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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

The Underdog House: A Slow Descend Down the Irish Hills of Michigan

Think Small

Perhaps Michigan International Speedway is the only place you can graze 200 mph and be considered “off the pace” from the front-runners.

That’s right. This weekend, if you weren’t hitting 200 mph average around the 2-mile track in qualifying, you were barely in the top 20. Darrell Wallace Jr. was the top Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series underdog in qualifying at 197.721 mph, 22nd fastest, more than five mph off the pole.

And gauging from the June weekend at Michigan, this time around may even be tougher for the small teams. Not only is the playoffs cutline getting closer and closer in a few weeks but there was no weather in the forecast. The chances of rain always give underdogs a chance at better finishes, and that was out of the question unlike the June weekend, which was rain-shortened.

With no underdogs showing enough of that freaky fast speed to start near the front, Sunday’s Consumers Energy 400 proved to keep them at bay for another week in 2018.

Top of the Class

For only the third time this year, Chris Buescher was the Frontstretch “Underdog of the Race” for JTG Daugherty Racing.

That was the good news. The bad news is that it came from the 20th spot, another “meh” day for the No. 37 Chevrolet in a season that has severely lacked the highs over lows.

Buescher’s 20th may have been a three-spot gain from qualifying but it continued a run of standstill mediocrity, finishing 20th in now three of the last four races in 2018.

But when you’re the best of the rest, the day could have been worse. Behind Buescher was JTG teammate AJ Allmendinger, who has been the top underdog on seven occasions this year. His No. 47 ended the day 22nd and led a long train of underdogs outside the top 20.

Wallace Jr. ended 23rd while Matt Dibenedetto earned his best Michigan result in his eighth start in 24th.

Underdogs of the Race So Far in 2018:

Daytona: Darrell Wallace Jr. (second)
Atlanta: Kasey Kahne (21st)
Las Vegas: Chris Buescher (15th)
ISM: AJ Allmendinger (21st)
Auto Club: Darrell Wallace Jr. (20th)
Martinsville: AJ Allmendinger (seventh)
Texas: Darrell Wallace Jr. (eighth)
Bristol: David Ragan (12th)
Richmond: Matt DiBenedetto (16th)
Talladega: David Ragan (sixth)
Dover: Kasey Kahne (17th)
Kansas: David Ragan (13th)
AllStar Race: AJ Allmendinger (eighth)
Charlotte: Darrell Wallace Jr. (16th)
Pocono: David Ragan (16th)
Michigan: AJ Allmendinger (17th)
Sonoma: Chis Buescher (12th)
Chicagoland: Michael McDowell (21st)
Daytona: AJ Allmendinger (third)
Kentucky: David Ragan (18th)
New Hampshire: Kasey Kahne (19th)
Pocono: AJ Allmendinger (14th)
Watkins Glen: AJ Allmendinger (15th)
Michigan: Chris Buescher (20th)

Looking for More

The train continued with Michael McDowell in 25th spot. He and teammate David Ragan have been hitting the top 20 on a semi-consistent basis this summer, however, didn’t bring that pace to Michigan this time. Ragan was 27th while Kasey Kahne split the Front Row Motorsports duo in the 26th position.

Landon Cassill was 29th, earning his best non-plate finish since the Coca-Cola 600 while Blake Jones came home 30th in only his second Cup start for BK Racing.

BJ McLeod was 31st for Rick Ware Racing with Garrett Smithley finishing 32nd in his first start for Premium Motorsports. Gray Gaulding also made his first start for a team, doing so with StarCom Racing from the 33rd position.

Ross Chastain suffered a mechanical issue for the third straight weekend, failing to finish for the second consecutive race in the 35th spot.

Timmy Hill lost a battery mid-race… and Ty Dillon found it on lap 131. After the battery came loose on Hill’s No. 66, Dillon was unable to avoid contact, running over top of it before crashing hard into the Turn 3 wall.

Hill and Dillon finished 37th and 38th, respectively.

Jeffrey Earnhardt‘s second start for Gaunt Brothers ended quickly with an engine issue just past halfway while Corey Lajoie suffered his sixth DNF in 13 starts after just 37 laps.

Otherdogs

It was a triple-header weekend in the sport with Cup and Camping World Trucks in Michigan while XFINITY competed out at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

Starting at Michigan for Trucks, Brett Moffitt proved his veteran status on the final lap of Saturday’s Corrigan Oil 200, laying back to get a powerful draft on leader Johnny Sauter to score his fourth victory of 2018. This is certain to be the last year you can call this team underdog.

The same can be said for Stewart Friesen and Halmar Racing Team, who continued to show strong speed on Saturday. An early pit road violation threw the No. 52 to the rear, making for an entertaining comeback to the eighth spot.

The XFINITY Series completed the middle stage of an unofficial road crouse swing with Saturday’s Rock N Roll Tequila 170 in Mid-Ohio. Here, Ryan Truex earned Kaulig Racing’s first-ever top-five finish in the fifth spot, his first top five in more than six years.

Spencer Gallagher scored his first top 10 since his Talladega victory in May from eighth while Alex Labbe found his first top 10 for DGR Racing in ninth. Andy Lally is an honorable mention of the race, leading for seven laps before spinning mid-race in DGR’s No. 90 Chevrolet. He finished 15th.

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