(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

The Underdog House: Who to Watch As the Season Winds Down

The racing season may be winding down, but the action is going to get more and more intense as we close in on Homestead-Miami Speedway. Every competitor knows that this is the time to make an impact. Some drivers are chasing a championship while others are auditioning for their next opportunity. So just which underdogs are primed to stand out in the final weeks of the year? Here’s who I’ll be watching to stand out.

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

All of the attention has been on Matt DiBenedetto recently, and rightfully so. He’s racking up solid finishes and nearly pulled off a win at Bristol Motor Speedway. But while DiBenedetto is likely going to make the biggest splash, there is another underdog who could surprise in one of the remaining events.

David Ragan announced his retirement from full-time racing following this year. Ragan has two career wins, both at superspeedways. Many athletes, including race car drivers, have a knack for performing better when the pressure is off. With a visit to Talladega still looming on the schedule, Ragan would be an excellent dark horse pick.

First off, his Front Row Motorsports teammate Michael McDowell is a solid superspeedway track driver. While McDowell has done better at Daytona than Talladega, the FRM cars have always worked well together in terms of drafting. 2019 marks the first time that they have three cars in the field thanks to rookie Matt Tifft.

Additionally, Ragan has no burden of expectations. He doesn’t need a ride for 2020. He can simply go out and race for fun. That is, after all, why most race car drivers began doing so in the first place. History is peppered with examples of racers in so-called “lame duck” situations going out and landing a surprise victory to cap off their time in a particular ride.

NASCAR Xfinity Series

Brandon Brown has been one of the bigger surprises of the year in the Xfinity Series. For a driver with a small contingent of cars in a family-owned shop, Brown has gone toe-to-toe with the big names and held his own. Additionally, Brown led his first laps at Daytona International Speedway in February.

Brown is a throwback to what most drivers used to be. He spends the weekend behind the wheel, then in-between races puts in work on the cars or pounds the pavement looking for potential sponsors. The No. 86 car has been remarkably steady, only failing to finish a race due to mechanical problems. Brown’s ability to take care of equipment has kept him around during races and put him in a position to rack up top-15 finishes the way he has. Look for Brown to be a potential threat at Dover, ISM Raceway and Texas.

NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series

Austin Wayne Self is another driver who could pull a surprise out of his hat. Self began the year with a ninth-place result at Daytona, and has since added a sixth at Kentucky and a fifth-place finish at Michigan. He is currently 14th in the series points standings despite not running two events early on.

For comparison purposes, Kyle Busch Motorsports driver Todd Gilliland has started every race and is 12th. The Texas native has a good intermediate track program in his family-owned team a,nd could be a contender at places like Las Vegas, ISM Raceway and Texas.

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Frank Velat has been an avid follower of NASCAR and other motorsports for over 20 years. He brings a blend of passionate fan and objective author to his work. Frank offers unique perspectives that everyone can relate to, remembering the sport's past all the while embracing its future. Follow along with @FrankVelat on Twitter.

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2 comments

  1. Avatar

    Gilliland again. Hey Front stretch, y’all sure do like to crow about mediocre Gilliland, why ! Mikey and the the Fox crew crow just as much. So many good truck drivers stories out there but y’all push Gilliland, again, why !

    • Avatar

      No one is pushing Gilliland. The comment is showing how well Austin is performing compared to one of the best teams (KBM) in the series. But thanks for reading!