The Frontstretch: Bubble Breakdown: A Day Of Near-Misses For Cassill, Bayne by Frontstretch Staff -- Monday August 1, 2011

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Bubble Breakdown: A Day Of Near-Misses For Cassill, Bayne

Frontstretch Staff · Monday August 1, 2011

 

The most important battle around the Top 35 bubble remains the fight for the 35th position. The No. 13, with Casey Mears on board soldiered home with a 29th-place finish, further distancing themselves from the dreaded cutoff. Robby Gordon had an engine failure extremely early in the event, resulting in a DNF and a major hit in points while Andy Lally had a quiet day, beating Mears to the line and notching a 26th-place finish to snag that spot. Travis Kvapil may have been the biggest loser of all, though; weeks after losing his Truck ride, he failed to qualify in his return to the No. 38 Cup car and severely damaged that team’s hope of reentering the top 35. Finally, Trevor Bayne rebounded from an early pit stop and came home 30th which moved him closer to the 35th slot, although they are still running a limited schedule and probably doomed to life outside the Top 35.

LOCKED INTO THE FIELD FOR POCONO

No. 51 – Landon Cassill (Phoenix Racing)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 31st (+92 points ahead of 35th)
Sunday’s Finish: 20th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 31st (+106 points ahead of 35th, gained 14 points)

Landon Cassill learned a hard rookie lesson at Indy: no matter how wide the straightaways are, it’s impossible to go into the corner four-wide. After a solid start to the race, running consistent lap times and sticking around midpack the No. 51 was on the verge of a surge in the Brickyard 400 when their driver got caught up with the No. 6 of David Ragan on Lap 121 and fell from 5th to the back of the pack. Lucky to not hit anything after the tangle led to his spin in Turn 3, Cassill was able to stick it out and push forward to salvage a decent finish. In true top 20 fashion, the team regrouped and took advantage of filling their tank and then saving fuel to the end to gain a bunch of positions late. Once again, it’s another week of Cassill continuing to have flashes of brilliance – but he needs to have finishes of brilliance to prevent the team from being in the article for some time to come.

No. 36 – Dave Blaney (Tommy Baldwin Racing)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 32nd (+37 points ahead of 35th)
Sunday’s Finish: 31st
Current Owner Points Ranking: 32nd (+40 points ahead of 35th, gained 3 points)

Baldwin’s race team stayed out on a caution on lap 52 to get a bonus point for leading a lap which was about the only chance they had of being up front during the Brickyard. The No. 36 spent the entire race languishing around the upper 30s but thanks to Robby Gordon’s engine failure distanced themselves a little further ahead of the crucial 35th-place cutoff in the standings.

No. 32 – Mike Bliss (FAS Lane Racing)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 33rd (+35 points ahead of 35th)
Sunday’s Finish: 32nd
Current Owner Points Ranking: 33rd (+36 points ahead of 35th, gained 1 point)

Unfortunately for Mike Bliss, his No. 32 Ford didn’t have the Smokey Yunick fuel line which was able to hold some six gallons of gasoline. Bliss was running in the top 15 with 10 laps to go before he was forced to pit for a splash of Sunoco; that proved costly, relegating him to a 32nd-place finish, where he’d spent the majority of his day at the Brickyard. Bliss did play into the ending of the race in his own way; Paul Menard both drafted off him and used the lapped car as a pick to help distance the No. 27 Chevy from Jeff Gordon in the race’s final lap.

No. 13 – Casey Mears (Germain Racing)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 34th (+29 points ahead of 35th)
Sunday’s Finish: 29th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 34th (+33 points ahead of 35th, gained 4 points)

Casey Mears was one of the darlings of qualifying at the Brickyard, turning in a somewhat surprising 11th-place run although with a last name of Mears was there any question he’d turn in a good time trial? Unfortunately for Mears, the qualifying effort was a one-lap wonder and it quickly showed on the racetrack. Mears plummeted to 27th by lap 10 and never climbed out of the bottom half of the 20s the rest of the race. Germain Racing is still seeming unsettled after their ownership changes earlier this season and the races they are turning in are just about as unsettling.

No. 71 – Andy Lally (TRG Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 36th (-7 behind 35th)
Sunday’s Finish: 26th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 35th (On the bubble, locked in for Pocono 10 points ahead of 36th)

Historically, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been a venue where road course racers are able to shine. That’s where sports car ace Andy Lally has cut his professional racing teeth, so it’s no surprise he was able to turn in a yeoman like performance at the Brickyard. Normally, a 26th-place finish is not really anything to write home about. But for Andy Lally and TRG Motorsports, that 26th place result might as well have been like kissing Miss America as, thanks to Robby Gordon’s early engine woes, TRG Motorsports now finds themselves in the Top 35 for the first time in several weeks. Lally was on the Mike Bliss schedule, languishing in the 30s until the last 20 laps of the race, inching up into the top 15 before being forced to pit for fuel in the last 10 laps and settling for a mid-20s finish. On the plus side, Gordon’s last-place finish cost him more points than he could stand and it moved Lally into the top 35 and a locked in spot for Pocono – another track where road course drivers tend to do well. The big question now would be can TRG Motorsports pad their advantage in the coming weeks or will Robby Gordon Motorsports slip right back into the Top 35?

ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN AT POCONO

No. 7 – Robby Gordon (Robby Gordon Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 35th (On the bubble)
Sunday’s Finish: 43rd
Current Owner Points Ranking: 36th (-10 points behind 35th, lost 17 points)

One of the reasons teams find themselves running around the Top 35 bubble is they are running on limited budgets. When the engine on the No. 7 Dodge misfired during qualifying on Saturday it probably signaled a problem that was worth investigating. But without the budget to just change engines, Gordon started the Brickyard with the same motor on Sunday and by the time lap 5 rolled around, his car was being pushed to the garage by his team with a mechanical failure. The loss was far more than the cost of an engine, though as the team now finds itself on the outside looking in for the race at Pocono and must qualify on speed.

No. 38 – Travis Kvapil (Front Row Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 37th (-12 behind 35th)
Sunday’s Finish: Did Not Qualify
Current Owner Points Ranking: 37th (-23 points behind 35th, lost 11 points)

As seems to be the medium for the No. 38 Front Row Motorsports team this year, for every step forward they make, it seems like they take two steps backwards. This most recent failure to qualify, by the return of Travis Kvapil is especially painful following J.J. Yeley’s more-than-respectable 23rd-place finish last week at New Hampshire. One has to wonder if Kvapil has too many more failures to qualify if his ride with Front Row Motorsports just might be in jeopardy; the coming weeks could really tell the tale on Kvapil’s long-term future with the organization. If the poor finishes and DNQs continue, it would be less than a shock to see a new driver behind the wheel of the No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford.

No. 21 – Trevor Bayne (Wood Brothers Racing)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 38th (-34 behind 35th)
Sunday’s Finish: 30th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 38th (-31 points behind 35th, gained 3 points)

Trevor Bayne had to stop very early during the Brickyard 400 but got an early Lucky Dog pass and spent the rest of the race on the lead lap. Bayne was running in fourth position with 10 laps to go, briefly looking like a darkhorse contender for victory at one point. However, he did not have enough gas to make it to the finish which led to a precipitous fall to 30th place. The finish did move the No. 21 closer to the Top 35 cutoff, important if they can get there but a partial schedule is going to most likely lead to them spending the rest of the year in the “must qualify on time” crowd.

No. 37 Scott Speed / Max Q Motorsports Ford
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 39th (-92 out of 35th)
Sunday’s Result: 39th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 39th (-98 out of 35th)

With the Top 35 looking more and more like a pipe dream for Max Q Motorsports, at least on the bright side, Scott Speed got them safely qualified into the field for the Brickyard 400. But that’s where the good news ends, unfortunately. The team parked their car 15 laps into the race, blaming a strong right-front vibration (Speed claims they were trying to go the distance). Because of that, they’ve made no headway toward any hopes (real or imagined) of cracking the Top 35.

2011 Bubble Chart After Indy:

Pos Owner Car # Driver Points Points +/- of 35th Place
31 Phoenix Racing 51 Landon Cassill 355 +106
32 Tommy Baldwin Racing 36 Dave Blaney 289 +40
33 FAS Lane Racing 32 Mike Bliss 285 +36
34 Germain Racing 13 Casey Mears 282 +33
35 TRG Motorsports 71 Andy Lally 249 0
36 Robby Gordon Motorsports 7 Robby Gordon 239 -10
37 Front Row Motorsports 38 Travis Kvapil 226 -23
38 Wood Brothers 21 Trevor Bayne 218 -31
39 Max Q Motorsports 37 Scott Speed 151 -98

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