Tuesday, March 15, 2016

CUP: Open Team Roundup - Phoenix

Ricky Rudd, 2005
SOURCE: USA Today
For the third-consecutive race, the NASCAR Sprint Cup field remained at just 39 cars and featured the same three survivors of the Charter system.  An optimistic reason for why that 40th spot remains available could be the “West Coast Swing” itself, since travel costs from the Charlotte-area shops can be the highest.  Perhaps, then, some of the Open teams from Daytona will return when the series shifts back to the east coast.  However, more realistically, it could mean that the most negative predictions are true - 39-car entry lists are the new norm, and they could continue to shrink through the season.

QUALIFIED

#21 Wood Brothers Racing
Driver: Ryan Blaney
Started: 12th, Finished: 10th

One week after Ryan Blaney’s best-career Cup finish on a 1.5-mile track, both driver and team had reason to celebrate.  Blaney edged Jimmie Johnson’s backup car to finish 10th, tying Elliott Sadler’s 2002 run for the second-best Phoenix finish by the Wood Brothers team (the best beign Morgan Shepherd’s 7th-place run in 1995).  It was both Blaney’s first back-to-back Cup Series Top 10s as well as the first pair for the Woods since October 2005, when Ricky Rudd put the #21 Ford in the 9th spot at Kansas and Charlotte.  Blaney now heads to Fontana 12th in points, a surprising member of the provisional Chase roster.  It will be Blaney’s first start in NASCAR’s top three divisions at the Fontana track, and it will be a new experience for his team as well.  In 18 starts at the facility, the Wood Brothers have just one Top 10 - another 9th by Ricky Rudd in 2005 - and haven’t competed there since 2011, when Trevor Bayne came home 30th.

#30 The Motorsports Group
Driver: Josh Wise
Started: 37th, Finished: 34th

Josh Wise gave owner Curtis Key his best-ever finish in Cup, improving by one position over his own 35th-place showing at Las Vegas.  Just as he had in Atlanta and Vegas, Wise lost laps early as he struggled to find speed, but remained on track all afternoon, and like at Vegas was able to pass a number of retiring Charter cars.  In the end, four Chartered cars were in Wise’s rear view mirror - including two from Richard Childress Racing - along with fellow Open driver Cole Whitt, who Wise finished ahead of for the second race in a row.  These are small steps, but important ones - especially as Key continues to search for sponsorship.

#98 Premium Motorsports
Driver: Cole Whitt
Started: 34th, Finished: 36th

Just as he did at Atlanta, Whitt fought hard to stay on the lead lap during the opening stages of Sunday’s race.  With sponsorship from Rinnai Tankless Water Heaters, yet another returning sponsor of Whitt from his BK Racing and Front Row Motorsports days, he clawed his way from 38th to 34th on Lap 26 before Kyle Busch finally put him a lap down.  Whitt remained just ahead of Josh Wise for much of the race, but his Chevrolet began to run hot in the final stages.  With about 70 laps to go, Whitt’s car trailed steam and had to pull off the track in the final laps.  While it was Whitt’s second DNF in a Cup points race this season, it also marked the first time that no Open team finished last in 2016 - Ryan Newman secured the spot early for Richard Childress.

DID NOT QUALIFY

None.

DID NOT ENTER

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

The five teams which last attempted the Daytona 500, three races ago, were again not on the entry list for Phoenix.

1 comment:

Rob Dostie said...

Would like to see Sorenson and Gilliland come back for a few. Let's hope. I think the 40 said they are attempting 10.