Editor’s Note: Frontstretch isn’t just tracking the Top 35 – we’re keeping tabs on the Chasers, too, whether they’re still in contention for the title or not. To see which Chasers have been most deserving to be in the playoff hunt, check out Cami Starr’s Who’s Hot/Who’s Not In the Chase column by clicking here.
There may have been little change in the Top-35 picture this week as far as positions go – but just 40 laps into the race at Atlanta, the gap between 35th and 36th narrowed substantially. With an eventual “locked-in” spot for the first five races of 2008 on the line, engine problems struck Dave Blaney‘s No. 22 on lap 39, bringing out the race’s second caution and moving Bill Elliott and the No. 21 team 56 points closer to the coveted bubble position.
To see how close the No. 21 team is to Blaney, check out this week’s edition of the Bubble Breakdown:
Engine woes narrow gap
What was once a single-digit margin week-in and week-out between the No. 21 and No. 22 teams a little over one month ago widened to 142 points last week when Elliott crashed at Martinsville. But the 1988 Cup Series champ cut back into that margin this week when Blaney lost power on a lap 39 restart and had to go to the garage. The No. 22 car did return to the race but finished 38th, 66 laps down, making them vulnerable to losing their locked-in spot.
Last week’s deficit between 35th and 36th – 142 points
This week’s deficit – 82 points
Elliott returns home
The Dawsonville, Ga. native returned to his home track where he has enjoyed much success throughout his career, but was forced to start last in the Atlanta field after qualifying. Starting shotgun on the field, Elliott improved 25 positions throughout the race, fighting numerous times to get back on the lead lap through the “Lucky Dog” pass after going a lap down early. Finally getting the break he needed with 90 laps remaining, Elliott’s lead lap machine moved up from 27th to 18th by the time the checkered flag flew. Afterwards, he was impressed with the team’s performance:
“It felt pretty good to get back on the lead lap there towards the end and I’m pleased with everybody’s effort today,” beamed Elliott. “I think that the communication was great all day, and that’s what you need if you’re going to improve your track position.”
Kyle Petty finished 13th, his best finish since Lowe’s in May, and gave his No. 45 car a 168-point cushion on Elliott in 36th – all but assuring himself of a Top-35 spot for ’08.
Far back of those on the bubble, Michael Waltrip continues to run strong. Finishing 11th, Waltrip has made six consecutive races now and recorded four consecutive top 25s – too bad he’s still nearly 900 points behind 35th with his No. 55 NAPA-sponsored car.
An impressive four Toyotas finished in the top 20 this weekend, with Brian Vickers leading the way by collecting his fifth top 10 of the season. Out of five cars to make the race, the lone Toyota to not crack the top 20 was Blaney, who ran into the mechanical gremlins described above.
A few season milestones were reached, as well; besides Waltrip, teammate Dale Jarrett‘s 19th-place finish was his first top 20 of the season, while AJ Allmendinger‘s 16th-place run was his third, earning him the Rookie of the Race award for the second time.
Top-Three Finishing Toyotas
Vickers (No. 83) – Finished 10th
Waltrip (No. 55) – Finished 11th
Allmendinger (No. 84) – Finished 16th
Breaking Down the Bubble
|Pos||Owner||Car #||Driver||Points||Points +/- of 35th Place|
|31||Robert Yates Racing||88||Ricky Rudd||2,724||+170|
|32||Robert Yates Racing||38||David Gilliland||2,699||+145|
|33||Haas CNC Racing||70||Johnny Sauter||2,654||+100|
|34||Petty Enterprises||45||Kyle Petty||2,640||+86|
|35||Bill Davis Racing||22||Dave Blaney||2,554||0|
|36||Wood Brothers||21||Ken Schrader/Bill Elliott||2,472||-82|
|37||Evernham Motorsports||10||Scott Riggs||2,266||-288|
|38||Michael Waltrip Racing||00||David Reutimann||2,149||-405|
|39||Team Red Bull||83||Brian Vickers||2,120||-434|
|40||Michael Waltrip Racing||55||Michael Waltrip||1,759||-795|
|41||Michael Waltrip Racing||44||Dale Jarrett||1,698||-856|
|42||Furniture Row Motorsports||78||Joe Nemechek||1,522||-1,032|
|43||Team Red Bull||84||AJ Allmendinger||1,496||-1,058|
|44||Morgan McClure Motorsports||4||Ward Burton||1,456||-1,098|
|45||BAM Racing||49||John Andretti||1,424||-1,130|
|46||Bill Davis Racing||36||Mike Skinner||1,388||-1,166|