Underdogs fail to upset the form book in Daytona 500

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Phoenix Racing’s Regan Smith, Phil Parsons Racing’s Michael McDowell and Tommy Baldwin Racing’s JJ Yeley walked away with top-10s in the 2013 Daytona 500, and scored three for the underdogs a year ago.

But in the 2014 edition, luck was not on the side of those outside the power teams.

Excluding the single-car No. 13 Germain Racing Chevrolet driven by Casey Mears, who finished 10th, there was nary a surprise finish for the teams that could use the financial boost of a top-10 result in NASCAR’s highest-paying race (10th on up pays roughly $100,000 to $200,000 more than the remaining positions).

There were a good eight to 10 real “long shots” in this year’s Daytona 500, who would have done wonders to upset the proverbial apple cart and had their best chance to capture a result.

Cedar Rapids, Iowa’s Landon Cassill ended best of the bunch in 12th, in the No. 40 Hillman Racing (with Joe Falk’s Circle Sport operation) Chevrolet, which featured new sponsorship from CarsforSale.com. As you see in the picture, he avoided a late “big one” that took out many of the mid-level teams.

“12th place in the Daytona 500! Great car but didn’t play defense when I needed,” Cassill tweeted after the race. It wrapped a week that saw him get hit by a car in the garage area early on to give him a black eye, but then race his way in through the Budweiser Duel, and end with a solid result.

Veterans Bobby Labonte and Reed Sorenson ended 15th and 16th, respectively, for HScott Motorsports and Tommy Baldwin Racing. A late pit stop gamble promoted Sorenson to a top-five position, but he quickly faded after a restart.

Alex Bowman (No. 23 BK Racing, reliveried with Borla Exhaust colors instead of Dr Pepper as teammate Ryan Truex failed to qualify), Josh Wise (No. 98 Phil Parsons Racing) and Brian Scott (No. 33 RCR/Circle Sport Racing) ended 23rd to 25th.

Scott was one of five “underdogs” taken out in a single “big one” accident on Lap 195, in a wreck triggered when teammate Austin Dillon hit his other teammate Ryan Newman. The others collected included Swan Racing’s rookie pair of Cole Whitt (No. 26) and Parker Kligerman (No. 30), HScott lead driver Justin Allgaier (No. 51) and Go FAS Racing’s Terry Labonte (No. 32).

Baldwin’s second car, driven by Michael Annett (No. 7), made some news during the race when he spun on pit entry and nearly collected Kasey Kahne. Unfortunately for Kahne, he was issued a pit road speeding penalty for the dust-up. Annett was later eliminated from the race after being involved in a wreck where Dillon tapped Kyle Larson in Turn 3.

Front Row Motorsports’ pair of Davids couldn’t hassle the Goliaths, either. Ragan (No. 34) and Gilliland (No. 38) finished 34th and 36th, and the latter David got an unfortunate – if hilarious – mention as part of “NASCAR Superlatives” on Monday’s edition of “The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon.”

Sadly for most of these teams, anything better than 25th or so the next four-six races will be considered a “good” result, with anything in the top-20 or more a serious bonus. Otherwise, it’s wait ‘til Talladega and the chance of avoiding the “big ones” there to see their next chance at a result.

Marco Andretti confident that fewer tests won’t hurt Andretti Autosport

Photo: IndyCar
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A small point of debate around the 2018 aero kit has been the manufacturer test days that took place through the Fall of 2017 and into the beginning of 2018. Chiefly, the debate has centered around teams who hadn’t participated in those manufacturer test days and if they’re starting the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season at a disadvantage as a result.

Team Penske, Ed Carpenter Racing, and A.J. Foyt Racing completed test days for Chevrolet, with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Chip Ganassi Racing doing so for Honda.

That left teams like Andretti Autosport out of the mix, with some voicing concerns as a result.

However, in a press conference during testing at ISM Raceway last weekend, Marco Andretti explained that he thinks Andretti Autosport should be able to catch up on development, citing the team’s resources – they’re the only IndyCar team with four full-time cars in their stable – and the fact that everyone is still adapting to the new kit.

“I feel like it’s early enough days that, yes, we can catch up,” Andretti said at ISM Raceway. “When there is anything new, a new car, new aero kit, at-track days are huge. We can sim all these things we want. To really get out there and confirm what we’re learning back at the shop is another thing.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay during testing at ISM Raceway. Photo: IndyCar

Andretti continued, “Yeah, I don’t think we should look at it like we’re behind the eight ball. With a four-car team, that’s where we can use it to our benefit. So far so good.”

Teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, echoed Andretti’s sentiments, adding that while the situation is not perfect, they will need to adapt to it in order to remain competitive.

“Any time you have a new car, to put it into perspective, we’re on track three days on a road course before we get to (the season open in St. Petersburg). That’s a very short amount of time. It’s obviously not ideal, but we’re just going to lace up our boots and get on with it. That’s all you can do.”

Andretti Autosport will have one more team test, at Sebring International Raceway later on in February, before the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

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