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(Photo: Nigel Kinrade/ NKP)

The Underdog House: Small NASCAR Teams Thrive At Short Tracks

Cup Series racing at Martinsville is about survival and persistence. The on-track action always ruffles some feathers, best evidenced by the late-race incident between alpha dogs Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott. What was happening between Kevin Harvick and Ryan Blaney served as the consolation sideshow.

PETERS: What Happens Now For Hamlin & Elliott?

But at Underdog House, we’re applauding the small teams (typically one- or two-car operations) who do their best to keep their car in one piece and take advantage of opportunities available. While the frontrunners fought, the backmarkers survived. A few even snuck through for solid finishes amongst the mayhem of Martinsville’s closing laps.

Top of the Class: Martinsville

Blaney’s eighth-place run for the Wood Brothers was the top-finishing car of these teams, setting a standard which they’ve achieved most of the season. The lone Underdog to qualify for the Playoff hunt, Blaney sits just six points from the cutoff in his lone bid to earn the Woods a NASCAR championship.

The others in this group were a bit further back. Aric Almirola scored another top-20 finish, coming home 18th for Richard Petty Motorsports. Almirola, who had struggled to get in a groove after his Kansas injury now has three straight top-20 runs for the first time in six months.

Michael McDowell ran right behind him, slotting the Leavine Family Racing No. 95 in 19th. Rumors through the weekend swirled around pending free agent McDowell becoming a part of Front Row Motorsports next season.

Passing Grades

Chris Buescher just missed out on notching another top-20 run, finishing 21st at Martinsville after his solid sixth at Kansas last week. Buescher was closely followed by Landon Cassill (23rd), Cole Whitt (25th) and David Ragan (28th). That was an accurate finish for all of their teams, performance-wise.

Needs Improvement

Slightly underwhelming and off the pace describes this next cluster of finishers. Ty Dillon was 30th after a pair of on-track incidents; the rookie has struggled down the stretch for Germain Racing. Gray Gaulding was 31st in the BK Racing No. 83, finishing four laps off the pace. Reed Sorenson brought the No. 15 home in 32nd, a disappointing run for Premium Motorsports. Behind him was Corey LaJoie, who wound up 33rd in the chartered BK entry. Also struggling, making his first Cup Series start in five years was Hermie Sadler in Tommy Baldwin’s No. 7 (34th).

Kyle Weatherman’s Cup debut 35th-place run in the Rick Ware Racing No. 51 left him the last car to finish the race. Weatherman, 12 laps off the pace made the jump at age 20 after 50 ARCA starts over the past five years.

Carl Long wound up one spot behind Weatherman in his self-owned Motorsports Business Management No. 66. Shortly after acquiring a second Cup car, Long has some long days ahead after brake failure caused hard contact with the Turn 2 wall.

Jeffrey Earnhardt’s No. 33 wound up in 38th after a rear gear failure, not that far off the team’s average finish this season. Earnhardt’s 14 DNFs are a Cup Series high.

An electrical problem ended Matt DiBenedetto’s day early in 39th after 187 laps when the team could not find a replacement part even after seeking one from other teams. Finally, for the third race in a row, AJ Allmendinger’s JTG Daugherty Racing machine was wrecked. That left him last in a 40-car Martinsville field where he’d run second as recently as the spring of 2016.

Newsworthy

Changes continue to roll in at BK Racing. Their Chief Marketing Officer Doug Fritz will leave the team but “will still be around the industry,” according to Kenny Bruce of NASCAR.com. BK has been dogged by rumors of financial hardship this season, running a merry-go-round of drivers in their two-car program. 2018 plans for the team have not been determined.

Derrike Cope will attempt to run at Phoenix in two weeks with the No. 00 of newly-formed StarCom Racing. The team ran dead last in their first Cup Series performance at Kansas a few weeks back.

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About Amy Henderson

Amy Henderson

Amy oversees the photography and social media for Frontstretch. A 10-year veteran writer and three-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, Amy pens The Big Six (Mondays), Frontstretch 5 (Wednesdays) and Holding A Pretty Wheel (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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2 comments

  1. Cope at Phoenix. Oh goody!