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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Bubble Breakdown: Brian Vickers Swap Pays Off for Team Red Bull with Final Locked-In Spot

Everybody knew heading into Miami that barring some unforeseen catastrophic event, Jimmie Johnson was going to win his third consecutive NASCAR championship; the only drama involving the points was who was going to be locked into the Top 35 going into 2009. With the economy not doing well, sponsors want to know that their money will at least make it to the track, and not be wasted when teams fail to qualify each weekend.

Heading into the final event, Michael Waltrip Racing’s No. 47 now driven by Marcos Ambrose was clinging to a 17-point edge over the Team Red Bull No. 84 Toyota. In an effort to get back into the Top 35, TRB tried to get Mark Martin to drive their Toyota in the Ford 400 – but that plan went by the wayside when the manufacturer couldn’t agree on a deal with GM. So instead, TRB swapped drivers within its own organization, putting veteran teammate Brian Vickers into the No. 84 entry in an attempt to get back into the Top 35.

To see if their plan paid off – as well as who took the last spot in the Bud Shootout – check out this week’s edition of the Bubble Breakdown:

The field is set

Vickers was put into the No. 84 Red Bull Toyota with only one goal: to get the car back into the Top 35 in owner points. However, Vickers struggled a little in qualifying – he clocked in 20th while teammate Scott Speed put his No. 83 on the outside of the front row – and was struggling again during the race. Tacking on a pit-road speeding penalty during a green-flag stop, at the midway point of the race it seemed the best-laid plans might backfire on Vickers and TRB.

However, on lap 168 Ambrose pinched the No. 41 Target Dodge driven by Reed Sorenson into the wall and got himself turned into the outside barrier – doing heavy right-front damage to MWR’s No. 47 Toyota. Being only 17 markers out of the Top 35 going into Homestead, Vickers then needed only to stay out of trouble, which he did, finishing 32nd and securing the final spot in the Top 35 while Ambrose limped home to 42nd. As a result, both Red Bull Toyotas are locked into the first five races of 2009 for the first time.

2009 Bud Shootout

Bill Davis Racing’s No. 22 Caterpillar Toyota won the battle, but MWR’s No. 55 NAPA machine won the Shootout war by the slimmest of margins. Michael Waltrip got several laps down early at Homestead and spent the race bringing up the rear. Meanwhile, Dave Blaney went in the opposite direction – just not quite far enough. Blaney’s impressive run from 33rd starting position to a 22nd-place finish was impressive, but all for naught as Mikey was able to maintain his hold on the last spot reserved for Toyota by a measly seven points. This puts Waltrip’s No. 55 into the Bud Shootout, some consolation for what was a disappointing season on the whole for his team.

The ‘Dinger Watch

I said before I’ll admit it when I’m wrong… and I’m admitting it now. AJ Allmendinger had what may have been the best run of anyone at Miami as he continues to put his best foot forward as a pending 2009 free agent. Allmendinger had to start in his No. 10 Valvoline Dodge dead last, but had driven all the way up to the 11th position by the time the checkered flag flew.

Still, it wasn’t enough. The team had too much ground to make up and too little time to do it by the time Allmendinger took over the No. 10 ride, and the team finished 37th overall in the owner standings – just 80 points off the bubble. But despite not getting the team into the Top 35, Allmendinger showed he’s more than capable of racing at NASCAR’s top level by posting an average finish of 16th in the five races he had with Gillett Evernham Motorsports.

A Look Ahead

Well, to be frank, there is no look ahead as the checkered flag has waved over the 2008 season. For 35 NASCAR teams, 2009 comes with a sense of optimism as they know they’ll have a huge advantage over those not locked into the Top 35. Not only do they have an edge as far as getting five guaranteed races to build up their points before the field moves to the 2009 owner standings, but they can offer potential sponsors a spot in the prestigious Daytona 500.

Next Monday, we’ll have a season review of the Top 35 to finish off the Bubble Breakdown for 2008. So, until next Monday, so long from the bubble.

Breaking Down the Bubble

PosOwnerCar #DriverPointsPoints +/- of 35th Place
31Bill Davis Racing22Dave Blaney2,882+177
32Dale Earnhardt, Inc.01Regan Smith2,872+167
33Chip Ganassi Racing41Reed Sorenson2,844+139
34Robby Gordon Motorsports7Robby Gordon2,770+65
35Team Red Bull84Scott Speed2,7050
36Michael Waltrip Racing47 (was 00)Marcos Ambrose2,692-13
37Gillett Evernham Motorsports10AJ Allmendinger2,625-80
38Penske Racing77Sam Hornish Jr.2,579-126
39Hall of Fame Racing96Ken Schrader2,368-337
40Wood Brothers Racing21Bill Elliott2,296-409
41Petty Enterprises45Chad McCumbee2,253-452
42Furniture Row Racing78Joe Nemechek2,092-613
43Haas CNC Racing70Tony Raines2,048-657