Mike Lovecchio · Sunday April 22, 2007
Two years - that's how long it had been since Johnny Sauter scored a Nextel Cup Top 10. But with a guaranteed spot at Talladega at stake, Frontstretch’s "Bubble Boy" selection had his strongest performance of the season, quickly charging through the field and taking advantage of a late-race caution to finish ninth.
While Sauter can breathe much easier this week as a result, Casey Mears' sub-par season just got even worse with a 37th place finish, dropping him to 35th in car owner points. The new man on the bubble, Mears finds himself just 37 points ahead of Ken Schrader and the Wood Brothers’ No. 21.
Since missing the race at Bristol just four races ago, Sauter fought his way back into the Top 35, holding off challengers as the "bubble boy" at Martinsville and Texas; now, he has some hard-earned breathing room to show for his efforts. His ninth place finish at Phoenix jumped him six spots to 29th in the standings.
Casey Mears can't catch a break. The black sheep of Hendrick Motorsports has recorded just one Top 10 finish this season and is averaging a meager 34th place finish since Bristol. A mid-race incident at Phoenix dropped Mears three spots to 35th in owner points, and he must run strong at Talladega to stay in the Top 35. Brian Vickers showed last season that the No. 25 is capable of finding Victory Lane at the superspeedway. Is Mears?
Dale Jarrett led the Toyota brigade this weekend, but he didn’t do much, coming home with a disappointing 29th place finish. Rookie David Reutimann made the race after a strong qualifying performance on Thursday, but ran into trouble on Saturday, finishing 32nd; at least he fared better than his teammate Michael Waltrip, who suffered through his seventh straight DNQ. As for the third Toyota participant to make the race, he suffered an ugly fate of his own; Carl Edwards made late-race contact with Dave Blaney while the driver attempted to dive down pit road for green flag stops, forcing the No. 22 car into the wall and out of the race on lap 281.
Certainly, those mediocre finishes are not the type of runs these Camry drivers need to get their seasons back on track. Toyota still has yet to get a car in the Top 35, and the highest running Toyota driver (Jarrett, 37th) has just one past champion provisional remaining.
Who's Hot/Who's Not (Teams on the Bubble)
Driver / Place in owner points
Johnny Sauter (29th): First Top 10 in two years (Phoenix, 2005); averaging 20.6 place finish since Bristol; jumped six spots this week.
Kasey Kahne (33rd): Just one Top 10 this season; averaging a 25.3 place finish since Bristol; has shown no signs of turning his dismal season around.
Dale Jarrett (37th): Yet to record a Top 20 finish; just one past champion’s provisional remaining.
Scott Riggs (38th): Finished 27th and 42nd in past two races; one Top 20 this season; 38th in points despite making every race; three teams with less starts have more points than Riggs.
Breaking Down the Bubble
30) No. 38 – Gilliland/Yates 658, +83
31) No. 14 – Marlin/Ginn Racing 648, +73
32) No. 88 – Rudd/Yates 647, +72
33) No. 9 – Kahne/Evernham 626, +51
34) No. 45 – Petty/Petty Enterprises 615, +40
35) No. 25 – Mears/Hendrick 612
36) No. 21 – Schrader-Wood/Wood Brothers 575, -37
37) No. 44 – Jarrett/Michael Waltrip Racing 548, -64
38) No. 10 – Riggs/Evernham 526, -86
39) No. 22 – Blaney/Bill Davis Racing 523, -89
40) No. 15 – Menard/D.E.I. 515, -97
41) No. 83 – Vickers/Team Red Bull 489, -123
42) No. 4 – Burton/Morgan-McClure 418, -194
43) No. 49 – Bliss/BAM Racing, 416, -196
44) No. 00 – Reutimann/Michael Waltrip Racing, 359, -253
45) No. 78 – Kenny Wallace/Furniture Row Racing, 350, -259
46) No. 36 – Mayfield/Bill Davis Racing, 250, -359
47) No. 37 – Andretti-LePage/Front Row Motorsports, 221, -391
48) No. 84 – Allmendinger/Team Red Bull, 197, -415
49) No. 55 – Waltrip/Michael Waltrip Racing, 136, -476
50) No. 60 – Said/No Fear Racing, 121, -491
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