After a delay from the Formula 4 series race, NASCAR Xfinity Series qualifying was a battle between rain and different tire rubber on the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. However, the weather held off and Sam Hornish Jr. will start from the pole in Saturday’s Mid-Ohio Challenge. This is his eighth career pole and first of 2016. Hornish will also hold the new track record with a speed of 96.755 mph.
In the first round of qualifying, David Starr spun and ended up in the sand trap to have the red flag fly when he entered into the “keyhole” portion of the track and ended up in the sand trap. The red flag was displayed for the second time due to weather in the area with 6 minutes and 22 seconds remaining. However, this round was able to run its advertised time with Hornish Jr. on top of the board with a speed of 96.755 mph. Ty Dillon was second at a speed of 95.753 mph, Owen Kelly was in third with a speed of 95.702 mph, Erik Jones edged his way into fourth with a speed of 95.661 mph, and Ryan Blaney rounded out the top five at 95.481 mph. Notable drivers who did not advance to the second round include Blake Koch who qualified 13th, Brennan Poole who qualified 17, Kenny Habul who qualified 18th, and Alon Day who qualified 22nd. No drivers will be going home from Mid-Ohio this weekend.
The second round of qualifying was not plagued by weather or on-track accidents like the first round.. Hornish Jr. topped the round with a speed of 96.374 mph. Kelly qualified second with a speed of 95.877 mph, Blaney qualified third at 95.739 mph, Elliott Sadler qualified fourth at a speed of 95.675 mph, and Daniel Suarez rounds out the top five with a speed of 95.613 mph. Dillon, who qualified second in the first round, qualified seventh.
The Mid-Ohio Challenge from Lexington, Ohio will be on USA Network and Motor Racing Network beginning at 3 pm eastern with pre-race shows. Action from Mid-Ohio will begin at 3:30 pm eastern
It is going to be a busy few weeks for executives at Richard Petty Motorsports.
On Saturday afternoon, the organization announced that the No. 9 Ford Fusion is vacant for the 2015 season. Driving for the team since 2011, Marcos Ambrose is opting to leave RPM to take his family back to his home in Australia. In lieu of this decision, the team now has the task of finding a new driver. But that might not be the team’s greatest challenge.
While Ambrose is departing a team that he has won a pair of races with, his sponsor is doing the same. Black and Decker is reportedly joining forces with Joe Gibbs Racing, according to Motorsport.com’s Lee Spencer. Just weeks ago, JGR announced that ARRIS will be sponsoring Carl Edwards’ No. 19 Toyota in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for 17 events. It is apparent that Stanley will sponsor Edwards, but Dewalt will sponsor Matt Kenseth after they backed him from his days in the NASCAR Nationwide Series with Robbie Reiser in 1999 until 2009.
With that being said, let’s take a look at some of the possible candidates that could be Aric Almirola’s teammate at the team that bars Richard Petty’s name on its logo.
- Sam Hornish Jr.: It appears that Hornish is the top choice for the organization. Although he is racing on a part-time basis for a Toyota team in the Nationwide Series, he had plenty of success with Team Penske and Ford in 2013. With Ford having a clear presence in this decision, they will want someone that has a good relationship with them. However, Hornish has not run a full season in the Cup Series since 2010. Now, he is clearly a better driver. It is obvious that he is going to entertain this offer – if he gets it. But he will need to find at least some sponsorship, and that has been an immense struggle for a former Indianapolis 500 winner when it truly shouldn’t be.
- David Ragan: Ragan has driven for Ford throughout his career. Besides that, he even owns a Ford dealership. He lost his ride at Roush Fenway Racing because UPS opted to sponsor Carl Edwards instead of him and he couldn’t find another company willing to back him, even after showing that he can get into Victory Lane. Since then, it has been nearly three years of immense struggles for Ragan as he is racing for Front Row Motorsports. FRM has a minor alliance with Roush, but it isn’t enough to help him contend for top 20s on a weekly basis. Moving over to RPM would give him a chance to go back to consistently racing inside of the top 15. He has been able to bring plenty of new companies into the sport with his underfunded team. The past three years have been tough, but a job with RPM could have him back in the spotlight and contending for a spot in the Chase with Almirola.
- Parker Kligerman: Kligerman was left without a ride when Swan Racing shut down a few months ago. Even though he recently tested an Indy Lights car for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, he would certainly jump at what would arguably be the best opportunity of his racing career. Clearly a talented driver, RPM could help develop him like they did with Almirola. Given the opportunity, Kligerman could race inside of the top 20 in his first year with the team. Albeit he hasn’t been able to find much funding over the course of his career, he has run well when given opportunities in top equipment. If the team can’t sign Ragan or Hornish, he would certainly be a perfect fit for them.
- Elliott Sadler: It appears that Sadler won’t be staying at JGR in the Nationwide Series next year. He has said over and over again that he wants to be back in the Cup Series. Last year, he had a minor stint with Michael Waltrip Racing; improving each race he ran for them. If One Main Financial would back him, there is a possibility that he could rejoin the team he once raced for. He has had some success in the Nationwide Series with three different teams, yet the money from the sponsor could help him get back to the Cup Series.
- David Gilliland: Like Ragan, Gilliland has been racing on one-year deals for FRM. When I spoke with him at Dover at the end of May, he stated that he is working on a contract extension. However, he would also be a good fit at RPM. He has also helped bring in new sponsors into the sport, such as Love’s Travel Stops, and there is the slight chance that they would move over to RPM with him if they are willing to spend more money. He has never proven that he can win races in NASCAR’s highest division, but in a sport where money means everything – Gilliland could join this team in a highly unlikely scenario.
- Ryan Truex: RPM signed Truex to a developmental deal last year. It is clear that racing with BK Racing is not the best of situations for him. However, Petty told me that they are still working to make a package for him – at least in the Nationwide Series. Getting all of this bad luck out of the way this year might not be the worst of ideas. If he can get some sponsorship, we might see RPM put him in the No. 9 car.
- Michael McDowell: Throughout his career, McDowell never really had a great shot at being competitive. However, he continuously proves that he is capable of running well when given the equipment to do so. If K-LOVE were to make the move with him, McDowell would finally have a chance at being a top 20 driver. Like Gilliland, it all depends on whether or not the team can put a package together for the other drivers. However, with someone as genuine as McDowell, there might not be a better guy off of the track to add to a team with a genuine owner.
- Brian Scott: Scott is backed by his family’s company, Shore Lodge. He has been racing well with Richard Childress Racing, and has made a few starts in the Cup Series. If RCR can’t find room for him since Ty Dillon should be moving to the Cup Series in 2016, he might have to find another organization to call home. Switching manufacturers should not be a factor for him since he raced for Toyota for a few years before he joined RCR. Moreover, he might want to stay with the team and fight for a title. But the funding should be there if he wants to make the jump and race for 20th-25th in Cup.
The famous No. 21 Ford has a vacancy for the 2015 season. Trevor Bayne, who has driven for the Wood Brothers since Texas in 2010, is set to move over to Roush-Fenway Racing on a full-time basis next year as Roush will bring back the No. 6 car which was driven by Mark Martin for nearly two decades.
However, the Wood Brothers have plenty of options to fill their coveted seat, in part due to their alliance with RFR. This year, Bayne has recorded three top-20s in the No. 21 car, each of which has come at intermediate tracks. But this team has not raced full-time since they attempted to do so in 2008, but missed a handful of events with Jon Wood and Marcos Ambrose.
Now that the team is looking for a new driver, they might just go back to racing on a full-time basis. The Wood Brothers have not run more than 17 races per year since Bayne joined the team, even after winning the 2011 Daytona 500. They just have not been able to piece together more sponsorship packages to run additional events.
Rumors have been swirling around that Sam Hornish Jr., the former Indianapolis 500 winner, might be able to piece together some funding to run full-time with the Wood Brothers next year. But history shows that the Wood Brothers are by far less successful when they run their No. 21 car on a full-time basis. Just look at what they did in the 1970s – winning over 50 races while racing on a part-time basis each season. And since Morgan Shepherd won a race for the team in 1993, the Wood Brothers have won a mere two races (not including Michael Waltrip’s All-Star Race victory).
Hornish is currently racing in the NASCAR Nationwide Series for Joe Gibbs Racing, and he has already won a race this season. But like Hornish has said in the past, he won’t race in the Cup Series if he doesn’t have a chance to win races week-in and week-out. That might take him out of the picture since the team has yet to score a top-10 finish at a track other than Daytona or Talladega since Las Vegas of 2012.
With Roush’s heavy alliance with the organization, they might encourage the Wood Brothers to stay racing on a part-time basis with one of RFR’s developmental drivers.
Currently, Roush has Chris Buescher and Ryan Reed racing in the Nationwide Series. Reed is struggling more than initially thought, partially because he has finished on the lead lap just three times this year. Although he has showed signs of improving, Reed is not going to be ready to tackle the Sprint Cup Series for at least another season.
That leaves Buescher, the younger cousin of former Camping World Truck Series champion, James Buescher. After missing the season-opener at Daytona because the entire Roush camp struggled to create a strategy to lay down respectable laps, Buescher has raced his way into the top-10 in points. Buescher would make a good candidate for the No. 21 seat as he has had similar results to that of Bayne’s when he started his Nationwide Series career.
Even though Buescher stated that he is going to run at least one more season before running full-time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, he did admit that he would like to get at least some experience in NASCAR’s top-tier division before tackling it for the entire season.
Ryan Blaney will also be a candidate to race the No. 21 car next year. Even though the Wood Brothers don’t work with Team Penske too much, they are both Ford teams. Blaney made his Cup Series debut at Kansas, and ran inside the top-20 until having to make a late race pit stop. It appears as if he will move up to the Nationwide Series on a full-time basis next year, and racing with the Wood Brothers would save Team Penske the trouble of having to field a third Cup Series team for Blaney – enabling them to possibly run Juan Pablo Montoya in some additional events.
Then there are some other drivers who might be able to seal the deal with the Wood Brothers. Here are some of the possible candidates:
-Elliott Sadler: Sadler drove for the Wood Brothers to start his career, but was not extremely successful with the exception of his fuel mileage win at Bristol in 2001. Currently, he drives for JGR as a title contender in the Nationwide Series, and he might be able to bring over his sponsorship to the Wood Brothers to run full-time with a Cup Series team.
-Regan Smith: Smith has a strong relationship with Chevrolet, so it is unlikely he will go to the Wood Brothers. However, if they offer him a full-time deal, he might just take it after racing in the Nationwide Series for JR Motorsports since last year.
-Josh Wise: Wise has shown in the past that he is capable of running well if given the equipment. He clearly outran Danica Patrick in the No. 7 Chevrolet in multiple Nationwide Series races in the past, but he has been stuck racing for underfunded teams in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. A part-time move to the Wood Brothers would help build Wise’s brand, especially if he can take all of his Reddit.com followers with him.
-Parker Kligerman: Kligerman is still searching for a ride in basically anything that has a motor and four tires. The former Kyle Busch Motorsports driver has notably been looking in the Verizon IndyCar Series for a ride, but he has yet to seal a deal. Racing for the Wood Brothers would enable him to run at the intermediate tracks, his strong suit, and he would be able to get the exposure of racing in the Cup Series which
Sam Hornish Jr. is back in victory lane. However, this time, it is with a new organization. After making the move to Joe Gibbs Racing from Team Penske over the off-season, Hornish is running a part-time schedule this season.
On Sunday afternoon, the 35-year-old Ohio native was able to capture his first victory with his new team. Hornish dominated the Get to Know Newton 250 at the Iowa Speedway, leading 167 of the 250 laps. In just his second start of the year in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, last year’s championship runner-up held off Ryan Blaney throughout the day. Blaney and Hornish were the only two drivers to lead during green flag conditions, swapping the lead eight times amongst each other.
The victory marks the second straight for JGR after winning at Talladega with Elliott Sadler, and it is the organization’s fourth victory of 2014. The win is also JGR’s second victory at the Iowa Speedway with the lone other one coming in 2010 with Kyle Busch, who usually pilots the car Hornish drove to victory lane.
“We had a great car all day long. The Monster Energy No. 54 was just awesome. Adam Stevens made some great calls. I am so blessed that this opportunity came around. It is pretty darn awesome,” Hornish said in victory lane.
The JR Motorsports tandem of Regan Smith and Chase Elliott ended the day in the third and fourth positions. However, Smith ran outside of the top-five for the majority of the race, struggling to find the handle on his No. 7 Chevrolet. Meanwhile, Elliott had a competitive car on the long runs, but took approximately 20 laps to run lap times which were equivalent to the leaders.
Track position proved to be extremely important on Sunday afternoon. Landon Cassill took two tires on a late pit stop, attempting to get some track position after running just outside of the top-10. However, the strategy proved to work as Cassill stayed inside of the top-10 for the duration of the race, earning his second consecutive top-10 finish.
Elliott stretched out his points lead to two markers over Elliott Sadler, who finished fifth after having a tangle with Brian Scott where both drivers simultaneously were loose off of turn four heading onto the frontstretch. Both drivers were able to save their cars, but were not able to advance their positions due to the ground they lost while battling side-by-side.
Michael McDowell finished seventh in his season debut for JGR. McDowell was racing with Hornish and Blaney for the lead throughout the day, and was the lone driver to take the lead besides those two. Chase Pistone finished 14th in his first career Nationwide Series start for Turner Scott Motorsports. Pistone was sent to the back of the pack to begin the race along with Ryan Reed, but was able to capture a solid finish. Austin Theriault also made his Nationwide Series debut at Iowa, and was able to run approximately 10th at certain points during the race. Theriault finished 15th in his first race for JR Motorsports. Cale Conley was running inside of the top-15 early in the race, but started to drop back as his No. 33 car evidently had a tire going down.