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Bubble Breakdown: Brian Vickers Shines While Digging Out of Top-35 Hole… Wood Brothers Dig Themselves in Deeper

All week, it looked like a battle between Joe Gibbs’s Toyotas and Rick Hendrick’s Chevrolets at this year’s Daytona 500; but with a last-lap surprise, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch and Roger Penske came out of nowhere to score a major 1-2 upset in the Great American Race for Dodge.

There were a lot of surprises when it came to the Top 35, too.

Early results are in, and there are some “locked-in” teams that will find themselves digging out of a hole in the next four races to work on keeping their status. Not only that, but teams outside the Top 35 started working hard to change that disadvantage for race six of this season – when the current owner points for 2008 will be used and allow them to sneak back into the race lineup.

So, without further ado let’s check out our Top-35 results for this week – we’ll start with some of those cars “locked-in” but a little nervous about how it’s going to go this next month or two.

Ganassi Racing’s No. 40 car with Dario Franchitti came in 33rd, a devastating finish for them on a track where Franchitti should particularly be successful. With Franchitti’s rookie status intact for the year, this program needs to improve their equipment to keep the team inside the bubble – plain and simple.

On the other hand, Elliott Sadler – despite a hard wall slap early on in the race – found himself finishing sixth in his No. 19 Best Buy Dodge. A 2007 driver team that lived closer to the edge than the top of the standings, if Sadler keeps up that kind of performance I don’t see them having any problem seeing this Gillett Evernham car sneak inside the bubble.

Sadler’s new “teammate,” Robby Gordon, surprised everyone by quietly slipping into the eighth finishing spot today. I’ve always said the CoT is going to bring the real wheelmen to the front, and I may not be his greatest fan… but I do see Gordon’s potential talent. Mark him down for being in the top 20 by season’s end.

Despite being caught up in an incident, sophomore Paul Menard still mustered a 22nd-place finish for the No. 15 car of DEI; that keeps them away from the looming shadow cast by the bubble for the time being.

On the other hand, the Yates No. 28 car with Travis Kvapil at the helm could only muster a 30th-place finish. The Yates cars were once one of the most feared teams to enter the hallowed grounds of Daytona, but neither Kvapil nor teammate David Gilliland could utter much more than a whimper over the course of Speedweeks. The finish does keep them safe – for the moment – but with limited sponsorship in tow, I’m not holding my breath with their team. Not yet…

In the meantime, Scott Riggs managed to squeak the No. 66 car of Haas CNC Racing up into the 21st spot. I’m going to go out on a limb with this team and say that Riggs is an unrecognized talent that, if given the right opportunity with the right luck, can be a top-10 contender every week. Whether it’ll happen with Haas CNC, though, is anyone’s guess.

So, now that Jeremy Mayfield is in the No. 70 car, what did he do with this shot at the checkered flag? 23rd. For now, this means that the Haas CNC Racing stable is quietly solidifying their spot inside the Top 35.

Dave Blaney was a contender throughout the last half of the 500, but he got caught up in a late-race incident which dropped him to 38th place. However, this is a great team with great potential, and with no more bad luck, they should be able to keep the team up in the Top 35; for now, though, this a probably a nervous program following today’s finish, as momentum was stripped from Blaney by a Daytona wreck for the second straight year.

Kyle Petty. Oh, where did thee end up today, Kyle? As always, he flirts with the 35th spot – even in a restrictor-plate race – by finishing… 34th, three laps off the pace. Come on, Kyle; let’s get the historic Petty name up there in the standings this year.

Now, let’s take a look at those teams shut out through Bristol in March – no matter what they do:

David Reutimann finished 18th, making a strong argument for his Michael Waltrip Racing team that they’ve done their homework in the offseason. Michael Waltrip himself got caught up in a late-race altercation, but still managed a 29th-place finish with the No. 55 NAPA Toyota, one that gave MWR three finishes in the top 30 – Dale Jarrett came home 16th in his final 500 to round out the trio. What a way to start turning things around… now, the big question is whether all three can qualify this coming weekend at California.

Even though Busch‘s team swapped points with Sam Hornish Jr.‘s team, if today is any indicator, I don’t think the third Penske team is going to have any problems not only being in the Top 35, but being a Chase contender before year’s end. All Busch has to do is contend with the lousy pit selections and garage spots they’re not accustomed to while they struggle back up into the owner points standings; and after finishing second in the 500, it’s clear those issues didn’t slow them down one bit.

Another strong run was turned in by Brian Vickers; the No. 83 Red Bull Toyota came in 12th today, putting them on the fast track to get inside the Top 35. Heading to a speedway where they scored the first top 10 for Toyota in Cup competition (California), look for this program to keep chugging along in their march back to respectability.

Finally, though the Furniture Row Racing car with Joe Nemechek was the first car to pull off the track with problems, they got the No. 78 back out there to capture a few precious points, bringing the car in 41st. Every point counts, folks; and with two cars making the 500 from that team (Kenny Wallace‘s No. 87), this was nothing less than a successful weekend for Furniture Row.

For those that did not qualify at Daytona, it’s going to be nothing but a struggle these next few races to try and redeem themselves with solid race finishes to try and claw their way back towards the light of the Top 35. Unfortunately for them, they have some serious competition they have to face; and now, they have their work cut out for them.

Those full-time teams that missed Sunday’s race at Daytona included:

  • The No. 10 car from Gillett Evernham Motorsports (driven by Patrick Carpentier)
  • The No. 21 car from the Wood Brothers shop that will be driven by multiple drivers (Bill Elliott/Jon Wood/Marcos Ambrose)
  • The No. 27 car from Bill Davis Racing (Jacques Villeneuve – he’ll be replaced at California by Mike Skinner)
  • The No. 49 car from BAM Racing, with whomever at the wheel. Ken Schrader drove the car for his 500 qualifying attempt, but there’s no word on who may drive the car beyond that.
  • The No. 84 car from Red Bull Racing (driven by AJ Allmendinger)

This whole group of Bubble Chasers is going to get mixed up for better or worse in the coming weeks; and as they count down to the sixth race at Martinsville, the picture will clear up as to who is going to be fighting this battle each week in 2008 – and who will rise above the fray.

For now, here’s a chart to keep track of where we’re at. Note that red teams have to qualify on time for four more races, while green teams are locked in from 2007 owner points.

2008 Pos Owner Driver Car No. Points Ldr Locked in Position
13 Dietrich Mateschitz Brian Vickers 83 127 67 38
17 Michael Waltrip Dale Jarrett 44 115 55 40
18 Rob Kauffman David Reutiman 00 109 49 39
25 Jeffrey Moorad JJ Yeley 96 88 28 25
26 Jeff Gordon Jimmie Johnson 48 87 27 1
27 Geoff Smith Jamie McMurray 26 85 25 18
282 Michael Waltrip Michael Waltrip 55 81 21 41
29 Max Jones David Gilliland 38 79 19 32
30 Doug Yates Travis Kvapil 28 73 13 30
31 Teresa Earnhardt Mark Martin 8 70 10 16
32 Floyd Ganassi Juan Pablo Montoya 42 67 7 21
33 Felix Sabates Dario Franchitti 40 64 4 26
34 Kyle Petty Kyle Petty 45 61 1 35
35 John Henry Matt Kenseth 17 60 0 4
36 Mary Hendrick Casey Mears 5 58 -2 5
37 Bill Davis Dave Blaney 22 54 -6 34
38 Teresa Earnhardt Regan Smith 01 52 -8 19
39 Rick Hendrick Jeff Gordon 24 51 -9 2
40 Bob Jenkins John Andretti 34 43 -17 56
41 Barney Visser Joe Nemechek 78 40 -20 42
42 Mike Dee David Ragan 6 37 -23 24
43 Barney Visser Kenny Wallace 87 34 -26

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