Motorsports Insider: In NASCAR, everybody likes the little guy, even the big guys

In NASCAR, there are the big teams and the little teams.

Everybody knows that.

Just like in a lot of sports. Haves and have-nots.

But one of the interesting things about NASCAR is how much the haves look out for the have-nots. The giants of the sport sometimes lose to the little guys, and while the giants might not like it, they don’t necessarily mind it.

“Awesome,” said Jimmie Johnson of Hendrick Motorsports, one of the giants, when he was told over the radio who won Sunday’s race at Talladega — one of the little guys, David Ragan for Front Row Motorsports.

Two years ago, when Trevor Bayne won the Daytona 500 for the mom-and-pop Wood Brothers Racing, just about every driver and mechanic in the garage, of every stripe, visited them in Victory Lane.

For some reason, in Sprint Cup at least, everybody has a high-five for the underfunded.

“A lot of it has to do with economics,” said ESPN analyst Ricky Craven. “The same reason we never saw the Montreal Expos win the World Series. We haven’t seen Minnesota win one in a long time. When you see a team like the Florida Marlins win the World Series — a couple times, in fact — it’s an example, or I guess, a comparison to watching Regan Smith win at Darlington or [Brad] Keselowski win at Talladega a few years ago and David Ragan winning last week. It’s extremely healthy for the sport.”

Upsets keep fans in any game. Nobody wants absolute predictability. Maybe NASCAR’s competitors celebrate upsets among themselves more because they know intimately what it takes to win — sponsors and money — and who has it and who doesn’t.

“It’s not that it would work every week,” Craven said, “but the fact is if David Ragan and Regan Smith and perhaps me, if we represent the Montreal Expos in terms of our identity with a small team, then Jimmie Johnson represents the Yankees, and not everybody wants to see the Yankees win year after year.”

This week, in apologizing to Ragan for questioning where he lined up in the restart of last week’s win, Keselowski said he didn’t mean to detract from their victory.

“I know firsthand what it’s like to take a lower-budget team to Victory Lane … I want to send a sincere congratulation out to David Ragan and everyone at Front Row Motorsports,” Keselowski said. “It was a very cool win for our sport.”

Apparently, everyone in the sport understands that.

JGR penalties reduced

A NASCAR appeals panel sided with Joe Gibbs Racing on Wednesday and eased some of the penalties imposed for having an illegal part in Matt Kenseth’s race-winning engine at Kansas.

NASCAR punished JGR after discovering that one of eight connecting rods in the engine did not meet the minimum weight requirement. The part was too light by 3 grams.

JGR did not dispute the part was illegal, but argued the penalties were too severe because it leases its engines from Toyota Racing Development and is not permitted to touch anything inside of them. Toyota accepted responsibility and insisted one light rod did not give Kenseth a performance advantage.

The points deducted from Kenseth were reduced from 50 to 12, which moves him from 11th in the standings to fourth. The panel also reinstated the three bonus points he earned for the victory.

The panel also reduced crew chief Jason Ratcliff’s suspension from six races to one, and eliminated the six-race suspension for owner Joe Gibbs. It let stand Ratcliff’s $200,000 fine. The only action the panel took was increasing Toyota’s penalty from a five-point fine to seven points.

Hamlin’s road

Denny Hamlin is back in his car full time after the back surgery following the wreck in California.

But what does his road to a spot in the Chase look like?

Well, considering he needs, first of all, to be in the top 20 for a shot at a wild card, he’s got to make up 11 spots in the standings. He’s 76 out right now, so he’s got to make up about five spots a race (4.8) on 20th place. Two wild cards are awarded to the drivers who are between 11th and 20th in the standings and who have the most victories.

NASCAR points out that last year, the 20th place driver had 640 points by the end of Race 26. Hamlin is at 155 through 10 races right now, so he’d need to average a 13th-place finish to make up those 485 points. Not counting bonuses.

So, roughly 13th or better every race, and making up five places a race on the 20th-place driver? Not impossible for Hamlin and his team. But even two bad races might sink them.

This report contains material from the Associated Press.