Rain on Friday afternoon washed out NASCAR qualifying at Michigan International Raceway, meaning the starting grid was set by owner points – leaving the No. 70 Haas Automation Chevrolet and the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Chevy as the odd teams out. But while the teams on the bubble breathed a sigh of relief, their calm was short-lived, as they now had to deal with starting the race in the back of the field in a car that has been highly criticized for not running well in traffic.
So, which teams towards the back of the field were able to navigate their way to the front? See for yourself as we break down the hunt for the Top 35 in this week’s Bubble Breakdown for the Lifelock 400 at Michigan International Raceway.
Michael Waltrip Racing tops our list of winners this week. Michael Waltrip was able to race his way back into the Top 35 in the owner standings on the strength of a 24th-place finish Sunday – even despite a last-lap crash that ended the race under yellow. His No. 55 NAPA Toyota holds down the 34th spot in the rankings, but is just seven points ahead of Haas CNC’s No. 66 team, who sits in 36th.
Despite causing the race’s final caution with three laps to go after his loose racecar got the better of him, Sam Hornish Jr. finished a respectable 22nd Sunday afternoon. The finish doesn’t show how well the team was running, as Hornish led the race at one point during the second half of the event. With the team’s effort, the No. 77 Penske Dodge moves up a pair of spots to 33rd in owner points. More importantly, they now have a cushion of 28 points over 36th place.
Team Red Bull rounds out this week’s list of biggest winners this week. AJ Allmendinger grabbed his second straight top-20 finish, bringing his No. 84 Red Bull Toyota home in 19th position. For the second straight week, the No. 84 team posted the best finish of all the bubble teams; and while they’re not yet in the Top 35, they’ve narrowed the gap to just 110 points. AJ and Team Red Bull head to Sonoma with some momentum, which they will need to maintain if they’re to continue to chip away at the margin between qualifying on time and having a guaranteed spot.
With a 33rd-place finish, the No. 66 State Water Heaters Chevy falls out of the Top 35 for the second time this season. The effort ends another tough week for Haas CNC Racing, whose appeal of NASCAR’s penalty for a rear wing infraction was denied. With a career average starting position of 29th at road courses, things don’t look to get a whole lot easier next week for Scott Riggs and his struggling race team.
I’d like to take this opportunity to welcome Robby Gordon to the bubble. After hitting the wall Sunday, Gordon finished a dismal 40th. For Robby, it was his fourth finish of 33rd or worse in his last five races, causing the driver – who is also the team’s owner – to slips to 31st in owner points with the No. 7 Dodge. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel for this team as next week NASCAR travels to wine country in California for a road course date that has been very good to Gordon over the course of his career.
Michael Waltrip Racing’s Michael McDowell has now fallen to the bubble. Young Michael could only muster a 37th-place finish, five laps down to the leader at Michigan last Sunday. The No. 00 Toyota’s margin of error is now gone as the team is only seven points ahead of the guaranteed starting spot cutoff. With Infineon Raceway looming next on the schedule, Mr. McDowell’s best hope may be for Riggs to not qualify and therefore distancing himself from the teams on the outside looking in.
A Look Ahead
NASCAR hits the road course in Sonoma, Calif. next week, meaning not only do the bubble teams have to deal with each other in qualifying, they also have to deal with influx of road-course ringers that attempt to qualify for the two road races NASCAR runs each year. As of this writing, Ron Fellows has been tabbed to drive the DEI No. 01 Chevy, and Max Papis is slated to drive the No. 70 Haas Automation Chevrolet. Also attempting to qualify will be road-course specialist Boris Said, who you know will qualify his No Fear No. 60 Ford. Throw in Terry Labonte and his past champion’s provisional in the Petty Enterprises No. 45 Dodge and the pickins’ start getting slim for starting spots. So who gets in you ask?
Waltrip, surprisingly, has a higher average finish at road courses than at superspeedways for his career. His average starting spot at the big tracks is also only one position better than at the road courses. So, I like Mikey to qualify around 25th and finish in the top 15. Gordon is an outstanding road-course driver, and this race couldn’t have come at a better time. I’ll be a little bold here and say Robby sits on the front row and finishes top five, as he has 10 top 10s in 19 career road-course events. As far as those who are going to struggle, Marcos Ambrose will attempt to qualify the Wood Brothers No. 21 Motorcraft Ford – but won’t make it. The team has struggled all year and has made several races simply based on Bill Elliott’s past champion’s provisional, a luxury Ambrose does not have. The Haas CNC Racing’s struggles will also continue, as Riggs won’t be able to qualify the No. 66 State Water Heaters Chevy. That team struggled last year qualifying 31st and finishing 42nd at Infineon. Add the fact that Riggs career average starting spot for road courses is 29th and you don’t get a real good feeling for the team’s chances out West.
That’s it for this week. So until next Monday, so long from the bubble.
Breaking Down the Bubble
|Pos||Owner||Car #||Driver||Points||Points +/- of 35th Place|
|31||Robby Gordon||7||Robby Gordon||1,184||+27|
|32||Chip Ganassi Racing||41||Reed Sorenson||1,179||+22|
|33||Penske Racing||77||Sam Hornish Jr.||1,178||+21|
|34||Michael Waltrip Racing||55||Michael Waltrip||1,163||+6|
|35||Michael Waltrip Racing||00||Michael McDowell||1,157||0|
|36||Haas CNC Racing||66||Scott Riggs||1,150||-7|
|37||Team Red Bull||84||AJ Allmendinger||1,047||-110|
|38||Hall of Fame Racing||96||JJ Yeley||941||-216|
|39||Chip Ganassi Racing||40||Dario Franchitti||922||-235|
|40||Furniture Row Racing||78||Joe Nemechek||831||-326|
|41||Gillett Evernham Motorsports||10||Patrick Carpentier||827||-330|
|42||Petty Enterprises||45||Chad McCumbee/Terry Labonte||807||-350|
|43||Wood Brothers Racing||21||Various Drivers||750||-407|
|44||Haas CNC Racing||70||Jason Leffler||692||-465|
|45||Front Row Motorsports||34||Tony Raines||457||-700|