One week ago, Johnny Sauter was headed straight towards the edge of a cliff. After withstanding the pressure of being on the “bubble” with Haas CNC’s No. 70 for most of this season, Sauter set the pressure cooker on high by struggling to 30th in Fontana. That disappointing finish dropped the No. 70 into a tie for 34th in car owner points, just 52 ahead of the 35th and final locked in spot and in serious danger of falling out altogether. It was the closest Sauter had been in quite sometime to losing the team’s automatic exemption, and with seven consecutive runs outside the top 20, it was clear that both he and his crew needed a spark.
Saturday night, the match was lit.
In the 26th and final “regular season” race at Richmond, it was Sauter, not the Chasers, who flew under the radar en route to a career-best run. Finishing in the top five for the first time ever, his team now has some much needed breathing room over the final bubble position… and more importantly, Sauter has his confidence back after struggling for the better part of two months with his Chevrolet.
To see where the No. 70 now sits in the owner standings, as well as who currently remains in danger behind them, check out this week’s edition of the Bubble Breakdown to find out everything you need to know about what happened at Richmond:
Forget being the biggest mover; the fact that Bill Elliott was simply able to hang onto 35th after several weeks of flip-flopping between he and Dave Blaney‘s No. 22 Toyota was enormous for his whole team. Elliott rolled the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford off the grid 42nd after a poor qualifying run, and fell two laps down before the halfway mark. But just when things looked bleak, Lady Luck intervened; Elliott avoided a lap 293 crash that claimed his only competition for the final bubble position… Blaney himself, who was actually running on the lead lap at the time. While the No. 22 headed to the garage for repairs, Elliott stayed out of trouble, finishing 29th to open the gap from just four to 19 points in the battle for the final Top 35 slot.
What Elliott’s Saying:
“This was a tough night for us. It just seemed like the car didn’t want to cooperate with us at all until we got to the halfway point. All we can do is our best effort every week, and I know these guys are trying as hard as they can… and I am, too. We had a better second half of that event than the first.”
Elliott (No. 21) – Widens gap to 19 points from 35th to 36th.
Sauter (No. 70) – First top five of season; moves from 34th to 33rd in owner points, now 150 ahead of the No. 22 team in 36th.
No team really lost enough ground to be considered the “Biggest Loser” this weekend, but for the sake of giving the award, we’ll give Blaney that honor, simply because he lost some more ground to Elliott than he should have. Statistically, the only driver to lose significant ground remotely close to the 35th position is Robby Gordon, who slammed the wall after cutting a tire. His 36th-place finish dropped him an amazing five spots from 23rd to 28th in owner points.
One week ago, David Reutimann was on pace for the best run of his young career, creeping inside the top 10 before an accident put an end to his day. This week, Reutimann built on that momentum to lead the Toyota brigade with a career-best 13th-place finish. Reutimann was the lone Camry who to crack the top 20 Saturday night, although both Red Bull Racing entries were able to finish in the top 25 for the second consecutive race. Behind them, both Dale Jarrett and Blaney ran into trouble and finished outside the top 30; even worse, Michael Waltrip didn’t make the race, ending a streak of seven straight events where the No. 55 had qualified.
Top Three Finishing Toyotas
Breaking Down the Bubble
|Pos||Owner||Car #||Driver||Points||Points +/- of 35th Place (No. 13 is ineligible)|
|31||Haas CNC Racing||66||Jeff Green||2,169||+225|
|32||Robert Yates Racing||88||Kenny Wallace/Ricky Rudd||2,096||+152|
|33||Haas CNC Racing||70||Johnny Sauter||2,075||+131|
|34||Petty Enterprises||45||Kyle Petty||2,013||+69|
|35||Wood Brothers||21||Bill Elliott||1,944||0|
|36||Bill Davis Racing||22||Dave Blaney||1,925||-19|
|37||Gillett Evernham Motorsports||10||Scott Riggs||1,743||-201|
|38||Red Bull Racing||83||Brian Vickers||1,711||-233|
|39||Michael Waltrip Racing||00||David Reutimann||1,564||-380|
|40||Michael Waltrip Racing||44||Dale Jarrett||1,292||-652|
|41||Morgan McClure Motorsports||4||Ward Burton||1,239||-705|
|42||Bill Davis Racing||36||Jeremy Mayfield||1,169||-775|
|43||Furniture Row Racing||78||Joe Nemechek||1,083||-861|
|44||Michael Waltrip Racing||55||Michael Waltrip||1,075||-869|
|45||BAM Racing||49||John Andretti||1,048||-896|
|46||Team Red Bull||84||AJ Allmendinger||1,040||-904|