Daytona and Talladega have a certain appeal because when the cars are equalized by restrictor plates, it brings driver skill into the spotlight, and as this week’s top 10 shows, there’s a lot of skill throughout the field. It’s a bonus when all the drivers have a chance to show it.
It’s a love-hate relationship, though, because these races eat cars for lunch and the small teams can ill afford the carnage. It’s a good thing for them that they have several weeks until the final plate race of the year at Talladega, because many will have to rebuild what they have rather than having the luxury of simply choosing another speedway car from the fleet.
Still, while the racing (and inevitable carnage) leaves something to be desired, the parity does not. Finding a way to make the cars less of a factor and the drivers more of one is, and has been for years, NASCAR’s biggest challenge, and should be the sanctioning body’s top priority too. In that way, the plate tracks are an example of one of racing’s ideal scenarios—where almost anyone with the talent to outduel other drivers can win. Right now, the reality is closer to any team with the money and a reasonably talented driver can win, and while at this level all the drivers are excellent, there are some who don’t get the chance to shine as brightly as they could. The plate tracks change that, but with a catch…they change it for anyone who can survive to the end to race for a top spot.
The best of times and the worst of times? You’ll find them at Daytona and Talladega.
Top of the Class: Daytona
Top honors this week go to Michael McDowell and Leavine Family Racing, with a fourth-place run that might have been even more had there been enough help behind the No. 95 on the final restart. McDowell is a very strong restrictor-plate racer and he’s getting better almost every outing lately.
The top ten was filled with small teams this week as Daytona and those restrictor plate s equalized the field. David Ragan led a handful of laps late, and if not for a late yellow, may well have scored his second Daytona win Saturday. He finished sixth. The biggest surprise of the night was easily Brendan Gaughan in the No. 75 Beard machine. The team only runs the plate races and hasn’t really been any kind of factor until finishing seventh this weekend.
JTG Daugherty Racing also had a great day, with both AJ Allmendinger and Chris Buescher in the top ten, finishing eighth and tenth respectively.
Finally, Corey Lajoie just missed the top ten, but scored a career-high eleventh Saturday, showing patience and skill for an excellent result.
Despite some crash damage, Matt DiBenedetto had a strong run at Daytona, finishing 13th. His No. 32 Go FAS Racing team continues to show improvement. Darrell Wallace, Jr. took a top 15 in his Daytona Cup debut, finishing 15th after getting involved in a late crash; he might well have done even better if not for that.
Ty Dillon saw nothing but open track in front of him inside 20 laps to go, leading seven laps, but wasn’t able to maintain his position after a multi-car crash set up a late restart. It’s hard for a rookie to get a lot of help on a plate track, and Dillon got hung out to dry, finishing 16th.
Landon Cassill piloted his No. 34 to a 19th-place finish, a decent result but not what Cassill, a strong plate racer, had hoped for. Part-time Tommy Baldwin Racing had a good enough day, with veteran Elliott Sadler avoiding big trouble on track and finishing 21st, on the lead lap.
The rest of the group was either involved in an on-track incident or had mechanical issues. Ryan Blaney was caught up when Kyle Larson triggered a late incident and was relegated to 26th place after leading nine laps earlier in the day.
Reed Sorenson did finish, 16 laps down in 30th, and while the lost laps are an inauspicious statistic, Sorenson did make it to the end and capitalized on what he could salvage of the day.
The last four finishers of the day were Jeffrey Earnhardt (37th), D.J. Kennington (38th), Cole Whitt (39th) and Ryan Sieg (40th). All four suffered engine failures before the race reached the halfway point.
The biggest news of the week comes from Front Row Motorsports, who announced some shakeups in the wake of a slow start to the 2017 season. Veteran crew chief Donnie Wingo moves into the role of Competition Director. Seth Barbour replaced Wingo as crew chief for the No. 34 of Landon Cassill. Barbour has two XFINITY Series titles as an engineer for Ricky Stenhouse, Jr and was more recently crew chief for the recently suspended No. 6 Roush Fenway NXS team.
This weekend’s Cup Series race is the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway on Saturday night. There are 40 entries, so all will make the field. No driver is listed for Premium Motorsports’ No. 15 entry, which reed Sorenson has driven in most of the races this year. Derrike Cope will be in the team’s No. 55 entry. BK Racing lists Corey Lajoie and Ryan Sieg in its No. 23 and 83 cars this weekend. The No. 66 Carl Long entry is back in the field with Timmy Hill as driver. The No. 51 Rick Ware Racing team is on the entry list but has not yet named a driver. Darrell Wallace, Jr. is in the No. 43.
Speaking of the No. 43, Aric Almirola announced last weekend that he has been cleared to test a Cup car in the next couple of weeks.
This was pretty damn neat last night, taking a trip back in time..🤘🏽 pic.twitter.com/BN2s3Uhs5t
— Bubba Wallace (@BubbaWallace) July 2, 2017
— David Ragan (@DavidRagan) July 1, 2017
— Corey LaJoie (@CoreyLaJoie) July 2, 2017
— Mr. Tickles (@tickles_thecat) July 1, 2017
PLEASE HELP!! My wife is gone to the beach this week and something is wrong with my house pic.twitter.com/VmqgMZsJnZ
— Matt DiBenedetto (@mattdracing) July 3, 2017