The Frontstretch: Bubble Breakdown: Mears' Texas-Sized Recovery Ahead Of Kvapil's Killer DNQ by Dave Thompson -- Monday April 11, 2011

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It was a Texas-sized list of problems for some of NASCAR’s underdogs, with Front Row Motorsports leading the list. But was David Gilliland’s wreck enough to knock a second FRM car out of the top 35? And which team capitalized on the misfortune of Tony Raines and the No. 37, FRM’s “hybrid” now owned by Larry Gunselman to sneak into a “locked in” spot? Find out in this edition of the Bubble Breakdown, tracking those battling for a place inside the top 35 in owner points while giving you the race summary of cars you almost never see mentioned once on television…

LOCKED INTO THE FIELD AT TALLADEGA SUPERSPEEDWAY

No. 21 – Trevor Bayne (Wood Brothers)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 31st (+31 points ahead of 35th)
Saturday’s Finish: 17th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 30th (+42 points ahead of 35th)

Bayne has been the victim of a number of heartbreaking runs over the last few races, but the team was confident their No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion could turn that trend around in Texas. They did. He started the race from the 18th position and ran as high as second on his way to a 17th-place finish, easily his best since the 2011 Daytona 500. Bayne and the No. 21 crew had great pit work, gaining positions on every stop throughout the evening.

The Tennessee native drove a smart race under the lights in Texas, ran hard when needed and backed off when he was placed in a vulnerable position. On lap 215, Bayne skillfully avoided a three-car crash on the backstretch as he steered his way through the carnage and escaped without damage. Bayne led all drivers with 163 green flag passes in the Samsung Mobile 500, along with one other disturbing stat: hospital ER visits. He got admitted Saturday night on the way back from the speedway, suffering from an insect bite but has since been treated and released.

No. 34 – David Gilliland (Front Row Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 30th (+35 points ahead of 35th)
Saturday’s Finish: 42nd
Current Owner Points Ranking: 31st (+21 points ahead of 35th)

Gilliland came to Texas Motor Speedway with the hopes of a Texas-sized rebound and a solid finish. The No. 34 Ford Fusion was reunited with Gander Mountain as their sponsor this week, who was featured on the car twice last season and had high hopes to deliver for their part-time supporter.

Despite taking the green flag in the 40th position, Gilliland felt confident he had a strong car, picking up five positions in the early going of the race. He had been complaining the car was too tight getting through the turns, and during pit stops the team made adjustments to loosen the car up. But on lap 46, the team unfortunately would see their evening come to an abrupt end when the No. 34 blew a right-front tire and hit the wall. Gilliland took the damaged car directly to the garage where the team determined it was unable to return to the race.

Afterwards, Gilliland was brief in his comments considering the high level of frustration in the FRM camp: it was the second DNF in seven races for the No. 34 Ford. “We have good cars,” he said. “But haven’t been able to show it.”

If there’s a silver lining, though, it’s that the team is heading to Talladega, the second restrictor plate race of the season. Remember what happened the last time out? Gilliland sure does; he was sitting with a podium finish after this year’s Daytona 500.

No. 78 – Regan Smith (Furniture Row Racing)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 32nd (+28 points ahead of 35th)
Saturday’s Finish: 37th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 32nd (+19 points ahead of 35th)

On Friday, Smith ran his Farm American Chevrolet, presented by Furniture Row Companies and Agro-Culture Liquid Fertilizers, around the ultra fast 1.5-mile oval in 28.731 seconds, which placed him in fifth position for the green flag. With that result, Smith has now posted six top-10 starting positions in seven races; that gives him the highest average start of anyone competing full-time on the Sprint Cup circuit.

However, bad luck on raceday continued to plague the No. 78 team on Saturday evening in Texas. Smith saw his starting position of fifth evaporate in just 20 laps, when he found himself in 23rd. The team would recover by halfway in the race and again was inside the top 20; at that point, Smith was confident he would break the bad luck streak with a solid performance and deliver a top-15 finish. But as the laps wound down, Smith again witnessed his team slowly implode.

The first mishap was a tire violation during a green flag pit stop when a tire rolled outside the pit box and across pit road. He would serve his pass-through penalty and lose a lap before one final blow would end his evening. On lap 215, Smith was involved in a three-car collision with Martin Truex, Jr. and Mark Martin that resulted in heavy damage to the right front of the No. 78. The crew was forced to push in that car from pit road to the garage, where it would remain.

No. 32 – Ken Schrader (FAS Lane Racing)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 33rd (+22 points ahead of 35th)


Saturday’s Finish: 33rd

Current Owner Points Ranking: 33rd (+17 points ahead of 35th)

After their third top-25 finish in the past five races, FAS Lane Racing secured sponsorship from Big Red, Inc. for the Samsung Mobile 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. Veteran driver Ken Schrader would again be behind the wheel after posting a 22nd-place finish at Martinsville last week.

After that success and with new sponsorship added, the No. 32 team’s expectations were high for Texas. But while last week Schrader managed to avoided tire issues and stayed clear of any wrecks, this time on the 1.5-mile track at Texas would not be so kind.

Schrader started deep in the field, in 41st position and really struggled with handling; he would labor at or near the back for most of the race, a few tenths of a second slower than even the next car ahead of him on the scoring pylon. On lap 113, things went from bad to worse as Schrader would bring out the caution when he blew a right front tire that tossed debris on the track. Looking under the hood during that yellow, it was clear mechanical issues combined with bad Goodyears led to an ugly combination the Ford underdogs were unable to overcome.

While Schrader was able to rebound from the blown tire to finish in 33rd place, the team had to be disappointed after its success in the last three events.

Robby Gordon ran in the pack all night at Texas and maintained his spot near the bubble of those locked into the Cup field, a place the No. 7 will likely find itself all season long.

No. 7 – Robby Gordon (Robby Gordon Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 34th (+13 points ahead of 35th)
Saturday’s Finish: 31st
Current Owner Points Ranking: 34th (+11 points ahead of 35th)

For the second straight week, Gordon was promoting the upcoming action thriller movie, Fast Five, with a black Fast Five/Speed Energy paint scheme. Last spring at the 1.5-mile oval, Gordon recorded a 26th-place finish and had hopes to improve on that mark and remain in the top 35 in owner points.

Gordon was disappointed with starting in 39th position when the green flag waved; he felt the car had improved over their practice and qualifying performance. During the race, he did show signs of improvement but never seriously contended for a lead lap finish; with 34 laps remaining, he was in 33rd position, and he ultimately crossed the line 31st – a grand total six laps off the pace.

Gordon did lead a lap in the race to earn a crucial point for his team; for at this point, it looks likely they’ll battle to stay within the top 35 in owner points all season long.

No. 13 – Casey Mears (Germain Racing)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 37th (-2 behind 35th)


Saturday’s Finish: 26th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 35th (On the bubble)

After a disappointing weekend in Martinsville, Mears found himself just outside the top 35 in owner points and needed a solid qualifying run to ensure he would race on Saturday. Mears got it done easily when he qualified in 22nd position, the second fastest of the “go-or-go homers”. And he got it done Saturday as well, with his solid performance on Saturday evening guaranteeing Germain Racing and the No. 13 GEICO Toyota a spot in the starting lineup for Talladega.

Mears and the team battled throughout the race for their hard-earned finish. He quickly fell to 31st (nine spots) before the first caution flag was waved on lap 9. During their pit stop, the team took four tires, fuel and made a track bar adjustment. That pit road tweak would pay dividends for Mears, as he not only had a better handling car but had now made his way to 24th position by lap 65.

That’s where the team stalled out, but hey; things could have been worse. He later would narrowly escape the Truex, Martin, and Smith wreck on lap 215 as he carefully maneuvered his No. 13 through the carnage.

So while the 26th-place finish isn’t worthy of breaking news, it does give the team some confidence knowing they are locked into the field and will race next week. In his post-race comments, Mears said, “Our top priority is being in the top 35 and we were able to make that happen tonight.” The question is can they maintain that for more than a week?

ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN AT TALLADEGA SUPERSPEEDWAY

No. 71 – Andy Lally (TRG Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 36th (-0 behind 35th – lost tiebreaker with No. 37 car)
Saturday’s Finish: 32nd
Current Owner Points Ranking: 36th (-4 behind 35th)

TRG Motorsports announced earlier in the week they had signed Interstate Moving Services as the primary sponsor on the No. 71 Ford Fusion for the Texas race as well as for Talladega. In addition, TRG and TIFCO Industries expanded their associate sponsorship for the Texas race. Suddenly, the financial pressure was on for a rookie in Lally that is still gaining experience at the sport’s top level – but needs to start racking up the right finishes for people to keep him there.

So after successfully making it into the field at Texas on his qualifying time (43rd), Lally and the team deemed the first outing for the team’s new Ford Fusion package a success. Unfortunately for the team and Lally, they did catch an early surprise when the No. 71 blew a right front tire on lap 92. The team lost several laps but remained confident as the race continued.

In Lally’s post-race remarks, he commented that the car did get stronger as the laps ticked down and his lap times aided in proving this true. However, late in the race he reported severe handling problems and thought another tire was about to go. The team was forced to pit, causing them to lose even more track position.

The entire TRG Motorsports team were pleased with the overall results, considering the rookie went through the entire night without spinning out. But, while excited for the next race, a Talladega event where they’ll have a shot at a top-10 finish the No. 71 will need to qualify on speed.

No. 37 – Tony Raines (Front Row / Max Q Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 35th (On The Bubble)
Saturday’s Finish: 34th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 37th (-6 behind 35th)

Raines suffered the biggest hit of the bubble teams in owner points at Texas Motor Speedway, which dropped the No. 37 team to 37th position, six points behind 35th place Casey Mears and the No. 13 Germain Racing team.

Some fans probably weren’t even in their seats when Raines brought out the first caution of the race on lap 11. As Raines came out of turn 4 and headed down the front straightaway, a cloud of smoke came from underneath his No. 37 Ford. Raines did not blow an engine, as he would return to the race, but the team had already suffered a damaging blow in the owner points.

Raines still finished a respectable 34th place considering they started in 42nd position. But the team was 15 laps down when the checkered flag waved and now must fight for a spot in the field at Talladega next week.

No. 36 – Dave Blaney (Tommy Baldwin Racing)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 38th (-5 behind 35th)
Saturday’s Finish: 30th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 38th (-6 behind 35th – loses tie-breaker to No. 37 car)

With a top-35 spot in owner points within their grasp, the No. 36 TBR team’s main goal was to leave Texas with a guaranteed spot for next weekend. If the team could successfully make it happen, it would mark the first time since their inception in 2009.

Blaney started from the 38th position when the green flag was dropped at Texas on Saturday. Early in the race, Blaney fought a tight car and remained deep in the field, with adjustments yielding little improvement. Blaney relayed to his crew chief that while the car was strong early, it would become tight later in the run, which caused them to drop deep in the pack.

Blaney did remain out during a caution to lead a lap at one point, but in conjunction with his 30th-place finish it wasn’t enough to break into the top 35. Blaney and the entire TBR team will need to step up their game if they ever expect to break into “locked in” territory, or else? They are in for a long season.

No. 38 – Travis Kvapil (Front Row Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 39th (-15 behind 35th)
Saturday’s Finish: DNQ
Current Owner Points Ranking: 39th (-31 behind 35th)

While Kvapil may have fond memories of Texas Motor Speedway, the track at which he won his first Camping World Truck Series race in 2001, this weekend will be one he hopes to forget.

Although Kvapil and the No. 38 team thought their newer cars and stronger engines would have a big impact, it hasn’t shown thus far for them. The team was outfitted with more horsepower provided by Roush Yates Racing’s FR9 motors, something they have not had before at Texas Motor Speedway. But the added horsepower did not aid Kvapil during either practice as his Ford could only manage a 38th and 43rd-best speed during the two practice sessions. Kvapil’s qualifying run was no better, although the team had made several changes to the car. The result? Kvapil and the No. 38 team did not qualify for the race and lost additional points in the owner standings.

After failing to make the show at Texas, Kvapil commented that they never had much speed all weekend. After a disappointing first lap in qualifying, he knew they would not be able to make it up on the second… and now, it’s a daunting 31-point deficit to try and make their way back into a “locked in” spot.

2011 Bubble Chart After Texas:

Pos Owner Car # Driver Points Points +/- of 35th Place
30 Wood Brothers 21 Trevor Bayne 135 +42
31 Front Row Motorsports 34 David Gilliland 114 +21
32 Furniture Row Racing 78 Regan Smith 112 +19
33 FAS Lane Racing 32 Ken Schrader 110 +17
34 Robby Gordon Motorsports 7 Robby Gordon 104 +11
35 Germain Racing 13 Casey Mears 93 0
36 TRG Motorsports 71 Andy Lally 89 -4
37 Larry Gunselman (Front Row) 37 Tony Raines 87 -6
38 Tommy Baldwin Racing 36 Dave Blaney 87 -6
39 Front Row Motorsports 38 Travis Kvapil 62 -31

Contact Dave Thompson

Monday on the Frontstretch:
Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: Texas (Spring) Race Recap
7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1… Ford? Seven Races, Seven Reasons To Believe J.J. Has A Rival
Penske Problem: Kurt Busch’s Drive For De Facto Single-Car Team Taking Its Toll
Mouthing Off At Texas: NASCAR’s Good, Bad, And Ugly From The Lone Star State
Nationwide Series Breakdown: O’Reilly 300
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ricky where #41 fan(s)
04/11/2011 01:12 PM
permalink

Travis Kvapil was, is, and always will be a waste. Maybe he should try ping-pong instead.