Tracking The Top 35 In Owner Points · Beth Lunkenheimer · Monday November 7, 2011
As the Sprint Cup Series made its second visit to the mile-and-a-half oval in North Texas, points leaders Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards duked it out on the race track and in the standings. But what about the guys a little further back in the garage? One week after Martinsville offered hope, it wasn’t pretty for the sport’s gang of underdogs. It’s a struggle for these teams on intermediates, but amidst the rubble of some awful performances there were a few rays of sunshine we’ll start out with in this edition of David vs. Goliath.
Score One for David
Casey Mears and the No. 13 team have had a very up and down season, scoring a lone top-15 finish in 32 starts. Mears ran 26th and 33rd in the three practice sessions at Texas, struggling before ultimately qualifying his No. 13 GEICO Toyota in 33rd place. But once again, the veteran delivered on track when it was needed most. Methodically working his way through the field, he managed to stay on the lead lap for much of the day before falling prey to the leaders. And while he wasn’t burning up the track and challenging for the win, Mears once again came home near the top of the teams that have lesser funding at their fingertips. The GEICO car ended the day a respectable 25th, only one lap down for their third such top-25 performance in the past three weeks.
Hot on Mears’ heels Sunday afternoon was Landon Cassill, sliding behind the wheel of the No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet. Starting off the weekend, Cassill managed to run inside the top 25 in all three practice sessions before qualifying a solid 29th for Sunday’s race. And despite hanging out near the back of the pack much of the day, Cassill turned up the heat when it counted the most, managing to finish 26th as the first car two laps down. It was a bounceback weekend for the program, who start-and-parked without funding at Martinsville just a week ago.
Running for the Rookie of the Year in a one-sided battle (his only competitors are running part-time schedules) Andy Lally has run mediocre, at best, behind the wheel of his No. 71 TRG Motorsports Ford. But considering the funding the team has behind their organization, Lally once again turned in a respectable performance on Sunday. After running outside the top 35 in all three practice sessions, Lally started at the back of the pack and worked his way through the field methodically. While he didn’t finish on the lead lap, he did score a respectable 29th-place result and helped to move the No. 71 a little closer to the coveted top 35 (-11 points) with just two races remaining.
Score One for Goliath
Prior to the AAA Texas 500, Tommy Baldwin Racing’s No. 36 sat 32nd in owners’ points with a 64-point cushion, safely inside the top 35. But although they’re still solidly locked in for the next two races, Geoffrey Bodine isn’t exactly making it easy on them. The veteran driver, moved into the “locked in” car because of solid sponsorship, found trouble early, suffering a broken swaybar and going four laps down. But the troubles didn’t end there — Bodine ended up involved in some contact with the No. 42 of Juan Pablo Montoya, a spin that was arguably caused by Brian Vickers and managed to tear up the left front fender. Though the team worked feverishly to repair the damage, Bodine was forced to retire after running just 215 laps for a disappointing 38th-place finish.
Michael McDowell arrived in Texas expecting to start-and-park the No. 66 HP Racing LLC Toyota, something he’s done in all but two races the team has run this season. But suddenly, Saturday morning he was gifted a chance behind the wheel of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota when NASCAR parked Kyle Busch for the remainder of the weekend. The opportunity allowed McDowell the chance to put himself behind the wheel of top-notch equipment, an audition to show what he could do. Sadly, success wasn’t meant to be for the 26-year-old. Going a lap down during the first round of green flag pit stops, McDowell never managed to get himself back on the lead lap, though he did run as high as 26th at one point. Skidding past pit road during another pit stop sequence, the incident cost him another lap as the driver never seemed to be in sync with his team. By the time the checkered flag flew, McDowell found himself 33rd, three laps down, and didn’t exactly convince Joe Gibbs or M&M’s that he was the answer while Busch sits. Meanwhile, McDowell’s original ride for the weekend, the No. 66 car, ran just 23 laps with Josh Wise behind the wheel before retiring from the race.
Front Row Motorsports teammates Travis Kvapil and David Gilliland started 41st and 34th, respectively and hung around the back of the field for much of the race Sunday. Going a lap down early thanks to a couple of long, green-flag runs, the hole was wide open for both drivers long before the halfway point. The pair managed to keep their fenders clean, finishing together (31st and 32nd, three laps down). However, The gap between the No. 38 and TRG’s No. 71 shrank by virtue of finishing behind Lally.
The Winner: Goliath. While Mears helped to further solidify the No. 13 team’s spot inside the top 35, Bodine’s broken swaybar coupled with his tangle with the Montoya/Vickers hurt more. As icing on the cake, McDowell’s less than stellar run behind the wheel of the one of the top cars in the garage helped to give Goliath the edge.
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