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.

Cooper Webb leaps from obscurity to Supercross lead

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Cooper Webb could not even locate the radar tower before the 2019 season began – let alone expect to see his number dead center in the radar screen.

His ascent to 450 competition came with little fanfare. Finishing 13th in Supercross in 2017 and then eighth in Motocross, Webb did not turn many heads as a rookie. Last year was more of the same.

Through Round 7 at Arlington, Webb failed to record a single top five. That elusive result would come the following week at Tampa with a fourth-place finish. Two weeks later, he stood on the podium at Daytona for the only the second time in his Supercross 450s career. But at season’s end, Webb was only ninth in the standings in both Supercross and Motocross.

No one expected much from him when Anaheim rolled around this year.

Webb started the season much the same as he ended 2018. A fifth-place finish in Anaheim I in muddy and equalizing conditions was followed by a modest 10th at Glendale, but the rider from North Carolina believed in himself.

In professional racing, nothing is more difficult than winning the first race. Webb’s first taste of victory came in Heat 1 of the Triple Crown at Anaheim II. Everyone remained skeptical – it was only one heat race after all. The skepticism turned to interest when he won Heat 2. Then Webb finished third in Heat 3 to take the overall victory. It was his first win in the 450 class.

That was all it took to unleash his potential. Webb won the following week in Oakland and then again two weeks later in Minneapolis.

The Supercross riders left Minnesota and headed straight down Interstate 35 to Arlington with four of them separated by two points. All eyes were focused on Ken Roczen, Eli Tomac, Marvin Musquin – and, oh yeah Webb who sat in second.

Someone was likely to stumble in Arlington and the odds on favorite to do so was Webb. That seemed to be confirmed once the feature started. While the three more experienced riders led by Tomac scooted away from the field, Webb was mired outside the top five for the first six lap.

It was Tomac who tripped and fell, however. Webb passed the stricken rider and surged to fifth on Lap 7. He was in fourth by Lap 10 and third on Lap 16.  As Webb and teammate Musquin battled for the second, they slowly reeled in the leader Roczen. Once Webb broke free on the conflict with the runner-up position firmly his, he could see the red plate on Roczen’s Honda like a cape being waved in front of a bull.

Webb charged through the final six laps getting closer and closer until he edged Roczen for the closest finish in Supercross history. It was Webb’s fourth victory of the season, coming only four weeks after he scored his first career win.

Relive the final laps in the video posted above.

As incredible as Webb’s rise to the points lead is, it has been done before.

Last year Jason Anderson seemingly came out of nowhere to lead the standings after Round 2. Anderson held the advantage for the remainder of the year, while Webb has been part of a game of hot potato in which no one seems to want to don the red plate for more than a week.

The pressure continues to mount. Webb now has a two-point advantage over Roczen, who is the only rider to sweep the top five this season.

Webb’s advantage over third is a mere four points, while Musquin has a current five-race streak of podium finishes to his credit.

Tomac’s trouble in Texas serves as a cautionary tale that a single loss of focus can be devastating and Webb still lacks the seat time of his three principal rivals, but last week’s incredible come-from-behind victory is showing that Webb is riding above experience level.

Follow the complete Supercross and Motocross seasons on NBC Sports, Gold.