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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Bubble Breakdown: Bobby Labonte Back in the Saddle, Robby Gordon Falling Fast After Dover 400

The Monster Mile in Dover, Del. lived up to its billing this weekend, as the self-cleaning concrete speedway took a toll on both Chasers and Top-35 contestants alike. Three Chase contenders finished 30th or worse, but buried beneath that hoopla was that the remainder of the tail-end finishers, with the exclusion of Tony Stewart, were teams battling for the Top 35 in owner points.

BOWLES: 2006 DOVER 400 BREAKDOWN

While most of those bad finishes did not result in loss of position in the owner standings, valuable points were left on the table for more than a few teams who desperately needed to gain ground. Meanwhile, among those teams that avoided trouble, several pushed their way up the ladder with solid finishes at the Monster Mile.

Here’s a look at the Winners and Losers for this week:

WINNERS

Bobby Labonte was Dover’s big winner amongst the Top-35 crowd. The No. 43 Petty Enterprises team simply had an outstanding afternoon at Dover. Starting 26th, Labonte moved steadily forward through the field from the drop of the green. He was in the top 20 for good by lap 160 despite losing a lap; then, the team was able to get back on the lead lap and in contention for an even better finish when they stayed out and caught a caution during green-flag pit stops on lap 298. Once Labonte was back on the lead lap, he was able to cruise into the top 10, gaining a couple of extra positions late thanks to Reed Sorenson and Matt Kenseth running out of gas at the end of the race. The seventh-place finish and accompanying 146 points for the No. 43 moved the team up three spots in the standings and out of our Top-35 watch group in 24th place.

Dave Blaney is now not far behind Labonte after running his third outstanding race in a row. The No. 22 Bill Davis Racing team started 38th and quickly moved into the top 25, eventually benefiting from the same caution on lap 298 to keep themselves on the lead lap and in contention. Running as high as eighth place in the final 100 laps, Blaney ultimately came home in 12th spot. The 127 points garnered for that finish moved the No. 22 team up three spots in the standings and also out of our Top-35 watch group to 25th.

Elliott Sadler was the final winner in the Top-35 hunt at Dover, continuing his resurgence at Evernham Motorsports with a 16th-place finish. Sadler used pit strategy to his advantage early in the event, taking two tires to get to the front of the pack on lap 53. While the team eventually slid back through the field, getting trapped a lap down with the lap 298 caution, Sadler still turned in his fourth consecutive top-20 finish with the team. The 120 points awarded for Sadler’s run, including the five points for leading a lap, moved the No. 19 up one spot in the owner standings to 31st, relatively safe from having to qualify on speed in the foreseeable future.

LOSERS

Robby Gordon was the biggest loser this week, suffering a blown right-front tire and smacking the wall on lap 100. There was too much damage to the No. 7 Robby Gordon Motorsports entry to get back on the track, and the result was a 40th-place finish, his second DNF in the last four races. The 43 points awarded for another bad finish in Robby’s up and down season dropped the team three spots in the rankings to a tie for 27th and back into our Top-35 watch group.

JJ Yeley‘s run of good luck came to an end at Dover this weekend. After wrecking his primary car in qualifying, the Monster Mile reached out and grabbed the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team again on lap 324, as Yeley got loose coming out of turn 4 and spun down the frontstretch. While Yeley was able to continue and finish the race, he ended up five laps down in 30th place. The 73 points earned for that finish dropped the No. 18 team three spots in the owner standings to a tie for 27th and back into the watch group. They continue to be in a dead heat with Gordon with 2,563 points.

Finally, Travis Kvapil found himself with a rough day at Dover before five miles were even complete. Spinning hard into the inside wall, the No. 32 car was a ball of wrinkled sheetmetal the remainder of the race, with Kvapil eventually completing just 118 of 400 laps before retiring from the race and finishing 39th. Having slowly gained ground on the Top-35 drivers ahead of them the past month or so, the No. 32 has to start back from the drawing board again: their finish dropped them 146 points back from 35th-place Sterling Marlin with eight races left.

ON THE BUBBLE

Pos Owner Car # Points Points from 36th Points behind next position
26 Robert Yates 38 2566 403 -10
27 Robby Gordon 7 2563 400 -3
28 Joe Gibbs 18 2563 400
29 Glen Wood 21 2459 296 -104
30 Bill Saunders 96 2435 272 -24
31 Ray Evernham 19 2423 260 -12
32 Gene Haas 66 2410 247 -13
33 Robert Ginn 01 2336 173 -74
34 Felix Sabates 40 2322 159 -14
35 Robert Ginn 14 2205 42 -117

ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN

Pos Owner Car # Points Points from 36th Points behind next position
36 Kyle Petty 45 2163 -42 -42
37 Cal Wells 32 2059 -146 -104
38 Doug Bawel 55 1951 -254 -108
39 Larry McClure 4 1858 -347 -93
40 Beth Ann Morgenthau 49 1419 -786 -439
41 Jeff Stec 61 1236 -969 -183
42 Barney Visser 178 1133 -1072 -103
43 Brad Jenkins 34 847 -1358 -286
44 Stanton Barrett 195 514 -1691 -333
45 Teresa Earnhardt 15 509 -1696 -5

After the washing machine spin cycle that is the Monster Mile, the circuit moves to the wide open spaces of Kansas Speedway. The first of six intermediate tracks in the Chase, it will bring out the best in teams that are strong on the aero-sensitive cookie-cutter tracks. With horsepower taking precedence over handling, it’ll be the teams with the most power and precision under the hood who have the best chance of sneaking by the other “underdogs” into the field on Sunday.

One thing is for sure, the teams who figure out the aero balance that is necessary on an intermediate track will move up in the standings, but they’ll do it the old-fashioned way… they’ll earn it.

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