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Bubble Breakdown: Marcos Ambrose Cuts Margin in Half for Final Top-35 Slot

NASCAR’s thundering herd of 43 invaded the Lone Star State this past Sunday for the second time in 2008. At this point in the season the field is pretty much divided into three groups. One group is running for the championship, one group is running to get into or stay in the Top 35 for 2009, and the other group is just running laps. And while many of the experts have already anointed Jimmie Johnson as this year’s champion, the race for a Top-35 locked in spot for 2009 is now tighter than a pair of Speedos on Jimmy Spencer. So with that stunning image fresh in your mind, read on to find out who’s locked in, who’s locked out and who’s still fighting for a spot in the Top 35 in this week’s edition of the Bubble Breakdown.

Ambrose Slashes Deficit Almost In Half

Marcos Ambrose is settling into his ride rather nicely. Marcos overcame a ding on the left front from a mid-race incident to bring home Michael Waltrip Racing’s No. 47 Toyota in the 21st position. The team’s effort combined with the No. 84 Red Bull Toyota finishing in the 33rd position has reduced the team’s deficit from 80 points down to just 44. This leaves the team in good position as Ambrose’s extensive road-racing experience should be to their advantage next week in Phoenix, a track that drives somewhat like a road course.

Robby Gordon Struggles Again at Texas

Robby Gordon Motorsports still hasn’t managed to get their arms around Texas Motor Speedway, finishing a dismal 36th, five laps down to the leaders. At a time when the team needs to step up to stay in the Top 35, they seem to struggle as the pressure mounts. Any optimism from a decent 22nd-place qualifying effort quickly dissipated as Robby began a steady march to the rear almost immediately. Fighting an ill-handling car, Robby never was a factor and was unable to do anything but watch the cars around him in the standings drive right on by all race long. However as with Ambrose, Robby’s road-course experience should be to his benefit next week at Phoenix.

Other Notes:

Gap between 35th and 36th heading into Texas: 80 points (No. 7 and No. 47)
Gap between 35th and 36th heading out of Texas: 44 points (No. 84 and No. 47)

Last Man In For The Bud Shootout

MWR’s No. 55 NAPA Toyota again beat out Bill Davis Racing’s No. 22 Caterpillar Toyota on the track to increase his edge ever so slightly in the race for the last spot in the Budweiser Shootout. Michael Waltrip edged out Dave Blaney 27th to 29th despite both drivers heading in opposite directions during the race. Blaney started back in the 41st position and gained 12 spots in the Dickies 500 Sunday while Waltrip started 15th and lost 12 spots. The margin between the two sits at 67 markers with two races remaining.

The ‘Dinger Watch

AJ Allmendinger took a poor qualifying effort, (36th) and seemed to have overcome it with another top-20 finish sitting right there for the taking until a huge mistake during a green-flag pit stop with 20 laps to go. In his attempt to make as fast an entrance onto pit lane as legally allowed, the ‘Dinger didn’t make the turn quite right and made contact with the commitment cone at the beginning of pit road. The penalty for the infraction is a pass through penalty that cost the team a lap on the track. This also translated to several positions, relegating the team to a 26th-place finish. Coming off two straight top-15 finishes, this is not what the team had hoped for. While they did gain on the bubble team, it wasn’t what could have been and they still sit 210 points off the cut-off. While mathematically alive, the point total is almost insurmountable.

Locked Out for 2009:

No. 96 Hall of Fame Racing (eliminated at Texas)
No. 70 HAAS/CNC Racing
No. 78 Furniture Row Racing
No. 45 Petty Enterprises

A Look Ahead

Next week, NASCAR heads out west for the final time in 2008 to Phoenix International Raceway. I’m guessing Gordon couldn’t be happier. Robby has not qualified particularly well in Phoenix and it’ll probably rain anyway, but he has managed to finish in the top 25 in two of the last three events there. Another driver who has had some success out in the desert is Reed Sorenson. The Chip Ganassi No. 41 Target Dodge has an average start of 24th over the last two seasons and has two top-20 finishes.

So, who’s not looking forward to Phoenix? BDR’s No. 22 Caterpillar Toyota has had miserable luck at the tri-oval in Arizona. Blaney has qualified well, with an average starting position of 15th, but his best finish in the last three events there has been a 30th earlier this season.

Well that’s it for this week’s Bubble Breakdown. So until next Monday, so long from the bubble!

Breaking Down the Bubble

Pos Owner Car # Driver Points Points +/- of 35th Place
31 Haas CNC Racing 66 Scott Riggs 2,716 +126
32 Chip Ganassi Racing 41 Reed Sorenson 2,704 +114
33 Bill Davis Racing 22 Dave Blaney 2,682 +92
34 Robby Gordon Motorsports 7 Robby Gordon 2,606 +16
35 Team Red Bull 84 Scott Speed 2,590 0
36 Michael Waltrip Racing 47 (was 00) Marcos Ambrose 2,546 -44
37 Penske Racing 77 Sam Hornish Jr. 2,490 -100
38 Gillett Evernham Motorsports 10 AJ Allmendinger 2,380 -210
39 Hall of Fame Racing 96 Ken Schrader 2,255 -335
40 Petty Enterprises 45 Chad McCumbee 2,161 -429
41 Wood Brothers Racing 21 Bill Elliott 2,093 -497
42 Furniture Row Racing 78 Joe Nemechek 2,006 -584
43 Haas CNC Racing 70 Tony Raines 1,944 -646

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