The big story from the bubble this week has been the heavy penalties handed down by NASCAR to the Haas CNC Racing teams. Both cars were hit with 150-point owner and driver standings deductions, as well as various team fines and six-week suspensions of the car chief and crew chief for each vehicle. As a result, the No. 66 car went from solidly in the field to right on the bubble, while the No. 70 has been put in a hole from which it may never recover.
The consequences seemed especially excessive for this incident, especially since last year Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s team was cited on the exact same violations: NASCAR Rules 12-4-a and 20-3.1.3. But the No. 8 team only received a 100-point deduction, and not only was the Budweiser Chevy not confiscated – it didn’t even lose its starting spot for the race it entered. But in the end, this discrepancy doesn’t change the fact both Haas teams are now in a tough spot – for with these penalties, the No. 70 is all but out of the Top 35 for the year. Now an almost insurmountable 394 points out of 35th with no permanent driver, it’ll take a small miracle for them to have any chance to secure a locked in spot for this year. The No. 66 team is in a little better shape … but not by much. The penalty dropped them to 34th in owner points, just five markers ahead of 36th-place Penske Racing’s No. 77 Dodge heading into Dover. This means that Scott Riggs‘s margin of error was zero – a far cry from the comfort level he had as little as one week ago.
Who else is feeling a little uncomfortable after their trip to the Monster Mile? Read the rest of the Bubble Breakdown below to find out:
While not the highest finisher of the bubble teams this week, Roger Penske’s No. 77 Mobil 1 Dodge is the biggest winner of the group. Driver Sam Hornish Jr. brought his car home in 18th place and has raced his team into the Top 35 in owner points heading to Pocono, giving the team one of those coveted 35 guaranteed starting spots. In fact, they’ve now moved up three spots to 33rd position, and seem to have turned things around following a second-place run in the Sprint Showdown. The team will look to continue their impressive run next week in Long Pond, Pa., at a track most consider a road course – a perfect fit for Hornish’s open-wheel background.
Bill Davis Racing had another strong showing this weekend at Dover. BDR’s No. 22 Caterpillar team logged its second top-10 finish of the season, finishing ninth to continue to dig out from their early season hole. With this run, the team, led by driver Dave Blaney, moved up two spots into 30th in owner points. But despite being five spots ahead the bubble, there really isn’t a big cushion, as they are only 67 points away from having to qualify on time. Based on recent performances, however, one would have to believe that cushion will grow as the season rolls on.
Usually, finishing 21st, four laps down to the leader isn’t anything to get too excited about. But Regan Smith is doing what he has to do to keep his No. 01 team in the Top 35; finishing races in the top 25-30 on a consistent basis as a rookie. At Dover, the No. 01 DEI Chevrolet finished third amongst the bubble teams, and while not overly thrilling, it does move them up one spot in the owner standings to 32nd.
So far this season we’ve waved goodbye to Jamie McMurray and David Reutimann, who’ve raced their way away from the bubble. Now, we can now also wave goodbye to the No. 70 Haas Automation Chevrolet, which has also driven away from the cutline – albeit in the opposite direction. After NASCAR’s penalties were handed down this week – combined with Jason Leffler failing to qualify the car for Sunday’s race – it’s safe to say this team won’t race its way back into the Top 35 in owner points this season. That also means no guaranteed spot in next year’s Daytona 500, which may lead to continued sponsorship woes for this program; just ask the boys over at Morgan-McClure Motorsports what no guarantees can do for you.
So much for that margin of error I referred to earlier. If the bubble teams are wondering who that was that just went screaming by them to the back of the point standings, it’s Riggs and the No. 66 State Water Heaters team. When that car left Charlotte, it sat in 26th in the owner standings; when they left Dover – after finishing 39th – the car had dropped an astounding ten spots, thanks mainly to the hefty penalty levied by NASCAR. Now, they find themselves 36th in the owner standings meaning the team must now qualify on time or face a DNQ. It’s a position the driver, Riggs, is all too familiar with; however, the Haas CNC No. 66 Chevrolet is just only 31 points out of 35th. And with several teams on the bubble struggling of late, getting back into the Top 35 isn’t out of reach.
Finally, what would our list of losers be without one of Michael Waltrip Racing’s Toyotas? This week, Michael McDowell gets the nod. The No. 00 Toyota’s average finish over the last four races is a pitiful 32nd place. Dover didn’t yield any better results on that front, as the team finished in 30th, seven laps down to the race winner. This week, the team drops from 31st to 34th in the owner standings, just 42 points ahead of the No. 66 Chevrolet. I’m guessing by the time they get to Infineon Raceway, this team will be needing to qualify on time.
A Look Ahead
As we head to Pocono next week, I gotta believe we’re going to see some good runs from a few of our bubble dwellers. AJ Allmendinger posted top 12 times in all three test sessions in Long Pond last week, and looks poised to put up a strong qualifying run. Meanwhile, the No. 96 DLP Chevrolet started from the 17th spot in both races last year, with one of those runs ending in a 15th-place finish. Finally, BDR’s No. 22 Caterpillar car started in the top 20 in both Pocono races last year, and converted one of those into a 20th-place finish. I see all three of these cars qualifying and finishing in the top 20, and wouldn’t be surprised to see one of them in the top 10.
On the opposite end, the No. 55 NAPA Toyota, driven by Michael Waltrip, missed the spring race and didn’t fare much better in the second, qualifying 39th and finishing just one spot better. And while there have been a few exceptions, Pocono Raceway isn’t big on being kind to drivers running their first races at the speedway, and that’s just what Dario Franchitti and McDowell will be doing. Both will struggle, and none of these three drivers mentioned will finish in the top 30. And, let’s face it; the No. 70 Haas Chevrolet isn’t going to qualify at all, and may very well not make another race this year until it straightens out the mess it’s found itself in.
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||1,054||+42|
|32||Dale Earnhardt Inc.||01||Regan Smith||1,041||+29|
|33||Penske Racing||77||Sam Hornish Jr.||1,039||+27|
|34||Michael Waltrip Racing||00||Michael McDowell||1,023||+11|
|35||Michael Waltrip Racing||55||Michael Waltrip||1,012||0|
|36||Haas CNC Racing||66||Scott Riggs||981||-31|
|37||Hall of Fame Racing||96||JJ Yeley||870||-142|
|38||Chip Ganassi Racing||40||Jeremy Mayfield/Dario Franchitti||848||-164|
|39||Team Red Bull||84||AJ Allmendinger||809||-203|
|40||Furniture Row Racing||78||Joe Nemechek||676||-336|
|41||Gillett Evernham Motorsports||10||Patrick Carpentier||669||-343|
|42||Petty Enterprises||45||Chad McCumbee/Terry Labonte||658||-354|
|43||Wood Brothers Racing||21||Various Drivers||625||-387|
|44||Haas CNC Racing||70||Jason Leffler||618||-394|
|45||Front Row Motorsports||34||Tony Raines||429||-583|