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Bubble Breakdown: Michael Waltrip Racing Shines While Road-Course Ringers Struggle at Sonoma

Road-course races can always have a long-term effect on the points standings since teams that ordinarily might not run all that well can get good finishes, either by using substitute drivers or their normal drivers having significant skills on road courses. This set the stage for Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway.

Ahead of the race weekend, DEI tapped Ron Fellows to drive the No. 01 Principal Chevrolet in place of Regan Smith, while Max Papis (originally hired to drive the No. 70) was placed in the Haas Automation No. 66 after that car fell out of the Top 35 in owner points following last weekend’s LifeLock 400.

Marcos Ambrose was in the No. 21 for the Wood Brothers for the first of his 12 scheduled Sprint Cup starts this season. In addition, Brian Simo was able to coax the No. 34 for Front Row Motorsports into the field and Boris Said was back as well. Did these teams, along with the other teams in and around the danger zone have any real success on Sunday? Let’s find out.

The Winners

The big gainers this week (position-wise) were the two Michael Waltrip Racing cars that were squarely in the Danger Zone. After qualifying a disappointing 34th with a car that turned the fifth-fastest time in practice on Friday, Michael McDowell in the No. 00 ran a completely invisible race on Sunday (he was not mentioned at all during the event on TNT). He slowly made his way up through the field and took advantage of drivers in front of him (Ambrose, Scott Pruett, Bobby Labonte, etc.) dropping out in order to advance his position. By the time the checkered flag fell, McDowell was in 21st, a career-best up to this point. The finish catapulted the No. 00 up four spots to 31st in owner points, but he is still only 49 points ahead of 36th.

McDowell’s teammate/car owner Michael Waltrip also had a very quiet day. Like McDowell, Waltrip did not have a very good qualifying run, timing in 35th on Friday; making the trip to the back for an engine change a short one. After the race started, Waltrip essentially used the same tactics that McDowell used (slow, methodical upward movement, and taking advantage of others’ misfortune) to finish 25th. This finish moves Waltrip to 32nd in the owner points standings.

The Losers

Truthfully, all the ringers Sunday had significant problems out on the track. Pruett is just one example of this. Pruett, driving the No. 41 in place of Reed Sorenson, had a nondescript weekend and had quite a time trying to move up through the field. At the end of the race, Pruett got wrecked in a stack-up and finished 38th. This drops the No. 41 to 35th in owner points, only 20 points ahead of the No. 66.

BOWLES: ROAD COURSE RINGERS RUNNING SHORT ON WINS

Another loser in the owner points this week is the No. 7 of Robby Gordon. Gordon, a former winner at Infineon Raceway, was expected to have a good run Sunday, maybe even be in contention for the victory. For the most part, the No. 7 ran well. However, during the second round of green-flag pit stops, Gordon was spun out by the No. 2 of Kurt Busch and then ricocheted into the No. 66 of Papis. Afterwards, the car stalled, necessitating the second full-course caution. Getting pushed back to the pits cost a lap and the repairs nearly cost him another. Gordon eventually finished two laps down in 36th, dropping him three positions to 34th in owner points. Unofficially, Gordon is 11 points ahead of the No. 41 and 31 points ahead of the No. 66 in 36th.

A Look Ahead

Next weekend, the Cup Series heads to New Hampshire for the Lenox Industrial Tools 301 (yes, you read that right; they added one extra lap to the race to make it unique). No word as of now if any part-time teams will show up for the race, so it will likely be only the 45 full-time teams attempting the race. As for who might not qualify, it’s always quite unlikely that the No. 34 for Front Row Motorsports will get into a race (Sunday was only the team’s fifth start in 14 attempts this year).

Beyond Front Row Motorsports’ No. 34, it is a bit of a toss-up as to who will be the other car that DNQs. Likely candidates include the No. 70 for Haas CNC Racing that has failed to qualify the last two weeks and the No. 96 for Hall of Fame Racing, which has DNQ’d for two of the last three races. This is despite the fact that Johnny Sauter qualified the No. 70 in fourth for this race last season (he qualified 36th for the September race).

That’s all for this week. Mike will be back next week with the Lenox 301 Bubble Wrapup. Bye, folks.

Breaking Down the Bubble

Pos Owner Car # Full-Time Driver Points Points +/- of 35th Place
30 Dale Earnhardt Inc. 01 Regan Smith 1,263 +35
31 Michael Waltrip Racing 00 Michael McDowell 1,257 +29
32 Michael Waltrip Racing 55 Michael Waltrip 1,251 +23
33 Penske Racing 77 Sam Hornish Jr. 1,248 +20
34 Robby Gordon Motorsports 7 Robby Gordon 1,239 +11
35 Chip Ganassi Racing 41 Reed Sorenson 1,228 0
36 Haas CNC Racing 66 Scott Riggs 1,208 -20
37 Team Red Bull 84 AJ Allmendinger 1,099 -129
38 Hall of Fame Racing 96 JJ Yeley 972 -256
39 Chip Ganassi Racing 40 Dario Franchitti 947 -281
40 Gillett Evernham Motorsports 10 Patrick Carpentier 921 -307
41 Petty Enterprises 45 Terry Labonte 919 -309
42 Furniture Row Racing 78 Joe Nemechek 916 -312
43 Wood Brothers Racing 21 Various Drivers 787 -441
44 Haas CNC Racing 70 Jason Leffler 720 -508
45 Front Row Motorsports 34 Tony Raines 491 -737

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