This was supposed to be the time of year the battle for a “locked-in” spot for the first five races of 2008 heated up in Nextel Cup. In fact, this was supposed to be the time that the Top-35 battle was just as intense as the Chase. But with just two races now remaining, it appears that the 35th and final spot will be all but secured heading into Homestead, after a lap 129 accident ended any hope of a good run for the team currently 36th in owner points, the No. 21 of Bill Elliott.
With the gap widened considerably – up to 127 points – it seems like the Wood Brothers may have a difficult time recovering from Sunday’s misfortune. To see where their main competition stacks up now in the Top-35 picture, check out this week’s edition of the Bubble Breakdown:
Accident hurts Elliott, Petty
When David Stremme blew a left-rear tire on lap 129, the Top-35 picture changed dramatically. Attempting to keep his car on the inside of the track, the driver of the No. 40 quickly lost control, sliding into both the 34th and 36th-place teams in owner points while slamming hard into the outside wall. All three cars wound up totaling their vehicles in an ugly-looking wreck; when all was said and done, Elliott finished 36th, many laps down, while Kyle Petty never returned, winding up 42nd after his vehicle briefly caught on fire.
That left a clear path for the No. 22 Toyota driven by Dave Blaney. 35th in owner points coming in, Blaney did just what he had to do for the team, staying out of trouble and cruising to a solid 21st-place finish. Now, he sits in good position with just two races remaining on the season.
Despite the bad luck, Elliott was pleased with his team’s effort over at the No. 21:
“Well, it sure felt like we were a little star-crossed out there today. We had to endure a couple of penalties, but that’s part of it. Then we got collected in that deal and tore the car up pretty good,” he said. “I will say, however, that these guys did a great job getting the car fixed right the first time and getting me back out there. The guys on this crew showed a lot of heart today.”
Scott Riggs had a great run. He finished 13th and made up 24 points on Blaney; however, the No. 10 team stands 264 points behind 35th with two races remaining, and would need nothing short of a miracle with new driver Patrick Carpentier to be “locked-in” for 2008.
Despite a strong performance in qualifying, the Red Bull entry of AJ Allmendinger ran into problems from the start and finished 39th. The team now stands 44th in owner points, over 1,000 behind the bubble spot in what’s been a difficult year for the rookie.
Michael Waltrip snapped his streak of six consecutive races made when he failed to make the field.
Jeremy Mayfield‘s drive in the No. 66 was a decent one, finishing 22nd, but by virtue of Ricky Rudd finishing 15th, Rudd jumped the No. 66 and moved Mayfield into the bubble picture. With just two races left, however, the No. 66 is a lock to finish in the Top 35.
I honestly thought this would be the week Toyota would have a strong, all-around great showing, with the Red Bull entries leading the charge. That ended early, however, when Allmendinger ran into problems not long after the start. Instead, the highest running Toyota was two laps down. Not impressive, to say the least; but it was Blaney who led the charge, and it will likely be Blaney who is the lone Camry to finish the year in the Top 35 as a result.
Top-Three Finishing Toyotas
Breaking Down the Bubble
|Pos||Owner||Car #||Driver||Points||Points +/- of 35th Place|
|31||Haas CNC Racing||66||Jeremy Mayfield||2,844||+190|
|32||Robert Yates Racing||38||David Gilliland||2,778||+124|
|33||Haas CNC Racing||70||Johnny Sauter||2,736||+82|
|34||Petty Enterprises||45||Kyle Petty||2,677||+23|
|35||Bill Davis Racing||22||Dave Blaney||2,654||0|
|36||Wood Brothers||21||Ken Schrader/Bill Elliott||2,527||-127|
|37||Evernham Motorsports||10||Scott Riggs||2,390||-264|
|38||Team Red Bull||83||Brian Vickers||2,214||-440|
|39||Michael Waltrip Racing||00||David Reutimann||2,183||-471|
|40||Michael Waltrip Racing||55||Michael Waltrip||1,784||-870|
|41||Michael Waltrip Racing||44||Dale Jarrett||1,747||-907|
|42||Furniture Row Motorsports||78||Joe Nemechek||1,580||-1,074|
|43||Team Red Bull||84||AJ Allmendinger||1,542||-1,112|
|44||Morgan McClure Motorsports||4||Ward Burton||1,487||-1,167|
|45||Bill Davis Racing||36||Mike Skinner||1,479||-1,175|
|46||BAM Racing||49||John Andretti||1,452||-1,202|