You never hear about them, but they’re always there, week in and week out. They are the backmarkers, the Nascar drivers who, almost without fail, finish 25th on back, every single race. Some of them are once great drivers who have simply hung around too long. Others, are limited by poor-quality equipment. And yet others are simply possessed by a lack of talent. This week, we look at the drivers who, for the most part, race in the shadows.
The Good – the drivers who deserve a better ride.
The world of racing can be cruel. Many times, talented drivers are overlooked by the top teams, and are subsequently forced to accept rides with lower-quality organizations. These are the drivers that deserve better, the drivers that can and will perform if given the chance.
Casey is by far, the best of the backmarkers. Driving the #13 Geico Ford for Germain Racing, Mears has bridged the gap between the best backmarkers, such as David Gilliland and Cole Whitt , and the worst of the legitimate contenders, such as Ricky Stenhouse and Danica Patrick. With a single-car, underfunded team, Mears placed 26th in last years’ standings, ahead of Stenhouse and Patrick. Much of the credit for Mears’ success can be given to Bootie Barker, one of the most respected mechanical minds in the Nascar garage. However, much of the team’s success is due to Mears himself–after being dropped by Hendrick Motorsports a few seasons ago, Mears has worked hard and established himself as the flagship driver for one of the most promising young teams in the Nascar garage. He currently sits 22nd in the standings, just 14 points behind 19th ranked Greg Biffle.
Sophomore driver Justin Allgaier is often overlooked, but is still a force to contend with on track. Driving for second-year Sprint Cup team HScott Motorsports, Allgaier has logged 6 top 20 finishes this season, including a strong 8th place run at Bristol. He even led laps at Martinsville before being hit with a pit-road penalty. Allgaier is still young, so he has a good chance of getting called up to a better ride in the future.
Ragan, despite driving for Front Row Motorsports for years, has popped up time and time again. He won at Talladega in 2013 on a last lap push by David Gilliland. This year, he as tabbed to fill in for Kyle Busch after Busch broke his leg racing at Daytona. Ragan performed admirably, notching a 5th place finish at Martinsville, and was later named to a full-time ride at Michael Waltrip Racing, replacing Brian Vickers who continues to deal with blood clots.
A test driver for Michael Waltrip Racing, Moffitt found success in the K&N Pro East Series (Nascar’s version of single A baseball) being called up to Nascar’s major series. After a few decent runs in the Truck Series, Moffitt burst on to the stage in the second race of the 2015 season. Tabbed to fill in for Brian Vickers in the #55 Camry, Moffitt ran up front the entire race, led a lap, and finished in 8th. He has now locked down a full-time ride in the #34 for Front Row Motorsports, replacing Ragan.
After spending years driving in the Nationwide Series, Annett moved up to the Sprint Cup last year, posting 4 top 20’s with the badly underfunded Tommy Baldwin Racing team. His equipment was often subpar, but Annett did enough to earn himself the second spot in HScott Motorsports, as a teammate to Justin Allgaier. Annett has had a rough start to the season, posting just one top 20, but is expected to improve as the season goes on.
For a while, Wise looked like he would fall by the wayside in the Sprint Cup Series, consistently placing outside of the top-35 while driving for the backmarking team Front Row Motorsports. However, after switching to Phil Parsons Racing in 2014, Wise’s fortunes improved. His gutsy performances attracted support and funding from the online community Reddit in a heartwarming story you can read about by clicking on the above link. Wise has posted solid mid-20’s finishes since then. While he’s unlikely to improve on his current ride in the future, he’s carved out a niche for himself in Nascar.
McDowell’s career highlight is his brutal 2008 crash at Texas. McDowell hasn’t been more famous since; after being booted from the third car at Michael Waltrip Racing, McDowell made a name for himself as a start-and-park driver, a racer willing to suit up, log 40 laps, and then collect the check for last place in the field. McDowell has hung around for several years without success, most recently taking a part-time ride at struggling Leavine Family Racing. He’s a decent driver, but his time in the Sprint Cup series is rapidly coming to an end.
Sorenson was once supposed to be the next big thing in Nascar. He burst onto the scene in 2006, driving Chip Ganassi’s #41 Dodge. Sorenson’s bubble, however, popped almost as quick as it grew-he left Ganassi after 3 years, never finishing higher than 22nd in the points. After unsuccessful stints for Richard Petty and Red Bull, Sorenson became a backup for the backmarkers–he currently drives part time for teams such as Front Row and RAB Racing. While McDowell and Sorenson might be fading, the other drivers listed are looking at steady careers in the Sprint Cup Series.