The Frontstretch: Bubble Breakdown: Regan's Career Best Run And Robby's Continued Fall From Grace by Brock Beard -- Monday October 11, 2010

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Last week, Scott Speed finally had luck go his way in Kansas with his first top-20 finish in twelve races, securing him 57 valuable points of cushion on 35th. Behind him, the other nine Bubble contenders finished no better than 26th-place Regan Smith, who was disappointed following one of his best qualifying runs of the season. Meanwhile, the No. 71, this time driven by Tony Raines, still ended up parking after 87 laps, while an engine failure K.O.’d Kevin Conway for the fifth time in as many races.

Now, just 63 points separated Conway from 36th, thanks in part to a qualifying run by Dave Blaney that was just barely good enough to get the No. 38 into the final starting spot. But Latitude 43 Motorsports made a bold statement in the race itself, leading ten laps during a pit sequence after Patrick Carpentier ended the No. 26’s DNQ streak at two. Could one of the season’s few successful underdog stories continue a miraculous comeback towards the top 35?

Read on to find out what happened to each, hidden within Fontana’s edition of the Bubble Breakdown!

LOCKED-IN AT CHARLOTTE

No. 77 – Sam Hornish, Jr. (Penske Racing)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 29th (+533 points ahead of 35th)
Sunday’s Finish: 15th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 28th (+581 points ahead of 35th)

Hornish picked up his second top-15 finish in the last four races on Sunday, a day that saw an impressive four Bubble contenders finish inside the top 20. For the Ohio native, the Fontana weekend began on a low note with a sluggish 37th-place qualifying run. From there, the No. 77 did a workmanlike job moving up the scoring pylon, climbing to 28th by lap 10 and to 20th just 60 circuits later. He hit a glass ceiling at that point and fought to stay in the top 25 until he finally broke through inside the final ten laps. Although Hornish remains a distant 132 points from 27th-ranked Reed Sorenson in the No. 83, Fontana was another positive step in his team’s search for 2011 sponsorship.

Elliott Sadler surprised us all with an outside pole qualifying run, followed up by a solid day on track.

No. 19 – Elliott Sadler (Richard Petty Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 30th (+526)
Sunday’s Finish: 13th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 29th (+580)

Now just one point short of taking the 28th spot from Hornish is the No. 19 team, whose veteran driver enjoyed what was easily his best all-around weekend of the 2010 Cup season. The brand-new Reynolds Wrap Ford was fast right out of the box, scoring the 10th-best time in Friday’s opening practice session. A few hours later, he became the biggest surprise in qualifying, scoring his first front row start since he qualified 2nd at Phoenix in the spring of 2008. He never led a lap on race day, but stayed in the Top 10 through the first forty laps. Even after falling outside the top 20 around the halfway mark, he still managed to work his way back up to 14th at lap 120, at which point he became a fixture in the top 20 until the finish.

No. 82 – Scott Speed (Team Red Bull)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 28th (+535)
Sunday’s Finish: 24th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 30th (+556)

The fifth-largest gain of 21 points was earned by Scott Speed, who could have gained more had he finished where he ran for much of the day. Though he qualified back in 29th, he joined the top 20 by lap 60 and hovered between 14th and 20th for the 80 circuits that followed. He tumbled back to 29th soon after the race restarted with 41 laps to go, then returned to the 21st spot before giving a few spots back in the final few trips around the track.

No. 78 – Regan Smith (Furniture Row Racing)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 31st (+431)
Sunday’s Finish: 12th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 31st (+493)

Regan Smith parlayed a fast car and timely pit strategy into his best career Cup finish, padding his cushion on the Bubble by a week-high 62 points. Smith qualified 19th, then proved his run was no fluke the next day by timing in 16th in Happy Hour. Just 20 laps into Sunday’s race, the No. 78 had worked its way up to the 13th spot, after which his Chevrolet remained inside the top 20 for more than 70 laps. A pair of pit road speeding penalties on laps 94 and 115 dropped him outside the top 30, however, and the Furniture Row Racing team had to fight its way back into contention.

Smith lost a lap, received the Lucky Dog with 65 to go, and had returned to the 23rd spot with 20 remaining when the team decided to take two tires on their final stop. This moved Smith all the way up to the second spot for the restart with 13 remaining, and when the No. 78 had a faster restart than Menard, it gave Smith the lead entering the backstretch. Tony Stewart disposed of him the next lap, but the New York driver was still eighth when the final caution set up the last two-lap sprint to the finish. The three and four-wide racing that followed cost Smith a top-10 finish, but just barely, fulfilling the promise of his strong runs at Fontana and Michigan earlier this year.

No. 37 – Dave Blaney (Front Row Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 32nd (+104)
Sunday’s Finish: 29th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 32nd (+110)

The “Luckiest Dog” on Sunday had to be Dave Blaney, who made up the three laps he lost early in the event by scoring the final three Lucky Dogs of the race. Although the sheer number of lead-lap cars at the finish kept the A&W machine back in 29th, the No. 37 and its veteran driver moved another six points away from the Bubble as the team strengthened its position in the standings.

Travis Kvapil isn’t flashy, but continues to post consistent finishes in his Front Row Motorsports car that leave his team in position to lock the No. 34 Ford inside the top 35 for the first five races of 2011.

No. 34 – Travis Kvapil (Front Row Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 33rd (+93)
Sunday’s Finish: 28th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 33rd (+107)

Kvapil once again finished nose-to-tail with a Front Row Motorsports teammate, but in addition to the Lucky Dog for Carl Edwards’ stall in Turn 4, he managed to lead a lap and thus gained 14 points on the Bubble. The Long John Silver’s colors led the way on lap 138 while crewmen picked up sheet metal debris from Marcos Ambrose’s No. 47 in Turns 3 and 4. Like Blaney, Kvapil finished on the lead lap in the lower segment of the running order, making the verdict on the success of FRM’s crew chief changes for the Nos. 34 and 37 inconclusive as of yet. Still, both drivers were able to cheer on their third teammate in the No. 38 as the laps wound down.

No. 71 – Andy Lally (TRG Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 34th (+33)
Sunday’s Finish: 36th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 34th (+18)

TRG Motorsports’ four-race, 59-point slide toward the Bubble continued on Sunday as owner Kevin Buckler ended up parking the No. 71 yet again despite securing a one-race sponsorship deal with faceless company “The Media Barons” on Friday. Road racer Andy Lally returned to the team, but ended up turning the slowest qualifying lap of any driver that started Sunday’s race. Lally pulled behind the wall after 76 laps with “electrical” issues, becoming the sole member of this week’s Bubble drivers to fail to finish the event. The team lost 15 points to the Bubble and now sits just 18 markers away from the spot the team last held after Pocono in August.

No. 7 – Kevin Conway (Robby Gordon Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 35th (On The Bubble)
Sunday’s Finish: 31st
Current Owner Points Ranking: 35th (On The Bubble)

A 31st-place finish may not look that good on paper, but rookie Kevin Conway took a step forward with the run by finally finishing a race under power for owner Robby Gordon and his No. 7 team. Conway still lost laps to the leaders, finishing three circuits in arrears to winner Tony Stewart, but was actually the highest-finishing driver to finish off the lead lap once Dave Blaney scored his three Lucky Dogs. However, in a frustrating twist, his nearest challenger for the Bubble also had a successful day in the California sun. . .

NOT LOCKED-IN AT CHARLOTTE

No. 38 – David Gilliland (Front Row Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 36th (-63)
Sunday’s Finish: 20th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 36th (-25)

Somehow, someway, David Gilliland rallied from 28th to 20th in the final ten laps and thrust the No. 38 within a tantalizing 25 points of knocking Robby Gordon’s team out of the Top 35. It’s been a long, tough road since the infamous penalty at Pocono, but Gilliland’s run at his home track put the team 38 points closer to overcoming that 150-point hit. Like that of his two teammates at FRM, Gilliland’s success was due to being in the right place at the right time. He earned two Lucky Dogs on laps 40 and 113, and the latter came not long after he stayed out to lead the 97th circuit during an exchange of green-flag pit stops. During a pit stop under the first caution, ESPN’s pit crew helmet cam also revealed the No. 38 was overheating badly, making the Californian’s late rally to the top 20 all the more incredible. Gilliland credited fresh rubber during the last segment of stops for helping his cause, pushing him up eight spots in what became his best performance since Atlanta in early September.

No. 26 – Patrick Carpentier (Latitude 43 Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 37th (-128)
Sunday’s Finish: DNQ
Current Owner Points Ranking: 37th (-170)

While FRM’s hopes looked brighter when the checkered flag fell, the top 35 hopes of Latitude 43 Motorsports became a little dimmer on Friday when the No. 26 failed to make its third race out of the last four events. The DNQ, Carpentier’s first while driving for the team, came after the Canadian made contact with the outside wall off Turn 4 during his first timed lap. Ironically, he actually gained nine-thousandths of a second on his second lap, but was unable to run any faster than Mike Bliss’ No. 55, driver of the only other car that missed Sunday’s race. In all, the DNQ cost the team another 42 points, dropping them more than a full race’s worth of markers outside the top 35.

2010 Bubble Chart After Kansas:

Pos Owner Car # Driver Points Points +/- of 35th Place
28 Penske Racing 77 Sam Hornish, Jr. 2,693 +581
29 Richard Petty Motorsports 19 Elliott Sadler 2,692 +580
30 Red Bull Racing 82 Scott Speed 2,668 +556
31 Furniture Row Racing 78 Regan Smith 2,605 +493
32 Front Row Motorsports 37 David Gilliland 2,222 +110
33 Front Row Motorsports 34 Travis Kvapil 2,219 +107
34 TRG Motorsports 71 Various 2,130 +18
35 Robby Gordon Motorsports 7 Kevin Conway 2,112 0
36 Front Row Motorsports 38 Dave Blaney 2,087 -25
37 Latitude 43 Motorsports 26 Patrick Carpentier 1,942 -170
38 Germain Racing 13 Casey Mears 1,582 -530
39 Phoenix Racing 09 Bobby Labonte 1,521 -591
40 Tommy Baldwin Racing 36 J.J. Yeley 1,486 -626
41 NEMCO Motorsports 87 Joe Nemechek 1,250 -862
42 Whitney Motorsports 46 Michael McDowell 1,222 -890
43 PRISM Motorsports 55 Various 1,101 -1,011
44 PRISM Motorsports 66 Various 1,056 -1,056

Monday on the Frontstretch:
FREE NEWSLETTER! BREAKING NEWS ON JEREMY MAYFIELD AND BRIAN FRANCE! CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP
Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: Fontana Fall Finale Race Recap
Fact or Fiction: Did Blown Engines Blow Championship Hopes For Each Driver?
The Cool-Down Lap: Johnson’s Biggest Title Threat… Jeff Gordon?
Running Their Mouth: Pepsi Max 400
Nationwide Series Breakdown: CampingWorld.com 300
Rockingham Business As Usual For Sheltra in Winning 2010 ARCA Crown

Contact Brock Beard

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Jacob
10/11/2010 08:57 AM
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Brock: As I pointed out in Matt’s column, I will point it out here. Regan Smith won the Fall 2008 chase race at Talladega while driving for DEI. He was penalized a lap by na$car for NOT allowing Tony Stewart to wreck himself along the way.

DMan
10/11/2010 11:12 AM
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Jacob is absolutely right about Regan Smith. And Robby Gordon’s “fall from grace” should be called “survival mode”. smart survival move to snag up Conway with his built-in sponsor to finish out the rest of his unsponsored season. As Bozo Brian’s favorite whipping boy Robby is doing what he needs to do to stay in the game.

Jacob
10/11/2010 12:07 PM
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I’ll agree with you Dman. I always thought Robby was a better driver than his results show. And anytime something good happens for him, na$car tries to kill his team.

Shoeman
10/11/2010 02:20 PM
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Robbie Gordon is a much better driver than his record shows. Maybe NASCAR just isn’t his niche. All I know is he is my favorite CUP driver named Gordon.

Herb Willett
10/11/2010 03:11 PM
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  • Yeah, I too am mystified by this situation. I noticed a few weeks back that Robby drove the car when it looked like there was a real possibility that he might drop out of the “35”. And finished 22/26? They must surely being paying a bundle of money to Robby. Which is Ok but I would much rather see Robby racing the car. I would also like to see Robby try the Indy 500 a couple more times. Herb

Lou
10/11/2010 04:33 PM
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Yup , they put the screws to guys like Robby , and a few years back carl long ,If NA$CAR WANted to be legit when they catch guys like the 48 cheating or over the gray area they would really slap them down but a 150 k fine to hendrick is like a 5 dollar bill to me NA$CAR IS THE RACECAR VERSION OF WRESTLING

Crystal
10/11/2010 07:18 PM
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I am amused that some Robby fans comment that RGM is in survival mode, when some Robby fans complained about what Front Row Motorsports was doing in ‘survival mode’ also.

In the meantime, Kevin Conway is 3 for 27 on qualifying without needing owner’s points to keep him in. At Front Row, he was used to having two other team members bail him out. Now, he needs to hope that Robby can bail him out. Luckily for him, Robby has those skills. Conway certainly doesn’t.

Regan Smith did an excellent job. So did Gilliland. Kvapil was steady, and Blaney fought back from some heavy duty transmission issues. Lally, I am sure, did not expect his Cup debut to be all start and parks.

goat
10/12/2010 10:50 AM
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The 78 team is steadily improving, and should get a top 10 soon. Next year, who knows? They might be able to grab a win or two!

That was a gutsy move, calling for two tires. And it worked, even though they dropped back a bit, because they still finished about ten places ahead of where they would have had they taken four.

BTW, thanks for this feature…it’s good to see some coverage on the other drivers.

Also, I agree with Jacob and others that Regan won the Talledega race in 2008. The consequences from NASCAR’s bad call on that have been tremendous…resulting in fan injuries and wrecked race cars.

ronnie s
10/13/2010 08:04 AM
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With Cassill going a perfect 3/3 in the #64 ride, apparently Todd Bodine was the problem and NOT the car nor the owners.