The Haas CNC Racing entries of Johnny Sauter and Jeff Green have flirted with dropping out of the Top 35 in car owner points for much of the first half of the season. But after a strong run this week in New Hampshire, both teams finally have some breathing room heading to Daytona. Inconsistency has plagued the two Chevrolets, but one week after they finished outside the top 30 at Sonoma, both cars came out of the hauler up to speed this weekend, with both teams qualifying and finishing the race in the top 15. A poor performance by polesitter Dave Blaney, 37th in car owner points with the No. 22 team, as well as another DNS by the No. 10 car and Scott Riggs, 36th in points, were also major factors in what turned out to be a great week for the entire Haas CNC team… for now.
See where the Haas CNC cars rank after one of their strongest collective races this season, and learn why their excitement may soon be short-lived in this week’s edition of the Bubble Breakdown:
Green was strong from flag to flag, sneaking his way through the field and nearly squeaking into the top five. Green’s sixth-place run matched his best finish of the year; more importantly, it was his first top 10 in eight races, stopping a slide that had left the team perilously close to the bubble. It was the type of run Green and the No. 66 team needed after after a flat tire turned fire left them 42nd at Sonoma last week. At this point, Green sat 34th in the standings just 74 points ahead of the bubble but now sits comfortably in 30th, 103 points ahead of his teammate.
Green (No. 66) – Moved from 34th to 30th in car owner points.
Sauter (No. 70) – Finished a more than respectable 14th after starting a season-high fourth, but failing post-race inspection may prove costly for this organization. Claiming the car was too low, NASCAR’s confiscated a shock after the race from the car to inspect; if something illegal crops up, the No. 70’s near-200 point cushion on everyone behind them could quickly evaporate into thin air.
Shortly after green flag pit stops around lap 200, Joe Nemechek returned to the track only to lose his right-rear tire and crash into the wall. With the tire bouncing off the catchfence and nearly into the grandstands, Nemechek’s car came to rest on three wheels, tearing up the inside of his vehicle with just 97 laps left in the race. The unfortunate – and scary – incident marked the end of the day for Nemechek and caused a major drop in the standings. The No. 13 car finished 41st, falling three spots in owner points despite below-average days by the two Robert Yates Racing entries behind them. With three straight finishes of 30th or worse, this team is clearly struggling to find their groove, although hope lies ahead this Saturday night; Daytona is the only race track where Nemechek’s snagged a top-10 finish this season.
Nemechek (No. 13) – Fell from 30th to 33rd in car owner points.
Dave Blaney (No. 22) – Struggled despite winning Toyota’s first Cup pole this weekend. Finished 29th; remains 37th in points, but loses significant ground to Sauter.
Petty Enterprises (No. 45) – Finished 42nd after engine failure; fell from 32nd to 34th in car owner points.
Brian Vickers (No. 83) – Failed post-qualifying inspection; DNS.
It was a landmark week for Toyota with Blaney giving the manufacturer its first pole in NASCAR’s elite series. Despite high expectations on race day, however, Blaney’s car got extremely tight throughout the race and he finished a disappointing 29th, one lap behind. Even so, it remained the top finish for Toyota in a week when only three cars made the starting field.
The biggest blow to Toyota’s weekend came on Friday, when Vickers and Red Bull Racing failed post-qualifying inspection despite making the race on time; as a result, the team was forced to head home. While penalties will certainly be handed out later this week, Vickers and teammate AJ Allmendinger both missed the main event for the second consecutive race.
Top-Three Finishing Toyotas
Breaking Down the Bubble
We are entering an anti-climatic stretch of the season as far as the Top 35 is concerned, with no teams outside of the bubble making any progress on those on the inside. That could change if NASCAR imposes penalties on the No. 70 this week, but for now, Sauter has a healthy 182-point lead over Riggs, who has failed to make a race for two consecutive weeks now. Looking ahead to next week, there are many variables at superspeedways that drivers cannot control, but even if any of the drivers inside the Top 35 find trouble with the Big One, no drivers on the outside can currently jump in. As always, it will be critical for the teams 36th through 38th in the standings to make these next few races ahead before they lose any more ground, and just as critical for the teams on the inside of the bubble to not let the gap narrow – or they’ll be the ones on the outside looking in.