family Racing, which would split from Circle Sport, the team that holds the charter the combined organization ran under this season.

That led to reports that Ty Dillon will take the No. 13 ride from Casey Mears next season, with Mears moving to Circle Sport’s No. 33 or (less likely) the Leavine Family No. 95, currently driven by Michael McDowell. Both Germain Racing and Leavine Family Racing have technical alliances with Richard Childress Racing.  Dillon is team owner Childress’ grandson, so it will likely whatever Childress says goes for somebody.

Should there be concern?  Absolutely, and it should start with Tommy Baldwin Racing. No announcements have been made, but it seems unlikely that Baldwin would continue as an open team, though it’s possible.  That’s potentially one team gone from the sport entirely, and there could be more as GO FAS Racing is also reportedly looking at possibly offering its charter to the highest bidder. These are teams and individuals that worked through a lot of struggles to get where they did in the first place with fewer resources at their disposal.

(Photo: Brett Moist/NKP)
Will Casey Mears be odd man out after a shake-up among the small teams?(Photo: Brett Moist/NKP)

For Mears and McDowell, meanwhile, the impact isn’t as far-reaching, but it stings. Both drivers have been with their teams since they came into the spot as start-and-park operations, and it seems unfair, to say the least, that one of them is going to get the short end of the stick when RCR foists Dillon on one of their teams. If Childress would put either Mears or McDowell in Dillon’s vacated XFINITY Car to contend for a title there it might lessen the sting a little.

For the teams, it makes sense as Childress is probably forking out a chunk of change to make that happen and money will often help a team more than the person in the driver’s seat in today’s NASCAR.  It’s an unfortunate reality, but reality nonetheless. The downside is that the person paying the price doesn’t deserve it.

Top of the Class: Talladega II

AJ Allmendinger was best in class this week with a 10th-place run.  Allmendinger has struggled to get comfortable at restrictor-plate tracks, so the finish was an extra boost for him.  Ryan Blaney also had an exceptionally strong day, contending for the lead for much of the afternoon and leading twice before getting shuffled to 11th at the finish.  Blaney has flirted with winning often enough this year to make it seem like a matter of when, not if, he breaks through. McDowell has been the subject of some speculation recently, but he’s been solid in the No. 95 and Sunday was another good day for him with a 16th-place result.  This team is coming along just as it should.  Finally, Clint Bowyer has been strong at Talladega in the past, and he was strong again this weekend, bringing his team a top-20 as well (18th).

Passing Grades

While the plate tracks are one place where teams are on more equal ground and they can hope for a top 10 or even better when given the chance, the reality is that not everyone can get there.  This week, Landon Cassill and Chris Buescher didn’t take Front Row Motorsports to the top, but they had a decent day, avoiding trouble (narrowly, in Cassill’s case) and finishing 21st and 22nd, which is the kind of result they need in the long run. David Ragan took Front Motorsports to an unlikely win at Talladega a couple of years ago, and while he wasn’t able to do the same for his BK Racing team this time around, he and teammate Matt DiBenedetto brought in two top-30 finishes (24th and 27th).  Finally, Regan Smith is reportedly looking for a job for 2017, and while he didn’t set the world on fire, he kept it stead to the finish for 25th.  Smith is the kind of driver who is going to bring his cars home in one piece and get as much out of them as he can, so he’d be a good pickup for a team in this group.

Needs Improvement

Bobby Labonte may have run his final Sprint Cup race, and it was an inauspicious 31st-place result for the former champion with Go FAS Racing, another team whose future is precarious beyond this season. Michael Annett’s No. 46 team will be without a charter in 2017, and his position is in question as well. An XFINITY Series ride might be in his future, though, and truthfully, he’s better suited for that series at this point in his career. Jeffrey Earnhardt, who has shown potential this year, may have been auditioning for a ride with BK Racing or another team, and a tangle with Greg Biffle, which triggered a three-car crash wasn’t a great selling point. Reed Sorenson was at the top of the charts in the first round of qualifying and ended up starting 12th. He had to be strong without a guaranteed spot in the race, but the effort cost the team in that it had to pit early to make changes to race trim and it cost Sorenson several laps.  Finally, getting caught up in somebody else’s mess came at the worst possible time for Casey Mears, another driver who suddenly finds his future in question just a year after signing a three-year contract extension at Germain Racing. He’s the best plate racer in this group, but had nothing to show for it at the end of the day.

In the News

While the Tommy Baldwin charter sale made more news, NBC Sports reported  that Go FAS Racing is also evaluating its future after running at the bottom of the pile in owner points among chartered teams. That puts the team’s charter in jeopardy since NASCAR has the option to revoke a charter in an organization is in the bottom three in points three seasons in a row. With at least one elite team (Furniture Row Racing) without a charter as well as several smaller teams, it could be more profitable for the team to sell its charter and either run as an open team or exit the sport.

Following a Motorsport.com report that Greg Biffle will leave Roush Fenway Racing at the end of the season, speculation has popped up that he’ll land in a second entry for JTG Daugherty Racing as a teammate to AJ Allmendinger.

Gray Gaulding will attempt to make his Sprint Cup debut this week in The Motorsports Group’s No. 30 at Martinsville.  Josh Wise drove the car foe most of the season. Feed the Children will be the primary sponsor for Gaulding.

Jeffrey Earnhardt returns to the No. 32 this weekend at Martinsville.  Dylan Lupton will race the No. 83 for BK Racing, with Matt DiBenedetto in the No. 93 entry.

Say anything

Those are some big words, Wood Brothers Racing…

A son-to-Dad birthday message.  Nice ‘do, Dave.

His mother might disagree.

This about sums it up…

 

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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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