(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

NASCAR Stat Sheet: Small Teams Come to Play at Charlotte

When NASCAR takes to its backyard track at Charlotte Motor Speedway, historically, it’s dominated by the larger teams in each respective series. And sure, all three national touring races were won by Goliaths this week, but the smaller teams were there… right there.

Let’s dig into what drivers and teams showed up at Charlotte.

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When NASCAR returned to the track on May 17 at Darlington Raceway following a 10-week hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. didn’t even make it out of the second turn without wrecking. His race was essentially over before it began.

A dejected Stenhouse said he was embarrassed following that incident. The two races after — at Darlington and the Coca-Cola 600 — weren’t all that great either, with finishes of 25th and 24th, respectively.

But on Thursday evening (May 28), Stenhouse was a factor all night long. No, the No. 47 team didn’t lead a single lap, but he raced inside the top 10 all night long, scoring five stage points in the opening stage.

Come the final stage, Stenhouse continued to rise up the scoring pylon. On a lap 150 restart, he made a bold, three-wide maneuver down the backstretch, putting him in fifth position. Throughout the remainder of the stage, he passed Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick, getting as high as third. However, with less than a handful of laps to go, Denny Hamlin got by the No. 47 car, putting Stenhouse in fourth, where he finished.

The finish for Stenhouse is his second top-five result in eight races this season for JTG Daugherty Racing. Moreover, it’s his second top five on an intermediate track this year in five starts. Entering 2020, the Mississippi native had just one such finish on an intermediate career in seven full-time seasons at Roush Fenway Racing.

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Entering the 2020 NASCAR Xfinity Series season, there was one definite playoff spot up for grabs outside of the top 11 teams in the series, solely based of funding. Through six races, Brandon Brown has put himself in position to capitalize on that opportunity.

In Tuesday’s wild, caution-filled race, Brown kept avoiding the late-race incidents, continuously moving up the leaderboard. By the end of the event, the No. 68 team found itself in eighth position, Brown’s career-best finish on an intermediate track (previous best was 11th at Las Vegas earlier this season).

The finish was Brown’s second top-10 result of the season. In his prior 53 career starts, the Virginia driver had just one (finished sixth at Daytona last July).

Currently, he’s 12th in the championship standings, 16 points ahead of Alex Labbe, whose the next eligible driver in contention to make the playoffs. Aside from a disappointing 33rd-place finish at Auto Club Speedway in late February, the No. 68 team has top-15 finishes in the other five events. Call him a sleeper no more.

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GMS Racing is no small team by any means. Hell, it’s among the top Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series teams, winning the 2016 championship with Johnny Sauter. But, Zane Smith isn’t a household name… yet.

Don’t know the name? I’ll introduce you. Smith ran 37 ARCA Menards Series races between 2016 and 2019, winning four times in 2018 for MDM Motorsports. Believing 2018 was going to be his final year racing, an investor jumped on, getting him 10 Xfinity Series races with JR Motorsports last season. He didn’t disappoint, earning seven top-10 finishes.

Fast forward to this season, Smith finished 11th in the season opener at Daytona International Speedway and sixth at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. But in the series’ return on Tuesday (May 26) at Charlotte, Smith had his coming out party in the Truck Series, beginning the 200-mile race from 30th position. It didn’t take the No. 21 truck long to find the top 10, placing third in the opening stage.

Over the final two stages, Smith raced hard, one time making it three-wide down the backstretch in the closing laps, putting Kyle Busch in the middle. Ultimately, Smith finished a career-best third, the first Truck Series regular in the field.

He finished just ahead of GMS teammates Brett Moffitt and Sheldon Creed, as GMS put four cars inside the top five for the first time in its existence (Chase Elliott won).

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Dustin joined the Frontstretch team at the beginning of the 2016 season. 2020 marks his sixth full-time season covering the sport that he grew up loving. His dream was to one day be a NASCAR journalist, thus why he attended Ithaca College (Class of 2018) to earn a journalism degree. Since the ripe age of four, he knew he wanted to be a storyteller.

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