The Chase may have just begun this week in New Hampshire, but the race for the 35th position in owner points has been in full swing all season long… and the gap is getting narrower. The difference between 34th and 36th now stands at just 82 points – and while the Top-35 battle does not garner as much coverage as the top 12, with a potential spot in the 2008 Daytona 500 at stake, it certainly deserves it. Once again, the No. 21 team emerged as the victor again this week, holding onto the final spot with its original driver; but one mistake next week could mean having to qualify for the next race on time, a difficult scenario no one wants to face.
Who are the other teams fighting to stay in contention for the 35th and final spot? Check out this week’s new look edition of the Bubble Breakdown:
Race Down to Three Cars
With Johnny Sauter‘s No. 70 team now 132 points ahead of Kyle Petty‘s No. 45, the race for the final locked-in position is between Petty, Ken Schrader and Dave Blaney in the No. 22 car. Schrader took over the No. 21 seat this week after Bill Elliott successfully put the team inside the Top 35; the Wood Brothers’ main driver to start the season, New Hampshire marked the first time he’d driven the car since May. With the confidence of the race team behind him, he wound up finishing higher than both Blaney and Petty, pulling away from the 36th spot while narrowing the interval between he and Petty ahead of him to just 43 points. Meanwhile, Blaney had an eventful day, getting spun twice – by rookies, no less – and finishing four laps down. Still, he remains within striking distance of making the No. 22 car the lone Toyota in the Top 35.
Where They Finished (Points position/finishing position)
Petty – (34th/37th)
Schrader – (35th/30th)
Blaney – (36th/35th)
Following the Bubble Driver
Schrader struggled from the start of the race to get the No. 21 car to rotate through the center of the corner. After NASCAR threw a mandatory caution on lap 35 as a result of the lack of practice time, Schrader and crew chief Michael McSwain decided to stay out and collect five valuable bonus points. By doing so, Schrader picked up an advantage on both Petty and Blaney… although it meant the team would pit out of sequence, restarting as the last car on the lead lap. From that point on, the No. 21 car struggled to crack the top 30 for much of the race, eventually going a lap down around lap 100.
The day got more eventful for Schrader on lap 168 when Reed Sorenson spun – he had to make an evasive move into the grass to avoid the incident. Luckily for the No. 21 team, there was no damage done to the car, and Schrader was able to continue on for the remainder of the race. The main goal was obviously to keep the No. 22 team behind him, and Schrader was able to do so with help from a spin from Blaney, widening the gap from 35th to 36th from 19 points to 39 in the process:
What He’s Saying
“The car was a handful at the beginning of the race, but we were able to adjust on it and got some things done to help it. It’s always a struggle to turn in the middle of the corner here at Loudon. I’m pretty satisfied that we were able to stay ahead of the No. 22 and the No. 45. That’s our focus for right now. We just have to keep building on it as we go on week to week.” – Ken Schrader
After two consecutive strong runs for the Red Bull Racing team, things didn’t go as well this week, with both Brian Vickers and AJ Allmendinger running into problems and finishing 43rd and 33rd, respectively. With only four Toyotas in the field, it was once again David Reutimann who led the charge, finishing a solid 26th for Michael Waltrip Racing, one lap down.
Blaney rounded out the Toyota gang, finishing 35th but losing ground to the teams ahead of Bill Davis Racing in owner points, as mentioned above. Jeremy Mayfield, Michael Waltrip and Dale Jarrett were among those who failed to qualify this weekend.
Top-Three Finishing Toyotas
Reutimann (No. 00) – Finished 26th
Allmendinger (No. 84) – Finished 33rd
Blaney (No. 22) – Finished 35th
Breaking Down the Bubble
|Pos||Owner||Car #||Driver||Points||Points +/- of 35th Place|
|31||Haas CNC Racing||66||Jeff Green||2,251||+229|
|32||Robert Yates Racing||88||Ricky Rudd/Kenny Wallace||2,157||+135|
|33||Haas CNC Racing||70||Johnny Sauter||2,154||+132|
|34||Petty Enterprises||45||Kyle Petty||2,065||+43|
|35||Wood Brothers||21||Ken Schrader/Bill Elliott||2,022||0|
|36||Bill Davis Racing||22||Dave Blaney||1,983||-39|
|37||Evernham Motorsports||10||Scott Riggs||1,810||-212|
|38||Red Bull Racing||83||Brian Vickers||1,745||-277|
|39||Michael Waltrip Racing||00||David Reutimann||1,649||-373|
|40||Michael Waltrip Racing||44||Dale Jarrett||1,323||-699|
|41||Morgan-McClure Motorsports||4||Ward Burton||1,279||-743|
|42||Bill Davis Racing||36||Jeremy Mayfield||1,169||-853|
|43||Furniture Row Racing||78||Joe Nemechek||1,159||-863|
|44||Red Bull Racing||84||AJ Allmendinger||1,104||-918|
|45||Michael Waltrip Racing||55||Michael Waltrip||1,097||-925|
|46||BAM Racing||49||John Andretti||1,064||-958|