My last article at this blog was about interim/substitution drivers at Atlanta. Was it a good pick to fill the seat or not?
I watched all three races last weekend (Trucks, Xfinity, Sprint) and it was interesting to follow the new “quick-fix” drivers performance. Keep in mind that some of these interim drivers have almost no practice time with car and team before racing. It demands pretty much of the sub driver and I’m amazed about the professional level these drivers are at. Below are a few interim drivers that I followed closely at Atlanta.
#55 Aaron’s 60th Anniversary Dream Machine Toyota – Michael Waltrip Racing
Brett Moffitt, age 22, filled the seat for Brian Vickers this time at Atlanta. Moffitt, with 7 starts in 2014 season in #66 car (Sprint), had 0 top 10, average start: 34.4, average finish 35.2 and two DNF. With only 1 race in Xfinity series (2012) and 2 races in the truck series (2013), we can all say that Moffitt lacking experience from NASCAR higher series.
Monitoring NASCAR social media, it seems that everybody is very impressed with Moffitt’s performance at Atlanta. I can only join the public opinion, who could ever think that Moffitt could finish the race at the 8 spot after starting 22nd? BM held his position half of the race, fell off the led lap twice, getting back these laps again and led one lap. I think BM have learned a lot at this race. Atlanta is a tricky track that eats tires fast. The track pavement is sometimes uneven and the black stripes are treacherous.
I think we will see more of Brett Moffitt in the future – he deserves it. The next race, Las Vegas, we will see ordinary driver Brian Vickers back from health problems in the #55 car.
#18 M&M’s Crispy Toyota – Joe Gibbs Racing
Front Row Motorsports driver David Ragan, age 29, is filling the driver seat for injured Kyle Busch. It’s a tough, but interesting seat to fill. Ragan started very strong and had the #18 car in the T5 segment for a while. The adjustments through the race didn’t make the #18 car better and it fell down to position 10-15 for long runs. In the end, Ragan’s car felt 2 laps down and finished 18. According to Ragan himself, he had a top 10 car but couldn’t keep up with the demanding Atlanta track.
Seeing Ragan charging that #18 car in the beginning shows that he is hungry to prove himself. He has a good car/team and the 18th place finish is not bad at all. With that start I thought Ragan would end top 10, but there are much “unknown” in a NASCAR race. It takes some time to “settle in” and I think we will see that #18 car more in the top 10 positions later on.
#41 Haas Automation Chevrolet – Stewart-Haas Racing
Regan Smith, age 31, is the interim driver for suspended Kurt Busch. RS was a full time driver in Sprint Cup season 2012, driving car #78 (Furniture Row). With 174 starts with 1 W, 3 T5, 11 T10 in his Sprint Cup career and 171 starts in the Xfinity series, RS is an experienced driver in NASCAR. This is RS second race in the #41 car. Starting at position 38, RS had a long way up through the field, struggling with the handling of the car for most of the race. When the team finally got the car to handle better, the #41 car fell one lap down. At the end the race, RS was involved in a very big wreck, damaging the nose of the car. Despite all this, Regan Smith finished 17th.
At Daytona, Regan Smith finished 16th. Personally I think that you get a experienced, solid and loyal driver in RS. You know what you get from him, no big surprises, but a perfect sub driver for any team.
#34 CSX – Play it Safe Ford – Front Row Motorsports
Joe “front row Joe” Nemecheck,age 51, was the interim driver for David Ragan at Atlanta. JN, a NASCAR veteran with 23 years of driving in Sprint Cup and a Xfinity Champion (1992), now drives/owns a team in Camping World Truck Series. Starting at position 28, the #34 car was spending most of the time at position 25-37 all race. A contact with Gregg Biffle’s #16 car dented #34 car in left rear and repair was needed. There were no chance to get a better finish then position 33, seven laps down.
Personally, I have always liked Joe Nemecheck. But I also realize the facts that JN´s “prime time” has passes severely years ago. But with all JN´s experience, he still is a solid race driver and competes with good results in the truck series. FRM is a smaller team, with less budget then the “big guns” in Sprint Cup. I was perhaps expecting a little better result, but the late damage to the car spoiled the day. Also, JN had no time for test driving the #34 car/team. With this in mind I cannot complain about the 33rd position finish at Atlanta. There are no news about who will drive the #34 car at Las Vegas when I write this text, but I hope “front row Joe” will get another chance in the #34 car.
Brett Moffitt made a great work in the#55 and I'm happy to see some reports on him getting the chance to drive the 34 machine for Front Row Motorsports This weekend at LVMS. IMO I think the main thing for a good Substitute driver is to get the car to a descent finish with out taking to much of a risk in order to look at the big picture, and I think they all did. Another thing that comes in mind is when looking at BM 's strong finish in the 55 is the difference in between a small team and a top team in equipment, keep that in mind when you look at the smaller teams a top 20 result for an underdog team is almost like a Win.