Road courses at the top level of NASCAR are something of an equalizer. A good driver can elevate the performance of an entire team even without the benefit of top notch equipment or research data. So it’s a logical assumption that at least one or two underdogs will likely run competitively and finish well. Well, we all know what they say about assuming.
Not a single underdog managed to crack the top 20 at the end of the day, a fact made even more astounding considering that none of the top drivers ran into trouble despite the race starting on a mostly wet track. The Cup Series ran in the wet for the first time due to plenty of rain during the 24 hours prior to the start, but even that didn’t result in a bunch of damaged or garage-bound cars. Aside from Kyle Busch perhaps, but he’s been playing chicken (and losing) with bad luck all year.
We will throw Bubba Wallace in here, though. After all, despite finishing 21st, he was the highest finisher among the lesser privileged. Wallace ran well and managed to steer clear of the trouble that plagued him in this event one year ago. He even managed to finish 10th in the opening stage, but it wasn’t the kind of day he or his team were hoping for.
“We survived thank the Lord!” Wallace quipped after the race. “Apologies to the [No.] 47 team. The run before that dumb move, I was mad at myself for not being aggressive enough … welp, found my limit.”
While no one finished all that great, there were a couple highlights for the underdog class early on. First, through a bit of pit strategy, Ty Dillon won the opening stage, with Timmy Hill finishing fifth. Dillon ended up finishing 22nd, but Hill was the first car out of the race after an engine failure ended his day after 57 laps.
I had expected more out of Michael McDowell but he floundered most of the day, finishing as the last car on the lead lap in 32nd. His teammate John Hunter Nemechek didn’t run all that well, but he did a pretty cool trick with a banner. It seems like every year someone ends up dragging one around. I wouldn’t be surprised if the track starts charging advertisers more for them next year.
On Saturday, the NASCAR Xfinity Series cars took the green flag in the Slip ‘N’ Slide 250. OK, that wasn’t really the name, but it should have been. A full-on rain fell throughout much of the event, with standing water and drainage issues making the ROVAL feel more like a Mario Kart course than a NASCAR racetrack.
Alex Labbe proved he had done this before, keeping his car pointed the right direction en route to a fourth-place finish. Cody Ware got a career-best seventh and Jade Buford, a 32-year-old sports car racer, finished eighth in his third appearance for Bobby Dotter’s SS Greenlight Racing team.
The Gander Outdoors Truck Series was off last weekend.
What to Expect
The Cup Series underdogs are off to Kansas Speedway as the season winds down. The past two races at Kansas, Dillon has been the highest finisher among the underdogs, so the No. 13 looks like a solid pick. If you want another dark horse, watch for Daniel Suarez. He finished 18th at Kansas in July, and I really feel like Suarez makes that team better.
As for the Xfinity teams, Ryan Sieg practically jumps off the stat sheet. He’s finished in the top 10 in his last three visits to the 1.5-mile oval, including a fourth in the most recent one.
The Truck Series race at Kansas usually doesn’t generate a lot of highlights for the underdog class, but Derek Kraus has been pretty good just about everywhere. He was fifth there in July, and I really think this group is as close as anyone to getting their first victory. Perhaps Kraus can finally break through this weekend.
Look Who’s Talking
— Front Row Motorsports (@Team_FRM) October 11, 2020
— #NASCARPlayoffs on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) October 10, 2020