Sunday, November 20, 2016

CUP: Open Team Roundup - Homestead

PHOTO: Getty Images

#21 Wood Brothers Racing
Driver: Ryan Blaney
Started 8th, Finished 26th

After five straight finishes of 20th or better, Blaney’s up-and-down 2016 season ended with frustration.  He ran 5th in the second practice and started 8th, but made contact with the wall twice in the first 27 laps, dropping him to the Bottom Five, then last on Lap 30.  An apparent flat right-front tire sent him into the wall on Lap 208, and after another unscheduled stop with 23 laps to go, he wound up four laps down.  Still, despite all his struggles, Blaney topped all Open teams for the 27th time in 34 races, securing the 20th spot in Driver Points.

#49 BK Racing (former #93)
Driver: Matt DiBenedetto
Started 31st, Finished 27th

DiBenedetto rejoined the Open team contingent at Homestead, where Jeffrey Earnhardt would again drive his #83 BK Racing entry.  For the first time this year, the #93 had its number changed to #49 to promote the $49.99 price of the new video game “NASCAR Heat: Evolution.”  After holding fast to a lead-lap run through the first half, DiBenedetto lost four laps in the final stages.  Still, he came within one spot of having BK Racing lead the Open teams for the first time all season.

#55 Premium Motorsports
Driver: Reed Sorenson
Started 37th, Finished 32nd

Sorenson, the other LASTCAR contender, came closer to the 40th spot, running 39th for most of the race’s early laps.  The multi-car melee with 10 laps to go hoisted him to 32nd, his best finish since Charlotte in October.  Premium ended the year topping the Open teams eight times between the #98, not entered in the race, and Sorenson’s #55.  The team’s best finish of the year came with Cole Whitt in the #98, who ran 11th in the July race at Daytona.

#7 Tommy Baldwin Racing (former #59)
Driver: Regan Smith
Started 35th, Finished 38th

After a difficult season, Tommy Baldwin Racing (TBR) announced last Thursday that they had sold their Charter to Leavine Family Racing with Circle Sport (LFR).  The move guaranteed a starting spot for LFR’s second team, the #59 Chevrolet Michael McDowell debuted in the Daytona 500, and the car carried logos for TBR sponsors Nikko and Toy State.  While McDowell went on to equal his season-best finish of 10th in the July race at Daytona, continuing a streak of driver and team-best finishes in 2016, Smith found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.  After running near the back of the field, the wrecking Kasey Kahne and Carl Edwards slid directly into his path, ending his night in a hard crash.  It was a sad end for TBR, which since 2009 had worked to earn a guaranteed starting spot.  Next year, TBR plans at most a partial schedule.


#30 The Motorsports Group
Driver: Gray Gaulding
2016 Stats: 30 starts, 5 DNQs, 1 Withdrawal

The third and final leg of Gaulding’s 2016 Cup campaign ended early.  38th in the opening practice, a half-second behind Sorenson for the next Open spot, Gaulding anchored the field in qualifying, three-tenths away from staving off elimination.  As of this writing, Gaulding’s plans for 2016 are still in the works.  While TMG never led all Open teams in 2016, they ranked second seven times, including their season-best (and team-best) 24th at Kentucky with Josh Wise.


#26 BK Racing
#35 Front Row Motorsports
#40 Hillman Racing
#98 Premium Motorsports
#99 Roush-Fenway Racing

None of the other part-time Open teams attempted the race in Homestead, including Premium Motorsports’ #98 which for the first time in 2016 did not make the preliminary entry list.

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