Tuesday, May 3, 2016

CUP: Open Team Roundup - Talladega

For the first time in 2016, all four Open teams finished on the lead lap and inside the Top 20, each among the last survivors of a chaotic afternoon in Talladega.  Three teams picked up their best finishes of the season and two led at least one lap, but none left the track unscathed.


#21 Wood Brothers Racing
Driver: Ryan Blaney
Started 19th, Finished 9th

Ryan Blaney was back to his Las Vegas and Bristol form on Sunday with an added dose of perseverence.  Though he never led, he hovered just on the outside of the Top 10 for most of the day, avoiding all of the early crashes.  It wasn’t until Lap 162, when Kurt Busch nudged Jimmie Johnson into Paul Menard in Turn 1, that trouble found him.  Caught on the inside line, Blaney slowed and was rear-ended by Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., then spun into the grass.  The crew taped him up and bandaged together the rear bumper, and on Lap 170, he scored the Lucky Dog.  Blaney suffered more damage in the following wreck involving Matt Kenseth, but in the final three-lap sprint managed to come home 9th.

This Saturday at Kansas, Blaney returns to a track where he finished 7th last October - the second-best finish by the team at the track behind Ricky Rudd’s runner-up to Joe Nemechek in 2004.

#55 Premium Motorsports
Driver: Michael Waltrip
Started 33rd, Finished 12th

Michael Waltrip returned for his second restrictor-plate race of the season, moving from BK Racing’s #83 to Premium Motorsports’ #55 driven previously by Reed Sorenson.  The high and low point of Waltrip’s day came within seconds of each other.  Waltrip’s PEAK Antifreeze & Coolant Toyota stayed out under the first caution and led the field to green on Lap 58.  One lap later, when he’d slipped back to 5th, Waltrip was bumped by Martin Truex, Jr. entering Turn 3, sending him hurtling full-speed down the apron.  Waltrip spun as he re-entered the track, but somehow avoided serious damage.  Casey Mears and Aric Almirola, clipped by Waltrip, weren’t so lucky.  From then on, Waltrip remained just behind the lead pack all the way to the finish.  He somehow avoided all the wrecks and came home 12th.  It was the best Cup finish by owner Jay Robinson since Waltrip finished 19th in the 2014 Coke Zero 400.

Next week will mark Premium Motorsports’ first start at Kansas since 2014, when Joe Nemechek finished 31st in the spring race and Mike Wallace ranked 34th in the fall.

#35 Front Row Motorsports
Driver: David Gilliland
Started 39th, Finished 17th

Third among the Open teams at the finish, 2013 runner-up David Gilliland was actually the closest of the group to snatching away victory from Brad Keselowski.  The weekend began as a redemption of sorts, the Californian bouncing back from his DNQ in the season-opening Daytona 500 to make his first Cup start of the year in Front Row’s non-chartered #35.  Unlike Daytona, he had sponsorship this time, too, as Shaw’s Southern Belle Frozen Foods adorned his Ford.  Gilliland ran inside the Top 20 for most of the race, despite damage to the nose of his car suffered in Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s wreck on Lap 51.  Gilliland never once required the Lucky Dog.  In fact, when the white flag flew, he raced up to 3rd with a shot at Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch.  Unfortunately, he was shaken out of the draft on the backstretch, sent plummeting to the rear on the inside line.  Still, it was Gilliland’s best finish since he came home 17th at Pocono last August.

With the #35 only entered at Daytona and Talladega, it seems likely it will only return - if at all - at the season’s return trips to both tracks.  However, it is this writer’s opinion that the car could return at Sonoma this June, where Gilliland has also recorded strong runs.

#98 Premium Motorsports
Driver: Cole Whitt
Started 36th, Finished 18th

Cole Whitt led a lap of his own - the 131st, during the caution for Kasey Kahne’s hard crash - yet didn’t seem to run as strong as the other four Open teams during the race itself.  That said, he actually was in position to be the top Open team after Gilliland fell through the pack.  After running back in the pack for most of the afternoon, Whitt made his move in the final three laps, finding himself in the middle of a three-wide pack two carlengths ahead of Ryan Blaney.  When racing Landon Cassill for a spot inside the Top 10, the two made contact, sending Whitt into the right-rear of Kevin Harvick.  The contact sent Whitt spinning across the track as Harvick hit the outside-wall.  Still, the caution coming out seconds before Keselowski reached the stripe kept Whitt ahead of three other lead-lap cars - Bobby Labonte, Greg Biffle, and Michael McDowell.

Were it not for Waltrip’s 12th-place finish, Whitt’s 18th-place run would have been a new best-ever for Premium’s team owner Jay Robinson.  Regardless, it was Whitt’s best finish of the season - topping his 26th-place run at Fontana - and is tied for the third-best in Whitt’s 94 Cup starts.


#30 The Motorsports Group
Driver: Josh Wise
Season Stats: 8 Starts, 2 DNQs

The Motorsports Group now stands 0-for-2 in qualifying at restrictor-plate races for 2016.  Driver Josh Wise was the slowest in qualifying, seven-tenths of a second behind the next Open car of David Gilliland.  If driver and team bounce back at Kansas, it will be the team’s first start at the track.  Wise’s best Kansas finish in six starts was a 26th driving for Front Row Motorsports in the spring of 2013.


#26 BK Racing
#40 Hillman Racing
#59 Leavine Family / Circle Sport Racing
#93 BK Racing

None of the other Daytona 500 DNQs attempted the race at Talladega, including Hillman Racing, who had traditionally turned in strong runs when Landon Cassill drove for them.  Ryan Ellis, who ran the #93 last week at Richmond, is expected to return for a handful more races this year, including Indianapolis in July and Texas in November.

No comments: