While most of the sport’s television time goes directly toward big teams with great speed and large personalities — and rightfully so, to an extent — Sunday’s 60th running of the Daytona 500 will have a heavy populous of tiny organizations. Many of these small NASCAR teams, despite being huge underdogs can actually come out with some darn good results.
Plate racing has always been known as the “great equalizer.” Drivers from all walks of life — i.e. Robert Richardson Jr., who in 2016, went from the Texas farmland to the Daytona 500 field in two weeks — enter the high banks knowing they have a shot to make a true name for themselves.
The same rags-to-riches moment could happen again this season. Entering 2018’s edition of Speedweeks from Daytona International Speedway, there’s a great advantage for these programs compared to one year ago. This change will come off seamless for the big guys but will have a crucial effect on the small ones come the Can-Am Duels on Thursday night: 40 cars.
With 36 chartered teams and four open spots, that means all entries will qualify for the Great American Race in the two 150-mile qualifier heats. The last time that happened? Nearly 50 years ago in 1969 when all 51 entries made the race.
So, we’re speaking of rare air for the history of smaller-budget teams giving the 500 a crack. For once, the Thursday Duels will only include hard racing, keen on keeping your car out of trouble while maintaining your friends in preparation for Sunday.
Gone is the pressure for these penny-pinching outfits simply to make the field for the big race. That’s a big deal for the teams we will be highlighting in this column each week in 2018. They’re all guaranteed at least a decent start to the new year, barring a week-ending wreck somewhere along the line.
Speaking of those who’ll be highlighted, what drivers and teams are on our underdog list for 2018?
Top of the Class
This place is where the top of the underdog class will be each week. They’re the teams who have the best shot at not only contesting top 15s but perhaps scoring a surprise win and/or playoff berth.
Of note, Wood Brothers Racing has been stripped from the list for 2018. The team continues their Team Penske alliance along with solid sponsorship backing and an experienced driver in Paul Menard.
Leavine Family Racing: No. 95 Chevy, Kasey Kahne
Germain Racing: No. 13 Chevy, Ty Dillon
Richard Petty Motorsports: No. 43 Chevy, Darrell Wallace Jr.
Premium Motorsports: No. 7 Chevy, Danica Patrick (Daytona)
Looking for More
Here, we will highlight those who struggled over the weekend of racing. We’ll certainly dive a little deeper into any positives from the weekend. But, most of the time, it’ll be focused on where they need to improve. For Daytona, this list is a little heavier with teams like Ricky Benton Racing and Beard Motorsports joining the fray.
BK Racing: No. 23 Toyota, Gray Gaulding
Go FAS Racing: No. 32 Ford, Matt DiBenedetto
Rick Ware Racing: No. 51 Chevy, Justin Marks (Daytona)
Beard Motorsports: No. 62 Chevy, Brendan Gaughan (Daytona)
Carl Long Motorsports: No. 66 Ford, Mark Thompson (Daytona)
Ricky Benton Racing: No. 92 Ford, David Gilliland (Daytona)
Gaunt Brothers Racing: No. 96 Toyota, DJ Kennington
StarCom Racing: No. 00 Chevy, Jeffrey Earnhardt
This addition to the column is new in 2018. It’s where we will move our focus away from the Cup Series to focus on XFINITY and Camping World Trucks. Though we won’t offer a breakdown of each team throughout the season, we will give mention to the top underdog performers from both series.
Here are the teams/drivers from those divisions who will be on our underdog watchlist for 2018.
NASCAR XFINITY Series
BJ McLeod Motorsports: No. 78 Chevy and No. 8 Chevy, various drivers throughout 2018
Kaulig Racing: No. 11 Chevy, Ryan Truex
Carl Long Motorsports: No. 13, various drivers
GMS Racing: No. 23 Chevy, Spencer Gallagher
Go Green Racing: No. 35 Ford, Joey Gase
RSS Racing: No. 39 Chevy, Ryan Sieg
MBM Motorsports: No. 40 Dodge, Chad Finchum
Jeremy Clements Racing: No. 51 Chevy, Jeremy Clements
Jimmy Means Racing: No. 52 Chevy, David Starr
SS Green Light Racing: No. 76 Chevy, Spencer Boyd
King Autosports: No. 90 Chevy, Brandon Brown
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
Youngs Motorsports: No. 02 Ford, Austin Hill
Jordan Anderson Racing: No. 3 Ford, Chevy and Toyota, Jordan Anderson
Premium Motorsports: No. 15 Chevy, Robby Lyons
Hattori Racing: No. 16 Toyota, Brett Moffitt
Henderson Motorsports: No. 75 Chevy, Parker Kligerman
This is where we sift social media to see what all these teams and drivers are up to, both away from the track and in preparation for each weekend.
— Gaunt Bros Racing (@GauntBrosRacing) February 11, 2018
YES! I get to race in the #NASCAR @NASCAR_Xfinity Series again this year! Another underdog effort with hard workers behind the scenes & everyone looking forward to the challenge of taking on the big teams! DM me if you are interested in sponsorship! pic.twitter.com/5yenVV4Fb8
— Andy Lally (@AndyLally) February 12, 2018
— Kasey Kahne (@kaseykahne) February 10, 2018