NASCAR Notes: Who’s the next driver to win their first race? 2011.08.17

Written by David Green.

By RICH FOLEY

The NASCAR Cup Series found itself with a bit of a dilemma entering 2011. With no one planning to run for rookie of the year at that point, we could easily have gone the whole year without a new face in victory lane. That worry only lasted until Daytona, when Trevor Bayne took home the “500” trophy.

After that, some veteran drivers who have struggled for years without a sniff of victory suddenly started driving like they were Kyle Busch, or maybe Kevin Harvick. First, Regan Smith put the Colorado-based Furniture Row team’s car in the winners circle at Darlington’s Southern 500.

Then David Ragan, on the verge of losing his spot at Roush Racing, probably bought himself a little time by winning the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona in July. Most recently, Paul Menard silenced many of his critics by driving to victory at Indianapolis’s Brickyard 400. Hired by Richard Childress Racing to drive a fourth car with sponsorship by the family-owned home improvement chain, Menard and Kevin Harvick are the only winners at RCR this season.

Is there anyone left to win their initial race this season? With the addition of Bayne, Smith, Ragan and Menard to the ranks of the winners, there are usually 30 to 32 drivers with at least one previous Cup win in each race’s starting lineup. This number can be even higher if Terry Labonte, Geoffrey Bodine or Steve Park are making one of their sporadic starts. And yet going into this month, a few drivers with a legitimate chance of winning their first Cup event are still out there.

David Gilliland almost joined the ranks of the winners at Daytona, finishing in third place behind Bayne and Carl Edwards. His Front Row Motorsports Ford isn’t always that competitive, but Gilliland has a history of getting the most out of his cars and given another chance, a win for him isn’t that far-fetched.

Then there’s the Tasmanian Devil himself, Marcos Ambrose. The driver from Down Under has a reputation as a road course ace, but scored two third-place finishes on ovals in May, first at the Dover 400, then in Charlotte’s Sprint All-Star Race, a non-point event. He now has to be considered a possibility on any type of track.

Ambrose’s teammate, A. J. Allmendinger, also has a third-place finish, scored at the 2009 Daytona 500. With the Richard Petty team finally on a solid financial footing, A. J. stands a good chance of eventually putting the #43 back in Victory Lane.

Finally, there’s 48-year-old Dave Blaney. A champion in sprint cars, he’s struggled with mid to low level Cup teams for over a decade, with two career third places his best showings to date. But in Talladega in April, he almost pulled off a win.

Blaney ran near the front all day, leading a total of 21 laps, including laps 180 to 184 of the 188-lap event. Then Kurt Busch became the evil stepmother who ended Blaney’s Cinderella story. After losing the lead momentarily, drafting partner Busch ran into Blaney, turning his car around and off the track, dropping him all the way to 27th place. Dave has to be looking forward to returning to Talladega in October for another chance.

One or more of these four could end up in Victory Lane yet this year. Or someone even more unlikely could come along and win. But if you’re a fan of Michael McDowell or T. J. Bell, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

  • Front.sculpta
    SCULPTORS—Morenci third grade students Emersyn Thompson (left) and Marissa Lawrence turn spaghetti sticks into mini sculptures Friday during a class visit to Stair District Library. All Morenci Elementary School classes recently visited the library to experience the creative construction toys purchased through the “Sculptamania!” project, funded by a Disney Curiosity Creates grant. The grant is administered by the Association for Library Services to Children, a division of the American Library Association.
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    LEONIE LEAHY was one of three local hair stylists who volunteered time Friday at the Morenci PTO Fun Night. Her customer, Aubrey Sandusky, looks up at her mother while her hair takes on a perfect match to her outfit. Leahy said she had a great time at the event—nothing but happy clients.
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    LEARNING THE ROPES—Kristy Castillo (left), co-owner of Mane Street Salon, works with Kendal Kuhn as Sierra Orner takes a phone call. The two Morenci Area High School juniors spent Friday at the salon as part of a job shadowing experience.
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    IN THE FIELD—2004 Morenci graduate Kayse Onweller works in a test plot of wheat in Texas. She’s part of Bayer CropScience’s North American wheat breeding program based in Nebraska, where she completed post-graduate work in plant breeding and genetics.
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    REFEREE Camden Miller raises the hand of Morenci Jr. Dawgs wrestler Ryder Ryan as his opponent leaves the mat in disappointment. Morenci’s youth wrestling program served as host for a tournament Saturday morning to raise money for the club. Additional photos are on the back page.
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    SHERWOOD STATE Bank opened its Fayette office at a grand opening Friday morning, drawing a large crowd to view the renovated building. Above, Burt Blue talks to teller Cindy Funk, while his wife, Jackie, looks around the new office. The Blues missed the opening and took a quick tour on Tuesday. Few traces remain of the former grocery store and theater, however, part of the original brick wall still shows in the hallway leading to the back of the building. The drive-through window should be ready for customers later in the month.
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    CARRYING—Riley Terry (blue jacket) and Mason Vaughn lead the way, carrying an empty casket outside to the hearse waiting at the curb. Morenci juniors and seniors visited Eagle Funeral Home last week to learn about the role of a funeral director and to understand the process of arranging for a funeral.
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    FROM THE LEFT, Landon Wilkins, Ryan White and Logan Blaker try out their artistic skills Saturday afternoon at the Morenci PTO’s first Date to Create event. More than 50 people showed up to create decorated planks of wood to hang from rope. The event served as a fund-raiser for miscellaneous PTO projects. Additional photos are on the back of this week’s Observer.

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