The Frontstretch: Bubble Breakdown: 35th Spot Heating Up Between Front Row, Gordon, TRG by Brock Beard -- Monday October 18, 2010

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Bubble Breakdown: 35th Spot Heating Up Between Front Row, Gordon, TRG

Tracking The Top 35 In Owner Points · Brock Beard · Monday October 18, 2010

 

Last Sunday, four Bubble drivers claimed starring roles in the 400-mile drama outside Hollywood as Regan Smith, Elliott Sadler, Sam Hornish, Jr., and David Gilliland all picked up well-deserved top-20 finishes at Fontana. Of the four, Smith received top billing in the form of a season-best 12th-place result after he briefly held the lead on old tires in the closing moments of the race. Gilliland’s 20th-place run achieved equal attention, drawing the struggling No. 38 team to within 25 meager points of the No. 7 of Robby Gordon Motorsports – a car which finally finished a race under power with ExtenZe across the hood and Kevin Conway behind the wheel.

But this small step for Conway was not enough to relieve the pressure. As the series headed east to Charlotte, the rookie driver would be sweating bullets in a second RGM car while Robby Gordon put the No. 7’s top 35 hopes in his hands.

Elsewhere, inching toward panic mode as the twilight of the season approached were the No. 71 TRG Motorsports team that parked after 76 laps around the California oval, capping off a 59-point skid since Richmond, and the No. 26 of Latitude 43 Motorsports, which now had to dig deep in the final six races after missing its third race out of the last four events on the schedule.

Could “The Beast of the Southeast” in Charlotte inspire a new Bubble challenger to take center stage? And would FRM finally wrestle its third car back inside top 35 territory? Read on to find out!

LOCKED-IN AT MARTINSVILLE

No. 19 – Elliott Sadler (Richard Petty Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 29th (+580 points ahead of 35th)
Saturday’s Finish: 26th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 28th (+601 points ahead of 35th)

Although not as strong a performance as the one he enjoyed last Sunday in Fontana, Sadler earned 21 points of cushion, the third-highest gain this week, and climbed to 28th in the standings. The Virginian was the only Bubble driver to qualify inside the top 10, scoring a ninth-place spot Thursday for his second-straight top-10 start. He slipped out of the lead pack in the opening 80 laps and wound up two circuits behind at the finish, but he’ll come into Martinsville riding the momentum of a 217-point gain on the Bubble since Atlanta, just seven races ago, part of working hard to pad his resume for pending free agency.

Scott Speed added more points to his Bubble cushion this week, but Martinsville could throw an Achilles’ Heel into what’s been a strong last couple of weeks for his No. 82 Red Bull Racing Toyota.

No. 82 – Scott Speed (Team Red Bull)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 30th (+556)
Saturday’s Finish: 19th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 29th (+598)

The second-biggest gain of 42 points was that of Scott Speed, who has now finished in the top 25 in each of the last three races. Speed qualified 21st and recovered from a lap 25 pit road speeding penalty to hover between 15th and 25th for the majority of the race. Running 26th on lap 124, he held the Lucky Dog spot when the fifth yellow of the race fell on the speedway. Back in contention, Speed fought his way up as high as eighth during the final pit sequence before following his teammate Reed Sorenson’s No. 83 across the finish line in a final segment fade. The run still capped off a great weekend for the No. 82, as Speed was eighth fastest in the opening practice and seventh in Happy Hour. Although the sophomore has gained 135 points of cushion since the Chase started at New Hampshire, next week’s race at Martinsville will be a daunting task: crash damage left him 33rd there in March.

No. 77 – Sam Hornish, Jr. (Penske Racing)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 28th (+581)
Saturday’s Finish: 40th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 30th (+560)

Speed’s Lucky Dog came at the cost of Sam Hornish, Jr., whose fifteen-race stretch of consecutive point gains totaling 367 markers came to an unlucky end when the wrecking Budweiser Ford of Kasey Kahne clobbered his Mobil 1 Dodge. Hornish qualified a respectable 19th, but by lap 124, handling woes left him in 30th and off the lead lap. It was on that lap, as Kahne battled Hornish for the Lucky Dog position, that the No. 9 lost control and spun into Hornish, sending the No. 77 hard into the frontstretch wall. Both drivers were OK, but Hornish was left with his worst finish of 2010 and a 21-point loss in the standings.

Regan Smith is all smiles these days after posting first back-to-back top-15 finishes of his Cup career these last two weeks.

No. 78 – Regan Smith (Furniture Row Racing)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 31st (+493)
Saturday’s Finish: 13th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 31st (+553)

Smith scored his third top-20 finish in the last seven races and, in doing so, narrowly missed improving on his season-best 12th-place finish last Sunday. Like Scott Speed, Smith was fantastic in practice, the No. 78 turning in some of the best 10-lap runs of the weekend: he was ninth and sixth-fastest in the two Friday sessions. The speed of his Chevrolet was invaluable Saturday night: he avoided a spinning Jimmie Johnson early, then held onto the Lucky Dog spot long enough to return to the lead lap inside the final 100 circuits. Running 18th when the final caution fell, Smith again stayed out and took the green flag in eighth. Unfortunately, as at Fontana, the final scramble to the finish was just enough to squeeze the Furniture Row colors outside the top 10 before the checkered flag fell. Smith gained another 60 points on the Bubble that night, and he has now gained 318 in total since Watkins Glen just ten races ago.

No. 34 – Travis Kvapil (Front Row Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 33rd (+107)
Saturday’s Finish: 31st
Current Owner Points Ranking: 32nd (+113)

While Smith, Speed, and Sadler enjoyed decent finishes and Hornish struggled to finish 40th, between them sat our next four Bubble teams, who finished 31st through 34th with little fanfare. Kvapil’s No. 34 was the highest-finishing of the four, reaching the checkered flag three laps down to winner Jamie McMurray. After gaining six points of cushion, the Wisconsin driver is now tied with one of his Front Row Motorsports teammates by an increasingly-comfortable margin of 113 points over the Bubble. . .

No. 37 – Dave Blaney (Front Row Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 32nd (+110)
Saturday’s Finish: 32nd
Current Owner Points Ranking: 33rd (+113)

Blaney’s “The Andy Griffith Show Special” was also three laps down at race’s end as, yet again, two FRM cars finished nose-to-tail behind their third teammate in the No. 38. This time, Blaney and Kvapil traded consecutive positions outside the top 30 for almost the entire race, each taking turns leading the other around the 1.5-mile track. For a moment during pit stops under the lap 24 caution, we saw the No. 37 jump 22 spots into the ninth position, but apparently Blaney missed his pit stall during that chaotic opening round of stops – he was not among the leaders on the restart. Yup, that’s about it.

No. 71 – Andy Lally (TRG Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 34th (+18)
Saturday’s Finish: 34th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 34th (+15)

Coming in just 18 points away from top 35 oblivion, TRG Motorsports managed to collect enough funding from two sponsors (ModSpace and Savory Thymes) for Andy Lally to run the entire distance of a Cup race for the first time since Watkins Glen. Unfortunately, while the No. 71 did finish under power for the first time since Richmond, bad luck and cosmetic damage left Lally 19 laps down at the finish, dropping the team three points closer to the Bubble.

The repairs likely stemmed from damage suffered to the right-rear of Lally’s Chevrolet, an issue which occurred sometime during the first half of the race. It may have been inflicted during either the chain-reaction behind Ryan Newman’s lap 2 spin or the cycle of pit stops that followed it, where Lally was penalized for removing equipment from his pit box. This rookie’s future status in the car is unknown, but with unpredictable Martinsville next on the schedule, TRG knows that if they are to stretch their meager 15-point cushion over the final five races, overcoming on-track adversity will be just as important as finding enough sponsorship to encounter it.

Robby Gordon Motorsports is now in a do or die fight to remain in the Top 35…with or without Conway’s Extenze, this team needs to find some speed.

No. 7 – Robby Gordon (Robby Gordon Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 35th (On The Bubble)
Saturday’s Finish: 33rd
Current Owner Points Ranking: 35th (On The Bubble)

Although the initial entry list named Kevin Conway as driver of the No. 7 at Charlotte, on Thursday Robby Gordon returned to his ride while Conway climbed into Robby’s “go-or-go-home” No. 07 for the first time this season. Conway missed the show, turning in the second-slowest time among Charlotte’s six DNQs, while Robby didn’t fare much better with a 39th starting spot. His neon pink Toyota dressed in full red-white-and-blue ExtenZe livery for Saturday’s race, Robby hoped to earn a solid run, as he had at New Hampshire, but fell well short.

Unable to stay out long enough to lead a lap during the first green-flag pit cycle, Gordon ended up two laps down by lap 95, apparently losing time when the valve on his crew’s gas can malfunctioned – spilling Sunoco on his pit box during ESPN’s crew cam segment. Mired in 33rd with 96 to go, he then lost control off turn four and slid through the grass, choking the radiator with infield turf. Repairs cost him four more circuits, but fortunately no positions as Andy Lally and the rest of the field still trailed him by 10 laps. Unfortunately, by coming across the line in that same position – two spots worse than Conway did last week at Fontana – his team is now a hair’s breadth away from slipping out of the top 35 for the first time since Pocono in June.

NOT LOCKED-IN AT MARTINSVILLE

No. 38 – David Gilliland (Front Row Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 36th (-25 points behind 35th)
Saturday’s Finish: 28th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 36th (-5 points behind 35th)

Gordon’s loss was Gilliland’s gain as, also for the first time since Pocono, the No. 38 has a more-than-realistic shot of knocking out either RGM or TRG out of the top 35 with five races still to go. However, Gilliland, who timed in 36th, almost saw those chances go away less than five miles into Saturday’s race. It was then that he locked his brakes to avoid a wrecking Ryan Newman, causing the No. 38 to slide into the rear of Tony Stewart’s Chevrolet. But the veteran continued on unimpeded and entered the top 25 by the 120th lap. Having already stayed out to lead lap 26, this marked the third time the No. 38 has paced the field in the last four races. Though he finished two laps down by the finish, Gilliland gained 20 points on the Bubble with a second straight top-30 performance in the car. Unable to earn the two more spots he needed to lock the team in at Martinsville, though, next Friday’s qualifying session promises to be the team’s most critical of 2010.

Patrick Carpentier put up a good fight driving the No. 26 Ford for Latitude 43 Motorsports, but no amount of talent behind the wheel could make up for mechanical problems under the hood Saturday night.

No. 26 – Patrick Carpentier (Latitude 43 Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 37th (-170)
Saturday’s Finish: 37th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 37th (-177)

Even with an intimidating 49-car entry list (that was up to 51 cars Monday before two teams withdrew), Carpentier overcame the disappointment of last week’s Fontana DNQ by qualifying right next to Gilliland in the 35th position. As with his FRM competitor, Carpentier scored five bonus points of his own, repeating his Kansas strategy to lead lap 83 during a round of green-flag pit stops. Unfortunately, the Canadian’s evening was all downhill from there. Damage from an undisclosed on-track incident sent the No. 26 behind the wall for 58 laps, dropping the team well outside the top 30. He returned to the track briefly, but called it a night after 217 laps with “accident” as the listed cause of Latitude 43’s first DNF since David Stremme’s crash at Daytona in July. In a cruel twist, this disaster actually set the team another seven points back behind the top 35, creating what has become a three-car race between the Nos. 71, 7, and 38 for the final two locked-in positions.

2010 Bubble Chart After Charlotte:

Pos Owner Car # Driver Points Points +/- of 35th Place
28 Richard Petty Motorsports 19 Elliott Sadler 2,777 +601
29 Red Bull Racing 82 Scott Speed 2,774 +598
30 Penske Racing 77 Sam Hornish, Jr. 2,736 +560
31 Furniture Row Racing 78 Regan Smith 2,729 +553
32 Front Row Motorsports 37 Dave Blaney 2,289 +113
33 Front Row Motorsports 34 Travis Kvapil 2,289 +113
34 TRG Motorsports 71 Andy Lally 2,191 +15
35 Robby Gordon Motorsports 7 Robby Gordon 2,176 0
36 Front Row Motorsports 38 David Gilliland 2,171 -5
37 Latitude 43 Motorsports 26 Patrick Carpentier 1,999 -177
38 Germain Racing 13 Casey Mears 1,610 -566
39 Phoenix Racing 09 Landon Cassill 1,558 -618
40 Tommy Baldwin Racing 36 J.J. Yeley 1,520 -656
41 NEMCO Motorsports 87 Joe Nemechek 1,281 -895
42 Whitney Motorsports 46 Michael McDowell 1,273 -903
43 PRISM Motorsports 55 Various 1,126 -1,050
44 PRISM Motorsports 66 Various 1,078 -1,098

Contact Brock Beard

Monday on the Frontstretch:
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Jefferey Green Fan now
10/18/2010 03:16 PM
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I just dont get why TRG is installing Hermie Sadler into their #71 car at Marlinsville this weekend. With his low skills and rusty driving abilities, its like throwing in the towel ahead of time, and then blaming their dropping out of the points on Hermie. Perfect scape goat because no one else wanted the blame …

scott b
10/18/2010 04:02 PM
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Hermie has a fairly respectable short track resume, in spite of his recent inactivity. That, plus the hope that some one-time sponsor might step in with a little money for a native Virginian at this race might be a factor.

I’ve been watching this three way fight for the final top-35 spot shape up for the last couple of months, you could anticipate by the trends it was going to get close down the stretch.

I was a little surprised that Robbie Gordon remained in the #7 after Kevin Conway DNQ’ed in the #07 at Lowes, I figured they might do another driver switch. Apparently ExntenZe has agreed to let Robbie carry their branding himself under the circumstances? I expect RGM to attempt dual entries for the next few races, regardless of which driver ends up in the #7 seat when the green flag waves.

ronnie s.
10/19/2010 03:14 PM
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When Robbie told us fans last summer before Musgrave DNQ’d Pocono ‘that RGM has never missed a race’, that wasnt true. David Gilliland DNQ’d Kansas in 2009 in RGM’s #204 entity.

Now RGM has an entire rash of DNQ’s.