Mike Lovecchio · Sunday June 24, 2007
The topsy, turvy road course at Sonoma proved to be a difficult test for all 43 cars that took part in the Toyota / Save Mart 350. While each and every driver breathed a collective sigh of relief as the checkered flag flew, several teams left Infineon Raceway disappointed with poor performances. But for Johnny Sauter, a driver that came into the race 35th in car owner points and just 41 points inside of the bubble, a 31st place finish wasn't near as bad as it seemed in the big picture. Sauter's big break actually didn't come during the race Sunday, but in qualifying on Friday when a number of his closest competitors in the standings – including his biggest rival for 35th – failed to make the race with several road-course specialists vying for the final few spots.
See just how much breathing room Sauter’s No. 70 team has over its closest competitors in this week's edition of the Bubble Breakdown:
Since the Wood Brothers decided to put Bill Elliott in the No. 21 car in May due to his past champion provisional status, the decision has proved to be a valuable one. The 1988 Cup points titlist has only needed one such PCP so far, having no problems putting a solid lap on the board Friday; he qualified seventh and went on to record a 19th place finish, moving the team ever closer to the Top 35. Now just 159 points behind Sauter, Elliott is doing everything he can to make sure the ride is Ken Schrader‘s and Jon Wood‘s sooner rather than later once again.
Elliott (No. 21) – Moved from 39th to 38th in car owner points.
Ricky Rudd – Rudd, a fine road course racer in his own right, had a terrific day and made the biggest gain this week. A strong 11th place finish moved the No. 88 team from 34th in car owner points to a much more respectable 31st.
Jeff Green had a dismal day topped off by contact with his teammate, Sauter, on pit road midway through the race. Green was then classified as one of two cars that failed to finish, winding up 42nd, and fell two spots in the standings. Green now sits just 23 points ahead of 35th in car owner points; however, he still sits relatively comfortably ahead of Scott Riggs in 36th.
Sterling Marlin (No. 14) – Finished 43rd; fell from 25th to 29th in car owner points.
Scott Riggs (No. 10) – DNS; remained 36th.
Paul Menard (No. 15) – DNS; fell from 38th to 39th.
Brian Vickers (No. 83) – DNS; remained 40th.
All but two Toyotas in the field this week were driven by road course specialists, but still it was a difficult week for the manufacturer, with no drivers finishing within the Top 10. Substitute driver P.J. Jones took over the No. 00 Michael Waltrip Racing entry normally driven by David Reutimann and wound up with the highest finishing position of all the Toyotas, coming home 12th. However, the biggest disappointment of the week came when both Red Bull entries failed to make the field. Brian Vickers had been the highest finishing Toyota each of the last three weeks and A.J. Allmendinger had high expectations after success on the Champ Car circuit.
Top 3 Finishing Toyotas:
P.J. Jones (No. 00) – Finished 12th
Dale Jarrett (No. 44) – Finished 26th
Butch Leitzinger (No. 23/36) – Finished 28th.
Breaking Down The Bubble
|Pos||Owner||Car #||Driver||Points||Points +/- of 35th Place|
|31||Robert Yates Racing||88||Ricky Rudd||1,354||+128|
|32||Petty Enterprises||45||Kyle Petty||1,342||+116|
|33||Robert Yates Racing||38||David Gilliland||1,323||+97|
|34||Haas CNC Racing||66||Joe Custer||1,300||+74|
|35||Haas CNC Racing||70||Johnny Sauter||1,226||0|
|36||Evernham Motorsports||10||Scott Riggs||1,143||-83|
|37||Bill Davis Racing||22||Dave Blaney||1,078||-148|
|38||Glen Wood||21||Bill Elliott / Ken Schrader / Jon Wood||1,067||-159|
|39||Teresa Earnhardt||15||Paul Menard||1,026||-200|
|40||Team Red Bull||83||Brian Vickers||965||-261|
|41||Michael Waltrip Racing||00||David Reutimann||898||-328|
|42||Michael Waltrip Racing||44||Dale Jarrett||841||-385|
|43||James Finch / Morgan-McClure Motorsports||4||Ward Burton||747||-479|
|44||Furniture Row Racing||78||Kenny Wallace||717||-509|
|45||Bill Davis Racing||36||Jeremy Mayfield||668||-558|
|46||Team Red Bull||84||A.J. Allmendinger||607||-619|
|47||Michael Waltrip Racing||55||Michael Waltrip||549||-677|
|48||BAM Racing||49||Mike Bliss||544||-682|
|49||Front Row Motorsports||37||Kevin LePage||376||-860|
My Take on the Top 35 Heading to New Hampshire
The return to an oval will be a welcome site to everybody not named Juan Pablo Montoya next week. Scott Riggs and the No. 10 team must make the race and have a strong run to once again be within striking distance of the Top 35; otherwise, they can all but cross off their hope of getting back in it the rest of the year. Of course, missing the race at Sonoma was a major hit to Riggs Top 35 hopes, but at least Sauter's 31st place finish softened the blow. This will also be a crucial week for a Red Bull Racing team that appeared to have started turning the corner. These new Toyota teams must make races to gain experiences, and I believe Vickers is the closest to becoming a contender. Clearly, it should be interesting to see if the gap between 35th and 36th narrows and Toyota gains some momentum heading to Daytona in two weeks.
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