Tuesday, April 5, 2016

CUP: Open Team Roundup - Martinsville

SOURCE: Sean Gardner, Getty Images
After four consecutive races with the same three Open teams, the preliminary entry list for Martinsville showed exactly 40 cars, meaning the short track would host just the second full field of 2016.  When the dust settled, one member remained on the lead lap while the other three fought to keep pace.


#21 Wood Brothers Racing
Driver: Ryan Blaney
Started: 12th, Finished: 19th

Top of the class for the fourth time in five races was the Wood Brothers, whose driver Ryan Blaney earned the team its sixth 19th-place finish in 110 Martinsville starts.  For much of the weekend, the statistic seemed like it was going to be even more impressive.  He was 7th-fastest in the opening practice, 12th in the second, 10th in Happy Hour, and locked-up the 12th starting spot for Sunday’s race.  Blaney raced door-to-door with Chase Elliott in the early laps and remained between 10th and 15th for most of the afternoon, keeping all the fenders on his Ford.  Blaney was one of the many takers to pit when Jamie McMurray’s spin drew the final yellow with 15 laps remaining, but a penalty for the crew jumping over the wall too soon sent him to the tail end of the lead lap.  He remained in that position at the finish, but still as the top rookie in the field, one lap ahead of 20th-place Elliott.

Next week’s race at Texas has always been on the Wood Brothers’ schedule, even as a part-time team.  It was here that Trevor Bayne broke through with an impressive 17th-place finish in the fall of 2010, setting the stage for his Daytona 500 triumph.  But Blaney has yet to share the same results.  In his last two Texas tarts, he’s finished 42nd and 43rd, the result of an early engine failure and crash, respectively.  In fact, the Woods haven’t finished inside the Top 10 since - you guessed it - 2005, when Ricky Rudd came home 8th.  

#98 Premium Motorsports
Driver: Cole Whitt
Started: 31st, Finished: 30th

Martinsville looked to be the first weekend where Premium Motorsports did not have a sponsor for its flagship #98.  However, by race morning, Whitt’s black Chevrolet from practice again had logos from RTIC Coolers, the sponsor which funded the team’s Daytona 500 effort.  Unlike the longer tracks on the circuit, it was too difficult for Whitt to fight to stay on the lead lap.  The battle instead became to remain just one lap down, which Whitt managed for much of the race’s first half.  As the intensity picked up, however, Whitt started to slide back through the rankings, eventually ending up five circuits back at the checkered flag.  Still, he remained second among this week’s Open teams and finished ahead of eight Chartered drivers, including Casey Mears, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Denny Hamlin, and last-place finisher Aric Almirola (LINK).  The 30th-place run is also Whitt’s second-best performance of the season behind his 26th-plac showing two weeks ago at Fontana.

Next Saturday at Texas, Whitt is poised to make his fifth career Cup start at Texas, where his best finish was a 26th in the fall of 2014.

#55 Premium Motorsports
Driver: Reed Sorenson
Started: 40th, Finished: 37th

After the team mentioned it briefly over the offseason, Premium Motorsports debuted a second team at Martinsville with veteran Reed Sorenson behind the wheel.  According to the preliminary entry list, Sorenson’s car was to be numbered 49 in a callback to team owner Jay Robinson’s XFINITY and Truck Series entries, but by Friday, it carried a bold white 55 from now-defunct Michael Waltrip Racing.  Sorenson’s first eight laps in the #55 during Friday’s practice ranked him ahead of three Chartered drivers: Joey Gase, Regan Smith, and Michael Annett.  Despite not taking a lap in qualifying, Sorenson also outpaced Gase and Trevor Bayne in Happy Hour.  Sorenson had worked this magic before - in qualifying for the 2012 Martinsville race, when driving for Stacy Compton’s Turn One Racing, Sorenson ranked fifth of eleven “go-or-go-homers."

The race proved to be a struggle.  Sorenson was the second car to be lapped following Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s spin and he would trade the 40th spot with Josh Wise for the first half of the race.  In the end, Sorenson came home with the car 10 laps down - the same lap as Joey Gase’s Chartered #32 - and ahead of The Motorsports Group and Wise.

Premium and Sorenson will return again on this week’s Texas entry list, keeping the field at 40.  Sorenson has made 13 starts at the Fort Worth track with a best finish of 13th in his very first start there, back when he drove for Chip Ganassi Racing in 2006.

#30 The Motorsports Group
Driver: Josh Wise
Started: 39th, Finished: 38th

For the third time in 2016, Josh Wise and The Motorsports Group finished last among the four Open teams - but, unlike Atlanta, did not come home last overall.  Wise showed some moderate speed in Friday’s first practice, outpacing Whitt and Sorenson in the 33rd spot, remained 33rd in the second session, and held 35th in Happy Hour.  Qualifying, which only earned him 39th in a field of 40, proved to be his slowest session overall.  In the race, he traded the 40th spot with Reed Sorenson’s #55 and was often booted to the high lane by faster cars.  On Lap 313, Wise’s unsponsored Chevrolet, then nine laps down, was nudged to the high side of Turn 2 by Martin Truex, Jr.  Wise maintained control and avoided contact with the wall, but NASCAR still threw the caution flag, thus giving Dale Earnhardt, Jr. his lap back.  On Lap 337, FOX’s cameras caught Wise slowing on the backstretch, then making the hard left turn into the garage area.  Reports of electrical issues were followed by the official results showing engine trouble as the official cause.

Wise has eight starts in next week’s race at Texas with a best finish of 30th driving Front Row Motorsports’ #35 MDS Transport Ford in the spring of 2013.




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

While none of the five Daytona 500 teams showed up at Martinsville, at least one will later this month.  On March 28, it was announced that Ryan Ellis will drive the non-chartered #93 BK Racing entry at Richmond on April 24.  Ellis, who made his Cup debut last fall at Phoenix, is expected to run a number of races this season with returning sponsor ScienceLogic.

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