Monday, February 29, 2016

CUP: Open Team Roundup - Atlanta

SOURCE: Rubbin's Racin' Forums

#21 Wood Brothers Racing
Driver: Ryan Blaney
Started: 23rd, Finished: 25th

Blaney once again led the Open teams, but this time wasn’t as visible on race day.  He put up the 17th-fastest time in Friday’s opening practice and 19th in Happy Hour, but while fellow Ford drivers Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Trevor Bayne, and Brian Scott made it into the Top Ten, Blaney could only anchor the second round.  Blaney ran around the 15th spot for most of the day and kept his nose clean during the long green flag runs.  However, on the final lap of the race, where a green-white-checkered decided it, Blaney found himself in the middle of the final wreck when he tangled with Aric Almirola, David Ragan, and Landon Cassill on the backstretch.

#98 Premium Motorsports
Driver: Cole Whitt
Started: 36th, Finished: 37th

Curiously, just two other Open teams joined Blaney on the Atlanta entry list, and both had missed the cut for the Daytona 500 in Duel Race #1.  Premium Motorsports joined the 39-car entry list in a Chevrolet in place of Daytona’s Toyota and carried full sponsorship once more, this time from Tweaker Energy Shot and RaceTrac.  Though mired back in 36th for the start of the race, Whitt put on a spirited charge to stay on the lead lap during the early laps.  After the leaders started lapping cars on the 22nd go round, Whitt lifted his way to 30th by Lap 35.  He then stayed out during the first green-flag pit sequence to lead Lap 42 - Premium’s first lap led since last July at Kentucky, when Reed Sorenson got a lap in the #62.  However, after his first stop, Whitt began to fall back through the field and ended up one spot worse than where he started, 12 laps down.

#30 The Motorsports Group
Driver: Josh Wise
Started: 37th, Finished: 39th

Wise finished last in Sunday’s race.  For more, see his feature from Sunday.




#26 BK Racing
#35 Front Row Motorsports
#40 Hillman Racing
#59 Leavine Family / Circle Sport Racing
#93 BK Racing

Five teams which attempted the Daytona 500 did not enter the Atlanta event.  Two of them - the #59 fielded by Leavine and Circle Sport and the #93 of BK Racing - were temporary entries for regular drivers Michael McDowell and Matt DiBenedetto, who at Atlanta returned to their chartered #95 and #83 entries, respectively.

While the missing #59 and #93 may not have been surprising, the other three were.  Though Robert Richardson, Jr. has traditionally been a part-time competitor, his Daytona ride, BK Racing’s #26, ran full-time just a year ago with Jeb Burton and J.J. Yeley.  One week after David Gilliland’s first Cup DNQ since Indianapolis in 2010, the benching of the #35, Front Row Motorsports’ own third team, meant Atlanta was the first Cup race Gilliland didn’t even attempt since the 2010 night race at Daytona.  It was also the end of a streak for Hillman Racing, whose #40 had attempted every Cup race since their debut at Indianapolis in 2013 and hadn’t DNQ’d since the third race of 2014 at Las Vegas.

A drop-off of entered teams from the Daytona 500 to the second round of the Sprint Cup schedule is not uncommon.  Back in 2004, days before just 45 teams showed up to attempt the 43-car field for the Daytona 500, word spread that only 38 teams would appear for the next event at Rockingham.  Through a number of behind-the-scenes deals, no less than seven part-time teams soon appeared to attempt the race, including such drivers as Andy Belmont and Joe Ruttman, who each hadn’t started a Cup race in nearly a decade, and such teams as Stan Hover’s #80, which hadn’t qualified for a Cup race since 1995.  A couple teams pulled out before the race, but not before the field remained at 43, extending a streak of Cup events with full fields that didn’t end until the 42-car starting grid on June 28, 2014 at Kentucky.

However, even with all three of the sport’s top divisions running the Atlanta track, there were no teams called out to fill out the field.  39 cars showed up, and 39 raced on Sunday.

As the “West Coast Swing” begins next week in Las Vegas, the increased travel costs are expected by some to shrink fields further.  Some reports expect events with just 37 starters - perhaps with the Wood Brothers as the only “open” team.  Time will tell if this actually happens, and if so, for how long.

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