(Photo: Randy Lanning)

The Underdog House: Dillon Makes It a Ty Game in Phoenix

Top Dog

Ty Dillon keeps popping up at the top of this list, much in the way that Matt DiBenedetto and Chris Buescher have in recent years. The difference between those drivers and Dillon is that Ty seems to be interested in building a long-term future at his current team. Both are getting better together, and Sunday’s FanShield 500 was another brick in that foundation.

Dillon finished 15th at Phoenix Raceway, and as is often the case, you’d never have known if you didn’t look for him. He flew well under the radar, unheralded by the TV crew or post-race media. But as Dillon begins his fourth season with Germain Racing, both he and the No. 13 team have never been better. Dillon has finished in the top 20 in nine of his last 18 starts dating back to last summer.

In a somewhat interesting side note, Phoenix was the first race of the year for which Dillon did not qualify 24th. Rather, he started 25th.

Honorable Mention

Michael McDowell also earned a top-20 finish at his hometown track. McDowell wound up 16th, equaling his best ever result there and continuing what has been a solid start to the 2020 campaign.

One driver who has not enjoyed a solid start to the year is Daniel Suarez. The former Xfinity Series champion failed to make the show at Daytona and had an abysmal performance in the two races since. So coming home 21st had to feel like a top 10 for the Gaunt Bros Racing team.

Otherdogs

Ryan Sieg had his run of top-10 finishes to open the season snapped by his 11th-place finish in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race. Still, it demonstrates just how far this group has come when an 11th is a disappointment.

Also grabbing top 15 positions were Brandon Brown in 12th and Sieg’s teammate, 2000 series champion Jeff Green, in 15th.

Brown and Dylan Bassett both got some extended airtime after the race due to a difference of opinion regarding a little trading of paint. Bassett emerged from his car and charged toward Brown, who was still strapped in his seat. Team members from both sides got involved, as did NASCAR officials, who separated the feuding sides.

What to Expect

Possibly the most unique 1.5-mile oval on the circuit, Atlanta Motor Speedway presents a unique set of circumstances for teams and drivers. The surface is old and worn, lending itself to multiple groove racing and enhancing the opportunity for underdog cars to be competitive.

Suarez might be able to continue to turn around his fortune this weekend. The Monterrey, Mexico native runs well at Atlanta and has never finished worse than 21st there. On the Xfinity side, look for more big things from Sieg and Brown. As for the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series, Tyler Dippel, Austin Wayne Self and Jesse Little all run very well at Atlanta. The trio could compete for top-10 finishes and perhaps more with a little luck.

History Lesson

Morgan Shepherd has been a fixture in the NASCAR garage area for nearly 50 years. Most fans today know him as the roller skating “Racing For Jesus” driver whose No. 89 Xfinity Series cars often host a variety of underdog competitors such as Landon Cassill. But those well versed in the history of the sport know that Shepherd has four Cup victories and played a much more prominent role decades ago. He even ran second to Davey Allison in the 1992 Daytona 500.

Atlanta Motor Speedway was always his showcase. For whatever reason, Shepherd ran extremely well at the 1.5-mile Hampton, Ga. oval. Three of his four wins came there, including his final one in March of 1993 while driving for the famed Wood Brothers. His last top-five finish at the Cup level was also at Atlanta in 1997, driving an underdog car owned by Richard Jackson.

Presently, Shepherd only participates on a part-time basis himself and has yet to run a race in 2020. He is 77 years old, after all, so I certainly can’t blame him there. But even if he isn’t behind the wheel, one has to think there’s a special feeling every time that team rolls into Atlanta.

Here ends the lesson.

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About Frank Velat

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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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