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UNDERDOGS - Under the radar drivers who could make the 2015 Chase

Mar 09, 2015

Ah, the underdog. Every sports fan’s favorite rooting interest and unlikely hero. NASCAR is not void of these, and that was evident last season when A.J. Allmendinger and Aric Almirola made the Chase. With just 16 spots, consistency or one huge win is a must to reach NASCAR’s postseason. Here are five under-the-radar drivers who have a great chance of making the Chase.

Casey Mears
At the age of 36 and with 13 years of Sprint Cup experience, Mears has always been under the radar. During that time, he has won only one race and has finished in the top 16 just once.

If that doesn’t scream underdog, I don’t know what does.

Given those numbers, what makes Mears a driver to watch with a chance at the Chase? Most of that optimism has to do with his strong opening to the season at Daytona and Atlanta.

Even on a single-car team, Mears has friends all over the sport thanks to his journeyman status prior to landing with Germain Racing. If he can remain persistent at intermediate tracks and drive to top-10s at superspeedways, Mears might find his way into the Chase at the end of 26 races.

David Ragan
At the start of the season, Ragan was a member of Front Row Motorsports, hoping and praying to simply earn a spot in the Daytona 500. Not only did he make it, but Ragan finished 17th in the illustrious race.

With Kyle Busch out for the foreseeable future with a broken leg and foot, Ragan has now taken over his Joe Gibbs Racing ride. Already having eight years of full-time experience in the Sprint Cup, Ragan couldn’t have landed in a more perfect situation.

Carl Edwards, who was a teammate of Ragan’s for five seasons with Roush Fenway Racing, knows the 29-year-old driver has what it takes to make a strong run in the No. 18 car.

“David has a lot of experience,” Edwards said, per Jared Turner of Fox Sports. “He’s a great teammate, and when his name was brought up — a lot like when they brought up Matt Crafton (Busch’s Daytona 500 fill-in), I thought, ‘Man, that’s a great guy to be in that race car.’ So, yeah, my vote was to put David in the car, and the way I understand it, everybody felt the same way.”

Sam Hornish Jr.
Hornish’s second Sprint Cup stint has already gotten off to a steady start.

After his career stalled with Team Penske in 2010, Hornish has yet to race a full season at the Sprint Cup level. Now that he’s getting a chance with Richard Petty Motorsports, he’s already an early contender for a Chase spot.

Inheriting the same seat that Marcos Ambrose had last year, Hornish comes into the season as a much more mature stock car driver. A three-time IndyCar champion, it’s clear Hornish knows exactly how to drive to Victory Lane.

Richard Petty simply believes Hornish has matured from his previous experiences.

“When Sam came in from IndyCar, they just put him in the Cup racing and it was just overwhelming for him and the crew to figure out what was going on,” Petty said during NASCAR’s media tour.

“Talking to the Penske people, they thought they raced him into [it] a little too quick. Going back and watching him, how he’s matured, he’s settled down and he’s old enough that he knows what he wants and what he can do, and that’s going to be a big plus for us.”

Paul Menard
One of the most even-keel drivers in the Sprint Cup, Menard simply goes about his business and tends to string together strong results. Often forgotten among his teammates, Austin Dillon and Ryan Newman, now that he’s gotten comfortable with new crew chief Justin Alexander, Menard should see his results improve moving forward.

Coming off a year where he set career highs for top-fives (five) and top-10s (13), Menard is teeming with confidence in 2015. He might not be in the Chase standings yet, but that could all change soon.

Martin Truex Jr.
Several drivers have faced adversity over the last few seasons. Truex’s misfortunes, however, have come in several forms.

Before the 2014 season ever started, Truex nearly didn’t have a ride after scandal ripped his Michael Waltrip Racing ride and NAPA sponsorship away. Just when things seemed to stabilize at Furniture Row, his longtime girlfriend, Sherry Pollex, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. In terms of trying seasons, Truex’s 2014 campaign ranks up near the top.

So far in 2015, he’s seen a complete turnaround. Truex started 10th in the Daytona 500 and turned in an eighth-place result. At an Atlanta track where he finished 23rd last year, Truex finished sixth. At Las Vegas, he finished second.

What all of that has led to is Truex sitting at fourth in points after three races.
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