The big news for the week from bubble land involved the No. 70 Haas Automation Chevrolet previously driven by Jeremy Mayfield. On Monday, Haas CNC Racing announced that the team and Mayfield agreed to part ways after the No. 70 car fell out of the Top 35 in owner points. According to team General Manager Joe Custer, “Jeremy stepped into the seat and did everything we asked him to… and more. Ultimately, we were unable to provide him with the right balance, handling, and speed he needed to be successful.”
With that, the team was off to roll the dice at Phoenix, bringing back 2007 driver Johnny Sauter in an attempt to revitalize the program. But apparently they couldn’t provide those things for Sauter either, as he was only able to qualify the car in 42nd position and finish a disappointing 37th. The deal was for Sauter to drive at Phoenix only, meaning the team now has two weeks to decide on a driver before the next race at Talladega; but with speed, not skill, the deciding factor in that qualifying session, who the organization will pick is anyone’s guess.
But one thing we don’t have to guess about these days is who will need to qualify on speed for that race, as the Top 35 drivers are all locked in for ‘Dega. Here’s a look at this week’s biggest winners and losers from the bubble, as well as the part of the field who’ll be fighting a larger-than-expected entry list at stock car racing’s fastest track.
This week’s biggest winner is David Reutimann. Reut posted an 18th-place finish at Phoenix to move up four spots in the owner standings with his No. 44 Toyota; as a result, he’s locking himself into the field at Talladega. This is the second time this year David has raced his way into the Top 35; he’d previously raced the No. 00 Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing into that position over the year’s first five races. He then moved over to the No. 44 UPS Toyota, also for MWR, once Dale Jarrett retired; Reutimann now sits 34th in owner points as his permanent replacement.
One spot ahead of the No. 44, Sam Hornish Jr. moved up to 33rd in points after posting a 20th-place finish this past week. With his solid performance at Phoenix (in part due to a fuel-mileage gamble), Hornish increased his lead over the 35th position from six points after Texas to 51 heading to Talladega.
Michael Waltrip rounds out this week’s winners. While Mikey’s 24th-place finish didn’t move him up at all in the standings, it was good enough to almost double the point cushion over Regan Smith‘s No. 01 team, who sits in 35th in owner points, from 34 to 67.
This week’s list of losers is headed by JJ Yeley. Last year at this time, the No. 96 DLP Chevrolet sat comfortably in 21st in points with Tony Raines at the helm. Boy, what a difference a year makes! Yeley has taken the No. 96 DLP Toyota and dropped all the way to 36th in owner points following a disappointing 39th-place finish at his hometown track; now, he’s put in the unfamiliar position of having to qualify on time in two weeks at Talladega. How close was it for Yeley’s team? Just one more position would have made the difference; after a wreck caused by Ryan Newman‘s blown engine sent them behind the wall for repairs, the team dropped just three points behind the No. 01 driven by Smith.
The driver change at Haas CNC Racing did little to help the organization the first week afterwards, as Sauter could only come home to being in the wrong place in the wrong time; wrecking due to Newman’s spin on the backstretch, the car was damaged to the point it needed repairs. The poor outing for the No. 70 team drops them two spots in the owner standings to 38th, 12 points behind the No. 01. That means they, too, will need to find speed on qualifying day in Alabama… or the No. 70 Chevrolet be heading home early.
Finally, I’d like to formally welcome Reed Sorenson to the bubble. After another dismal performance due to an accident not of his making (42nd at Phoenix), Sorenson fell two spots to 31st in owner points with the No. 41. And with Talladega, home of the “Big One” looming next on the schedule, the 90-point cushion Sorenson has over the 35th position doesn’t seem so big. Team owner Chip Ganassi has hinted at changes coming to the No. 41 Target Dodge team, but hasn’t said yet who would get the axe. Perhaps they would go with a young driver such as Brad Keselowski or Kelly Bires to replace Sorenson, both in the top 10 in the Nationwide Series. If not, there are several veteran options such as Mayfield, Ward Burton, Sterling Marlin or maybe even a second tour of duty at Ganassi Racing for David Stremme.
A Look Ahead
The Sprint Cup Series takes a week off, but returns in two weeks at Talladega Superspeedway. Last year, Reutimann in particular looked strong until suffering an engine failure 184 laps into the event. I like him to once again run well, this time without the blown motor, and post a top-15 finish. Bill Davis Racing also seems to have a good restrictor-plate program, and if he can avoid the Big One, Dave Blaney also seems poised to have a good run.
On the other end of the spectrum, based on his finishes, Dario Franchitti seems to spend a lot of time running in the back of the field; at ‘Dega, that’ll get you caught up the the wreck everyone knows is coming. So, the crystal ball says Dario, Hornish and Kyle Petty all make the race… only to wind up wadded up on the Talladega backstretch.
Until next week, so long from the bubble.
Breaking Down the Bubble
|Pos||Owner||Car #||Driver||Points||Points +/- of 35th Place|
|31||Chip Ganassi Racing||41||Reed Sorenson||644||+90|
|32||Michael Waltrip Racing||55||Michael Waltrip||621||+67|
|33||Penske Racing||77||Sam Hornish Jr.||605||+51|
|34||Michael Waltrip Racing||44||David Reutimann||567||+13|
|35||Dale Earnhardt Inc.||01||Regan Smith||554||0|
|36||Hall of Fame Racing||96||JJ Yeley||551||-3|
|37||Bill Davis Racing||22||Dave Blaney||546||-8|
|38||Haas CNC Racing||70||Johnny Sauter||542||-12|
|39||Chip Ganassi Racing||40||Dario Franchitti||514||-40|
|40||Team Red Bull||84||Mike Skinner||443||-111|
|41||Gillett Evernham Motorsports||10||Patrick Carpentier||389||-165|
|42||Wood Brothers Racing||21||Bill Elliott||386||-168|
|43||Petty Enterprises||45||Kyle Petty||386||-168|
|44||Furniture Row Racing||78||Joe Nemechek||359||-195|
|45||Front Row Motorsports||34||John Andretti||277||-277|