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.

Josef Newgarden dominates from pole to win KOHLER Grand Prix at Road America

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There’s a reason why Josef Newgarden calls Road America his favorite racetrack – and he showed why Sunday, dominating to victory in the KOHLER Grand Prix at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisc.

Newgarden led all but two laps from the pole and was in a class of his own throughout the 55-lap caution-free race on the 4.048-mile, 14-turn road course in central Wisconsin, defeating runner-up Ryan Hunter-Reay by 3.3759 seconds.

“(I wanted this one) really bad,” Newgarden told NBCSN in victory lane. “I wanted to win here since last year. This car has been a rocket all weekend. It wasn’t easy. Ryan was very quick and I knew Dixon was right behind him, so we were working for it the entire race.

“I kind of knew what I had to do, but it was a lot of work. Ryan was really pushing me. It’s good to get a win. It doesn’t matter what car, as long as it’s Team Penske.”

It was Newgarden’s series-leading third win of the season in the first 10 races (also won at ISM Raceway in Phoenix and Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama), pushing him past Team Penske teammate and Indy 500 winner Will Power and Scott Dixon, who both have two wins in the 2018 campaign.

“I was hoping to make it more interesting for the fans here at Road American and on TV,” Hunter-Reay said. “The last two stints, when he put on used red and I had blacks, he was really hooked up. … I was pushing 110 percent, that’s for sure.

“Unfortunately, I just couldn’t catch up to Josef. I was able to close up the gap a little bit here and there, but not like I was early in the race. He found his own way for sure. Definitely, the clean air out front helps, but hats off to him: he had a great race and deserves the win.”

Dixon finished third, followed by Takuma Sato, Robert Wickens, Graham Rahal, Simon Pagenaud, Spencer Pigot (his best finish of the season), Ed Jones and James Hinchcliffe.

Dixon (393 points) maintains the Verizon IndyCar Series points lead, Hunter-Reay (348) moved up two spots to second place, Alexander Rossi (tied with Hunter-Reay for second at 348) dropped one spot to third, Newgarden (343) climbed one spot to fourth and Will Power (328) dropped two spots to fifth in the standings.

“It’s so tight … so tough,” Dixon said. “The Verizon IndyCar Series, right now, the competition is through the roof. To get a podium these days is tough enough, yet to get a win. But we’ll keep pushing and see what we get.”

There was action right from the opening lap, including misfortune for Indianapolis 500 winner Will Power, who suffered engine issues that sent him to the pits after the opening lap.

After trying to work on his car in the pits, Power’s team pushed it back to the paddock to attempt further repairs, but those efforts failed and the car was retired.

Power was third in the IndyCar points standings coming into the race, 36 points behind series leader Scott Dixon. He finished last (23rd) in Sunday’s race and will likely drop to fifth in the standings.

“They replaced the exhaust, and it just blew straight back out,” Power told NBCSN’s Marty Snider. “So, there’s obviously something going on in there that’s gone wrong.

“I feel bad for all the guys. It’s just one of those things, you know – you’ll get that every now and then at some point. No good, but we’ll move on to the next one.”

Also, 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi had an issue with what appeared to be brakes- or suspension-related that resulted in a lengthy pit stop after 38 laps. Rossi finished 16th in the 23-car field.

“Hugely disappointing,” Rossi told NBCSN. “It was good enough for fourth … but I guess it just wasn’t meant to be.”

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