If the expression holds true that everybody loves an underdog, race fans should be smitten with the results of the country’s biggest auto races this year.
Trevor Bayne shocked the motorsports world with his Daytona 500 win. The race was only his second career NASCAR Cup start and he did it from behind the wheel of the famed Wood Brothers entry. The Wood family has fielded a NASCAR team for generations and is highly revered. However, their most recent circuit victory was in 2001. When the Great American Race began the red and white number 21 was not high on the oddsmakers' list.
The Southern 500 run on Mother’s Day weekend on the tour’s oldest superspeedway was claimed by young Regan Smith for his first career Cup win. The Darlington Raceway has tremendous significance in NASCAR's history and the race ranks in the top five in prestige on the circuit.
Smith drives for the one-car Furniture Row Racing team. Barney Visser is the owner and sponsor; paying the expenses from his own pocket. The strong independent group also houses their equipment in Denver, CO, thousands of miles away from the hub of most teams near Charlotte, NC
The Indianapolis 500, along with the whole Indycar tour, is rebounding from their last 15 years of internal fighting and is on an upswing. The race is returning to the high loft it once held in American motorsports. The big race underdog winner trend for 2011 continued at the Brickyard.
Dan Wheldon is a 500 champ already so the fact he scored his second win is not surprising on the surface. But his current situation and circumstances define an underdog effort if there ever was one.
Bryan Herta Autosports fields a full-time effort in the Indy Lights Tour not the Indycar Series. BHA worked a deal that put the unemployed Wheldon into the cockpit for a one-off entry at Indy.
Wheldon finished second at Indianapolis the previous two years while driving for Panther Racing. He departed in the off season. In a strange twist of fate, that team hired J.R. Hildebrand as their new driver. The very same driver who crashed in turn four while leading and handed off the Borg Warner trophy to Wheldon.
“This is also potentially my only race of the season,” said Wheldon. “It wasn’t one of the races with one of the big powerhouse teams; it was with Bryan Herta. We didn’t do this deal because we were friends. We did it because we believed in one another and we believed we could win.”
“On paper we had no business believing we could win,” said Herta. “But Dan believed in us so strongly he made us believe it too.”
From the Wood Brothers, to Furniture Row Racing, to Bryan Herta Autosports, all believe they can win. Although that opinion often doesn’t stretch much further than their own garages.
The attitudes of Bayne and Smith steering their darkhorse teams' equipment to big wins could best be summed up by Wheldon’s words.
“I was going to drive that thing like I stole it.”
(Patrick Reynolds is a former NASCAR team mechanic who hosts "Motorweek Live" Mondays at 7pm ET/4pm PT. Listen at www.racersreunionradio.com.)
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