56th Daytona 500

Underdogs fail to upset the form book in Daytona 500


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.

NHRA: Looking at where things stand at midpoint of Countdown

Top Fuel's Antron Brown has been the most dominant driver in the current NHRA Countdown to the Championship.
(Getty Images)
Leave a comment

The NHRA is now halfway through its six-race Countdown to the Championship and there have been a number of surprises – both good and bad – thus far.

When the series gets back to racing next weekend at Texas Motorplex in Ennis, Texas, those drivers who have dominated their respective categories in the Countdown so far stand a good chance of pulling away.

Not to mention potentially see several drivers start falling by the wayside and be eliminated.

Let’s take a look at each of the four pro classes and analyze the haves and have not’s thus far:


Biggest surprise: Antron Brown. It’s not so much a surprise that Brown is leading the standings, but it’s more so the way he’s doing it. The 2012 Top Fuel champ has been on fire, having won all of the first three Countdown races and a personal-best seven races overall this season. Brown set a NHRA record of 12-0 in final elimination rounds this past Sunday at Reading, Pa. You can’t get much more perfect than that. Brown has been so dominating that only teammate and defending eight-time champ Tony Schumacher is within reach points-wise. The other eight drivers still in contention are between 194 and 274 points behind. At the rate he’s going, Brown could potentially clinch the championship in the second-to-last race at Las Vegas.

You Go Girl: Brittany Force, daughter of 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force, has been a surprising upstart in the Countdown. While she’s 194 points behind Brown, Force is ranked third heading to Texas. She’s shown significant confidence and moxie in the first three races and if she keeps it up, she could potentially overtake Schumacher at some point for second place.

Different Team, Same Drive: Shawn Langdon lost his ride at the worst possible time, just before the Countdown began, when team owner Alan Johnson suspended operations. But give credit to fellow team owner Don Schumacher, who “borrowed” Langdon from Johnson for the Chase to replace Spencer Massey, who was released just before the Chase. Langdon has done well, but time is running out if he hopes to make one last shot to win yet another championship.


Biggest surprise: Del Worsham won the first two races of the Countdown and appears headed towards becoming only the third driver in NHRA history to win both a Top Fuel and Funny Car championship in his career. Worsham has been absolutely solid this season.

That’s The Fact, Jack: Jack Beckman has enjoyed arguably the best season of his career, a complete turnaround from last year’s draining struggle. Having left John Force at the end of last season, co-crew chiefs Jimmy Prock and John Medlen have reinvigorated both Beckman and his car. Worsham has been strong, but Beckman is only a mere 16 points back in second place. And with his win this past Sunday at Reading, momentum could potentially turn in Beckman’s direction heading to Texas.

The Numbers Game: Kudos to third-ranked Matt Hagan (90 points behind Worsham) and fourth-ranked Tommy Johnson Jr. (-98) for their strong efforts in the Countdown. Ditto for Ron Capps (105 points behind Worsham) and John Force (-150), who are both still within striking distance. However, two drivers have uncharacteristically struggled thus far in the Countdown: Alexis De Joria (ranked ninth, 207 points back) and Robert Hight (10th, 221 points back). Unless they right their respective ships, they run the risk of being eliminated at Las Vegas.


Biggest Surprise: Chris McGaha (third, 104 points behind series leader Erica Enders) and rookie Drew Skillman (sixth, -173) have definitely opened eyes this season, with each earning wins thus far in the Countdown. Also enjoying a strong run in the Countdown and a welcome resurgence overall this season is veteran racer Larry Morgan (fourth, 145 points back). Enders could potentially have her hands full in the final three races to keep these three hungry drivers at bay.

You Go Girl: Defending champ Enders has looked cool, calm and collected – just like she did en route to becoming the first female Pro Stock champ last season. With a 72-point lead over former champ Greg Anderson, Enders has become one of the best drivers when it comes to reaction times at the starting line, having won close to a dozen or more rounds just because she got the jump on her opponent at the so-called “Christmas tree.”


Biggest surprise: It would be hard to find two riders who have not been more surprising than Hector Arana Jr. (ranked third, 101 points back) and Louisiana alligator farmer Jerry Savoie (fourth, 119 points back). Arana is one of the most promising young riders on the circuit, while Savoie – after a 30-year layoff from racing – is proving that 53 (years old) is the new 23.

Back in the saddle again: Andrew Hines is gunning for his fifth bike championship, and second straight, and has done what he’s needed to do thus far in the Countdown. While Arana and second-ranked Eddie Krawiec (-89) are proving to be formidable foes, Hines appears to be ready to start pulling further away for the title.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

NHRA: New book a celebration of life, love and drag racing

jim oberhofer horizontal
Leave a comment

The overpowering smell from nitromethane that powers Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars in the National Hot Rod Association oftentimes brings fans to tears after getting a whiff of the stuff.

Now there’s a new inspirational book that will also bring tears to the eyes of die-hard drag racing fans.

Veteran crew chief Jim Oberhofer has released “Top Fuel For Life, Life Lessons From A Crew Chief,” a touching homage to both his late wife and persevering and overcoming adversity in the highly competitive world of NHRA drag racing.

oberhofer 2

Oberhofer wears a number of hats as vice president of one of the sport’s most veteran and successful teams, Kalitta Motorsports, including serving as crew chief for Top Fuel driver Doug Kalitta’s dragster.

Oberhofer relates a number of stories about overcoming adversity in the book, but none more touching than how he watched his beloved wife “Tammy O” lose a long and painful battle to stage 4 metastatic lung cancer.

While Oberhofer has spent his life using wrenches and tools working on 10,000-horsepower engines, his new book shows that he is also a very gifted writer.

Known in the sport as “Jim O,” Oberhofer describes the fight his wife went through in gritty and descriptive prose, but with a foundation built upon what the love of his life meant to him – and continues to mean to him more than two years since she passed away.

“When you take a long hard look at your life, I guarantee you that being a winner has little to do with crossing the finish line,” Oberhofer said. “After many mistakes and a whole lot of heartache, I learned that happiness comes from a deeper, simpler place. That’s the big win.”

“Top Fuel For Life” is available on Amazon for $19.95.

Follow @JerryBonkowski