Tuesday, June 28, 2016

CUP: Open Team Roundup - Sonoma

SOURCE: Brock Beard

#21 Wood Brothers Racing
Driver: Ryan Blaney
Started 26th, Finished 23rd

All five of the Open teams who arrived in Sonoma had a difficult time negotiating the twists and turns of the season’s first road course.  Blaney prepared for his track debut by using Ford’s computer simulator.  He ran 30th in Friday’s opening practice session, tops among Open teams, and 35th in Happy Hour, trailing only Cole Whitt.

2012 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Glen Wood, who arrived Sunday morning, recalled his own memories of seeing the northern California track for the first time:

“I can remember coming out here in ‘87, they had a team (the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving), the instructors would tell you how to get around this track and I was up on the hill and this Thunderbird come down and went in that turn on top of the hill there and the thing, it’s crashed as far as I’m concerned and the thing hung sideways, he got in the gas, and went on - he knew what he was doing.  But it just looked like he was gonna crash, but he’d do that every lap.  They’re a lot of fun to watch.”

The Wood Brothers made a combined 43 starts at the old Riverside International Raceway road course in Southern California, including nearly all of the races run there from 1963 through the track’s closing in 1988.  Wood said there’s not much of an old Riverside setup you can use on a modern car at Sonoma, but some guiding principles still help: “You just baby your right hand turns, you know, you basically set the same kind of setup, you have a little different float levels, you have to - you can’t go too much one way, you’ll skip on the other turns so, adjusting your floats and adjusting your chassis and baby the right hand turns.”

Ryan Blaney stoved in the nose of his #21 early in the race, and there appeared to be a heavy amount of oil on his front valence when the car returned to the garage after the race.  Still, he managed to finish tops among the Open teams once more, finishing better than he had at Atlanta, Fontana, Richmond, and Texas.

Blaney is the only driver among this week’s group of Open teams who made the field for February’s Daytona 500.  Blaney finished 19th.

#98 Premium Motorsports
Driver: Cole Whitt
Started 35th, Finished 34th

Newly-engaged Cole Whitt and the #98 team entered a Toyota for just the third time in 2016, one which carried a brand-new look.  The all-blue car arrived without any decals and a carbon-fibre hood - the driver indicated it was a former Michael Waltrip Racing car, a PEAK Toyota Clint Bowyer ran last year that changed hands at least once after.  The car wasn’t repainted before it was decaled at the track with RTIC Coolers logos, but the driver was quick to point out it was “RTIC Coolers Blue,” so the repainting wasn’t necessary.  Whitt outpaced Ryan Blaney in Happy Hour, good enough for 25th overall and the best of the Open teams in that session.  He was pleased with the car on race morning:

“It’s been better than we’ve been on the leaderboard. . .I think we’ll run pretty good, we’ve got a good race car.  It just doesn’t show good one-lap speed, but it doesn’t fall off too bad, so hopefully that’ll work out for today.”

Whitt ran near the Top 20 through the middle stages of the Toyota / Save Mart 350, entered the Top 5 during the array of different pit strategies, and held fast to 25th during a late caution, very much in position for his best run since Talladega.  Unfortunately, the car lost a cylinder in the final laps.  Though he came home a disappointing 34th, he remained on the lead lap.

Whitt and the #98 came up just short of making the field for the Daytona 500, spinning out of the last transfer spot in his duel and coming home in the last position.  At Talladega in May, Whitt was inside the Top 10 coming to the checkered flag when he was involved in a multi-car wreck in the final corner.

#93 BK Racing
Driver: Dylan Lupton
Started 38th, Finished 35th

Several members of Dylan Lupton’s familywere on hand at the Sonoma Raceway wearing t-shirts in anticipation of the 22-year-old’s Sprint Cup debut.  BK Racing had brought back its third car, #93, which had made both of its attempts in 2016 at Daytona (Matt DiBenedetto) and Richmond (Ryan Ellis).  “We’ve got our fingers crossed,” said his uncle Robert, “we know how difficult it is to, you know, move up.”

Of the 41 entrants, Lupton was 39th in the opening practice and 37th in Happy Hour, ranking him fourth among the five Open teams at the track.  By qualifying, he had climbed to third of five, outpacing both The Motorsports Group’s #30 and Premium Motorsports’ #55, locking the youngster into his first Cup start.  Lupton rolled off 38th, ran near the back, and caught a break when he was lapped moments before the second caution on Lap 47, giving him the Lucky Dog.  Exhausted with a sore left foot from the heat, Lupton ended up the final car on the lead lap, but was critical of his own performance:

“You know, I guess it wasn’t too bad, you know, we completed every lap, that was the main goal.  I just made too many mistakes out there, I kept trying to make passes on the outside and kept getting pushed wide, so I guess lack of experience led to mistakes out there on my part.  It’s all about seat time and that’s something I don’t have.  Seemed like the car was just a little too tight in the slow hand stuff, but we were good on the second-to-last run but that last run we gave up way too many positions, so we’ll just move on and try to get better.”

Lupton’s schedule for the rest of 2016 is still to be determined.

Neither Lupton nor the #93 team is entered in this Saturday’s race, but in February the team took the 40th position with Matt DiBenedetto, who was involved in an early crash with Chris Buescher.  Michael Waltrip, who took the controls of DiBenedetto’s #83 in the 500, is also not entered.

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

Josh Wise returned to the scene of his first full-race Sprint Cup run in 2012 for The Motorsports Group’s debut at the Sonoma track.  Returning as sponsor was SBC Contractors, which backed Boris Said’s run at the same track last year for Go Green Racing.  Just like last year, SBC owner Steve Brandenberg was at the track with several employees, customers, and VIPs, all of them wearing the company’s red shirts and white caps.

“We sponsored (Wise) down at Fontana earlier this year, you know, we’re out of the Sacramento area so we wanted to do the home track, so we sponsored him here,” said Brandenberg.

Wise was near the bubble in practice, running 38th and 36th, but nailed down a lap of 93.027mph in qualifying, making the field by more than one full mile per hour.  Wise struggled during the race as both he and last-place starter Michael Annett lost touch with the rest of the pack.  Wise continued on until the motor let go inside the final ten laps, leaving him 38th at the finish.

Josh Wise and The Motorsports Group have missed the field for both restrictor-plate races this year at Daytona and Talladega.  The team will again look to make its first superspeedway start.


#55 Premium Motorsports
Driver: Cody Ware
Team Stats: 10 Starts, 1 DNQ

In 1990, 29-year-old Rick Ware made his Sprint Cup debut in the Budweiser at the Glen, finishing 36th in a #22 Otter Pops Pontiac owned by Buddy Baker.  Last Friday, Ware’s 20-year-old son Cody arrived with Premium Motorsports to attempt the field for the Toyota / Save Mart 350.

“I’m good, man, I’m ready to go, gonna be a lot of fun,” said Cody on Friday.  “Carport definitely did a really good job setting us up pretty much last minutes, so it’s really awesome for them to come on board, I think I’ll have some fun with it.”

“He’s trying to run harder, but keep it, you know, without having to make any mistakes,” said Rick after Cody’s first day of practice. “He’d never been here and it’s put him behind.  But he’s doing a good job, making some big strides time-wise.  It’ll be close, it’ll be a tough battle tomorrow.  So it’ll be exciting, that’s for sure.”

Like Dylan Lupton in the #93, Cody took to the track for the first time in Friday’s dual practices.  His #55 Carport Empire Chevrolet ran 20 laps in the first session, where he was slowest overall at 88.472mph.  He found much more speed in Happy Hour, improving to 91.700mph after just five laps, besting Michael Annett’s chartered #46.  Cody nearly matched the Happy Hour speed in qualifying, running 91.676mph on his second attempt.  Still needing another second on the track to bump Josh Wise from the field, Ware crossed the stripe with eight seconds remaining in Round 1 to attempt a fourth lap, but the attempt was aborted, and the #55 missed the show.  As with Lupton, there are no reports as yet when Ware will make his next Cup attempt, though with his family’s background in road racing, Watkins Glen should be a possibility.

This weekend, Reed Sorenson will return to the controls, looking to make his 13th Daytona start.  His best finish at the track was a 5th in the 50th Daytona 500 in 2008.  Premium Motorsports did not enter the #55 in the Daytona 500, but Michael Waltrip gave it a 12th-place showing at Talladega.


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

None of the other part-time teams attempted the race in Sonoma, however following Saturday’s K&N Series race, David Gilliland confirmed that he will return to the #35 Ford for Front Row Motorsports this Saturday at Daytona.  Gilliland missed the field for the Daytona 500, but was running 3rd at the end of the spring Talladega race before he was shuffled back to 17th.  Both the #26 and #59, which made the Daytona 500 with Robert Richardson, Jr. and Michael McDowell respectively, are not entered, nor is the #40 Hillman Racing team.  McDowell is slated to run the #95 while Reed Sorenson, February’s driver of the #40, will again drive Premium Motorsports’ #55.

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