We all but knew it coming into Miami. The Nextel Cup championship may have been up for grabs at the season’s final stop, but the top 35 teams in car owner points were all but locked in, with Dave Blaney and the No. 22 team holding a 136-point lead over the No. 21 Wood Brothers entry heading into the finale.
Blaney not only held onto the final bubble position, he made a statement, carrying the Toyota banner once again with a solid 13th-place finish. It was the team’s best run in over a month and moved them above the No. 45 – who clinched a spot in the Top 35 last week at Phoenix – into 34th in car owner points.
To see who locked up a spot for the first five races of 2008 – as well as a recap of what happened around the Top 35 in 2007 – check out this week’s edition of the Bubble Breakdown.
The field is set
With the conclusion of the Ford 400, those teams on the outside of the Top 35 must now nervously work through the first five races of next season. As we saw earlier this year with the debut of Toyota, missing one of those five races puts a team in a tremendous hole. Because they were in their inaugural campaign, just two Toyotas were locked in for the first five races this season, and the result was just one Toyota locking up a spot for 2008 – Blaney, driving a car who had the exemption in the first place. Sure, Toyota had its share of struggles, but it still goes to show you that with the competitiveness of the sport, no team can afford to give the competition a head start.
It was a strange year for those following the Top 35. The emergence of Toyota brought a new element to the battle for the first five races, with a higher number of competitive cars battling for the same amount of spots. On July 15, the gap between 35th and 36th grew to an insurmountable 225 points, with Johnny Sauter and the No. 70 team putting distance on the No. 21 and No. 22 cars. Two weeks later, however, the DEI/Ginn merger brought the pack back together when the No. 13 car, formerly owned by Ginn, suspended operations, moving Blaney and the No. 22 into the final bubble spot.
For the next three and a half months, it was a two-team battle between Blaney and the No. 21, which was split between Bill Elliott and Ken Schrader. Both teams fell out and fought their way back into the Top 35 at different points, with Blaney eventually winning the battle.
Thoughts from the No. 21
“I thanked the guys this afternoon before the race and explained that as soon as we get done with the race, the 2008 season is here. We intend to be a much better team. This offseason is only 91 days until Daytona. That seems like a lot now, but I’d rather have more. We’re going to work as hard as we can and reach the goals we’ve set for ourselves.”
– Gene Nead, crew chief
Breaking Down the Bubble (for the final time)
|Pos||Owner||Car #||Driver||Points||Points +/- of 35th Place|
|31||Haas CNC Racing||66||Jeremy Mayfield||2,975||+161|
|32||Robert Yates Racing||38||David Gilliland||2,924||+110|
|33||Haas CNC Racing||70||Johnny Sauter||2,894||+80|
|34||Bill Davis Racing||22||Dave Blaney||2,856||+42|
|35||Petty Enterprises||45||Kyle Petty||2,814||0|
|36||Wood Brothers||21||Ken Schrader/Bill Elliott||2,667||-147|
|37||Evernham Motorsports||10||Scott Riggs||2,497||-317|
|38||Team Red Bull||83||Brian Vickers||2,351||-463|
|39||Michael Waltrip Racing||00||David Reutimann||2,287||-527|
|40||Michael Waltrip Racing||44||Dale Jarrett||1,878||-936|
|41||Michael Waltrip Racing||44||Michael Waltrip||1,837||-977|
|42||Furniture Row Motorsports||78||Joe Nemechek||1,654||-1,160|
|43||Team Red Bull||84||AJ Allmendinger||1,601||-1,213|
|44||Bill Davis Racing||36||Johnny Benson||1,568||-1,246|
|45||Morgan-McClure Motorsports||4||Todd Bodine||1,531||-1,283|
|46||BAM Racing||49||John Andretti||1,502||-1,312|