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Daytona Gives Minor Teams A Major Opportunity

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, July 5 2014

The summer race at Daytona now offers small teams their last best chance at making the playoffs. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

The new Chase rules, with its win-and-your-in format, has made the playoffs extremely accessible to the Sprint Cup Series’ traditional have-nots. And plate racing, with its bizarre capriciousness, has made winning extremely possible for the have-nots.

So, for a lot of the teams and drivers in the far ends of the Cup garages, this weekend’s race at the Daytona International Speedway plate track has to be viewed as a true Independence Day holiday. A holiday during which a little bit of luck could help land them a Chase berth.

Last year, for example, David Ragan won the first race at Talladega. Had the current point system been in place, he and his Front Row Motorsports team would have left Alabama with a major opportunity to make the playoffs.

Ragan and his team, turns out, sat 25th in points after the final non-Chase race and would have qualified for a berth.

Ragan also won the first race at Talladega this year. If he can jump a couple places in the standings – he is 34th today – over the next two months, he will likely earn a berth in the 2014 Chase.

Don’t think this is news to other low-budget teams in the garages.

“If one of us could get a win that would be great,” Reed Sorenson, driver of the No. 36 Golden Corral Tommy Baldwin Racing car said. “And that’s what the new system has kind of enabled a smaller team like ours to have that opportunity if you were able to win a race.”

Small teams got a jump on the weekend on Friday when qualifying was dominated by drivers not normally associated with, well, being fast.

David Gilliland won the pole for Front Row Motorsports. Second fastest was Sorenson was second. Third fastest was Landon Cassill.

A year ago at Daytona in July, Casey Mears, J.J. Yeley, Gilliland and, gasp, even Danica Patrick finished in the top 15 in this race.

“Daytona really gives any team the opportunity to win because it’s a superspeedway,” Justin Allgaier of HScott Motorsports said.

“I agree,” Sorenson said. ” This is probably the best chance for us to win a race. Any of the restrictor plate races kind of evens the field. Everybody knows that. So, yeah, if one of us could get a win that would be great. And that’s what the new system has kind of enabled a smaller team like ours to have that opportunity if you were able to win a race. So, this would be a place to do it, for sure.”

And with a race victory banked, a top-30 finish in points would almost surely put a team in this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship.

“The way we ran at Talladega,” Michael Annett of Tommy Baldwin Racing, who finished 16th at the Alabama track, said, “I don’t see any reason why we couldn’t come out of here with a win. I’m 30th in points right now and it’s something I keep looking at thinking man, if we go to Daytona and won that race, we’d be in the Chase. If our team is going to pull that off I think it would be something pretty special.”

Gilliland feels about the same. The new system, he said, is creating new opportunities.

“Our team with (owner) Bob Jenkins, that is what is extra special about him,” Gilliland said. “He doesn’t have unrealistic expectations. We don’t start out the year expecting to make the Chase. We would like to obviously and we want to and we want to get to become a team one year where we are but with the new format and the new rules, if you win and run good enough at the rest of the tracks to earn a good enough points position come Richmond you can make the Chase. Obviously as a team and organization we sit down at the beginning of the year and say that as much as we would like to win at Charlotte our chances aren’t good with the cars we have now but Daytona, Talladega and some of the road courses we can. This is probably the last shot that we feel like we have so we will put a lot on tomorrow nights race.”

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, July 5 2014
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