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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Bubble Breakdown: Toyota Bubble Teams Struggle Mightily at Martinsville While Menard Sneaks In

The last remnants of the 2008 season have finally been cast by the wayside, as NASCAR now uses this year’s owner points in determining who has a guaranteed starting spot and who has to qualify on time. But as the drivers now outside of the Top 35 readied themselves to give it all they had at Martinsville in order to qualify for the race on Friday – it rained. So, the field was set according to the owner standings, sending the last four cars back to their shops while the top 43 lined up Sunday afternoon. Of the ones that remained, which drivers were able to race their way up into the Top 35 for the first time under the 2009 points standings?

Read on in this week’s edition of the Bubble Breakdown to see who moved up and who dropped out.

The Good

So long, Mark Martin. Martin drove his No. 5 Hendrick Chevy to a seventh-place finish, his second consecutive top-10 run to drive away from the bubble and begin his pursuit of a Chase spot. So, as we did last year to Jamie McMurray, we wave goodbye to Mr. Martin and wish him luck the remainder of the season – he’s up to 27th in points and well above the cutoff.

Now, for someone who actually belongs around the bubble: Paul Menard. Menard beat his way through the pack in the Yates Racing No. 98 Ford, coming from his 38th starting spot to end up a respectable 25th. As evidenced by the condition of his car at the end of the race, Paul banged his way not only to a top-25 finish but also up into the Top 35 in the owner standings. Knowing how close he was to a “locked-in” spot, Menard fiercely battled with both Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards in the closing laps to snag the points he needed to move up. Menard’s No. 98 Yates Racing Ford now sits in the 35th spot, but he is just three points ahead of David Gilliland in 36th place.

The Bad

Topping the list of the bad this week is Robby Gordon. Robby brought out the caution three times in his No. 7 Toyota, enduring a combination of tire trouble and self-inflicted spinouts before finally retiring early on his way to a 40th-place finish. As a result of that poor performance, Robby fell one spot to 31st in the owner standings, 74 points ahead of the 36th-place entry. After having right-front tire issues at Martinsville, Gordon now has to regroup as the team heads to Texas to try and reverse the bad luck that has plagued them this season.

Scott Speed and his No. 82 Red Bull Toyota team didn’t look too bad early on at Martinsville, as they were the only team other than the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevy and the No. 11 FedEx machine to lead a lap under green all day. That ended, though, when Speed wound up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Battling for ninth with Kyle Busch, the driver of the No. 18 spun out on his own and collected Speed on lap 70. The rookie never really recovered from the damage and steadily fell laps down all race long, finishing 39th, 76 laps off the pace. As a result, Team Red Bull fell from 36th to 38th in owner points, 28 behind Menard, who sits in 35th.

LUMBIS: SPRINT CUP ROOKIE REPORT AFTER MARTINSVILLE

Last but not least in the bad column we have TRG Motorsports and driver David Gilliland. This car represents what had been, and to a point still is, NASCAR’s feel good story of the year. Thrown together a month before the Daytona 500, the team missed the race, then put young David in the car only to have him race his way into the Top 35 in the owner standings… until Sunday. Braking issues along with some tire problems were amongst the problems the team faced at Martinsville. They never made any real headway and struggled all afternoon en route to a 36th-place finish, eight laps down. The resulting finish dropped them out of the Top 35 heading to Texas by just three points.

The Ugly

We’ll start the ugly with the ugliest of the ugly – Todd Bodine. Bodine lasted just three laps before mechanical problems sent him to the garage, relegating him to a 43rd-place finish. While Todd is a championship-caliber Truck Series driver, he hasn’t posted a top 10 in NASCAR’s premier series since 2003 and is pretty much a field filler at this point.

Phil Parsons’s Prism Motorsports team began the year with an impressive 24th-place run at the season-opening Daytona 500. The newly formed team, though, came crashing back to reality once Dave Blaney took over the driving responsibilities. Blaney has finished 43rd, 41st and 42nd twice, with one of them being Sunday at Martinsville. Blaney stayed out to actually lead lap 44, then disappeared to the garage, never to be heard from again as the dreaded “start-and-park” reared its ugly head.

Finally, Joe Nemechek rounds out the ugly. NEMCO Motorsports’ No. 87 Toyota lasted 100 laps before he also went to the garage with mechanical problems. In five races, Nemechek has finished 39th, 41st three times and 43rd. This, by the way, is the second straight week these three drivers have swept the last three positions. Perhaps the owners of these teams should consider consolidating them in order to make one car that will make a full race… and put Tony Raines in it.

A Look Ahead

NASCAR travels deep into the heart of Texas next week to the big, fast D-shaped Texas Motor Speedway. And if it is true that even a blind squirrel finds a nut every now and then, then Texas would be the nut belonging to the little blind squirrel behind the wheel of the No. 98 Menards Ford for Yates Racing. In 2008, Menard averaged a 15th-place start and a 20th-place finish at one of his best career tracks.

Not so good in 2008 at TMS, however, was young Joey Logano, who in his only trip there started 43rd and finished 40th. So, who looks good in Texas in 2009? I am going to go out on a limb and say that both the No. 78 Furniture Row Chevy driven by Regan Smith and the Wood Brothers Ford driven by Bill Elliott will post good runs. By picking and choosing their races this year, they have been far more prepared and performed very well at each race they have run in. While Elliott did finish 35th at Atlanta, he was running extremely well until collected by Sam Hornish Jr. in a late-race wreck. Regan has also run great in the pair of races he’s run, finishing 21st at Daytona and 19th at Las Vegas. I say a top 25 is a given for both next week.

Those who are doomed to struggle include Jeremy Mayfield, who won’t qualify unless it rains, and Menard. Menard has struggled mightily this year, and the little blind squirrel not only won’t find a nut in Texas, he will probably wander into traffic and get run over by a truck.

So, that’s it for your breakdown of the bubble for Martinsville. Check in next week for the Bubble Breakdown Texas-style; but before then, be sure to check out the Frontstretch newsletter Friday to see Phil and myself go head-to-head with our bubble picks. So, until next Monday, so long from the bubble!

2009 Bubble Chart After Bristol

Pos Owner Car # Driver Points Points +/- of 35th Place
31 Robby Gordon Motorsports 7 Robby Gordon 485 +71
32 Penske Racing 77 Sam Hornish Jr. 459 +45
33 Front Row Motorsports 34 John Andretti 455 +41
34 Joe Gibbs Racing 20 Joey Logano 437 +23
35 Yates Racing 98 Paul Menard 414 0
36 TRG Motorsports 71 David Gilliland 411 -3
37 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing 8 Aric Almirola 387 -27
38 Team Red Bull 82 Scott Speed 326 -28
39 Yates Racing 28 Travis Kvapil 323 -33
40 Tommy Baldwin Racing 36 Scott Riggs 291 -65
41 Prism Motorsports 66 Dave Blaney 272 -142
42 NEMCO Motorsports 87 Joe Nemechek 236 -178
43 Mayfield Motorsports Inc. 41 Jeremy Mayfield 233 -181
44 Furniture Row Racing 78 Regan Smith 206 -208
45 Gunselman Motorsports 64 Todd & Geoffrey Bodine 177 -237
46 Phoenix Racing 09 Sterling Marlin 174 -240

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