Optimism ran rampant amongst several bubble drivers this weekend as Paul Menard, Sam Hornish Jr. and Joey Logano all posted top-12 qualifying runs. But qualifying pays no points and Texas is a big, fast, nasty track that some of the best drivers have yet to master. So, as the race began questions loomed for those with solid starts – would Logano finally break through with a great finish? Would Menard continue his success at Texas? Would Hornish run a race and not hit anything? For the answers to these questions as well as who’s in and who’s out of the Top 35, read on for this week’s edition of the Bubble Breakdown.
Apparently, Menard and Hornish aren’t ready to head for the balcony and heckle the other Muppets just yet. Menard qualified great, ran great, and even got some luck in bringing home the Yates Racing Ford Fusion home in 13th place. Shortly after staying out to lead a lap under green, Menard fell down a lap only to be the recipient of the Lucky Dog award on lap 232 to get it right back. The team eventually parlayed their good fortune into a top-15 finish in the Lone Star state that moved up them up three spots in the standings to 32nd. Once outside the Top 35, their lead over 36th place is now at a season-high 56 points.
Hornish, on the other hand, managed a 17th-place finish in spite of himself. On lap 231, he dove inside the No. 33 of Clint Bowyer only to lose it and spin out down towards the apron. Just 70 laps later, Hornish scraped the wall pretty good once again but was able to continue, ending a day that was exciting for Penske Championship Racing if nothing else. With his top 20, lead-lap finish, Sideways Sam moved up one spot and extended the No. 77 Mobil 1 Dodge boys’ lead over 36th place to 84 markers.
Also worth mentioning at Texas was Front Row Racing’s No. 34 Chevrolet piloted by John Andretti. Andretti ran a rather anonymous race, finishing 26th and keeping that team inside the Top 35 in the owner standings by holding steady in 33rd place. Andretti did, however, bring the fans to their feet on lap 108 by making contact with the No. 18 Toyota driven by Kyle Busch, cutting down Busch’s tire and sending him to the pits for repairs.
Robby Gordon, a fixture over the last two years here on the bubble, once again makes the bad column this week. Robby’s No. 7 Toyota lost an engine on lap 251, ending what was a rather unimpressive day to begin with. Gordon’s team drops three spots to 34th in the owner standings to leave him just 44 ahead of David Gilliland who sits in 36th.
There isn’t really much to say about the day Aric Almirola had. His No. 8 Chevrolet, whose owner is listed as Chip Ganassi, didn’t ever get to handling very well, but they made up for it by not really going very fast, either. You would think that a team just outside the bubble would have gambled with a two-tire stop for track position at some point or something that may spark the team. But… they didn’t. Instead, EGR’s third car opted to slog along and work their way back to 33rd, six laps down to the winner, leaving them 37th in owner points with the future of that team hanging in the balance.
The good news for Logano was that he was the highest finishing rookie in the field. The bad news is that he was the only full-time rookie in the field. Joey was again unimpressive for the most part in driving the two-time championship Home Depot Toyota. Logano started 10th and moved back slowly but surely, even scraping the wall on lap 241 en route to a 30th-place finish. Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 20 car fell one spot in the owner standings right to the Mendoza line as a result. The team now sits in 35th, just 23 markers ahead of the underdog TRG Motorsports No. 71 car heading to Phoenix next week.
There are three things that instantly bring a smile to my face and warmth to my heart. The first is a basket of golden retriever puppies; the second is a stack of fluffy pancakes with butter and syrup in front of me. But the third is looking at the list of cars that didn’t qualify and seeing they are all Toyotas.
TBR Racing’s No. 36 Toyota driven by Scott Riggs – If you want any proof that life isn’t fair, this guy has to qualify on time every week for a new team while Reed Sorenson doesn’t.
NEMCO Motorsports No. 87 Toyota driven by Joe Nemechek – Joe would have just driven around for 80 to 100 laps and then quit when the car broke anyway.
Mayfield Motorsports No. 41 driven by Jeremy Mayfield – Maybe Mayfield the owner should follow the lead of a few other team owners and fire Mayfield the driver.
Gunselman Motorsports No. 64 driven by Todd Bodine – See NEMCO Motorsports.
A Look Ahead
NASCAR’s top series is off next Sunday but heads to Phoenix for the first Saturday night race two weeks from now. And while the bubble dwellers are always in need of a good finish, first they must qualify in order to even have a chance.
In that department, Riggs did a fine job last year, starting 10th and 17th in his two trips to PIR in 2008. Dave Blaney also had qualifying success at this track, posting an average starting position of 21st for Bill Davis Racing’s former No. 22 machine. Blaney also went on to post a top-20 finish in the race, joining fellow bubble dwellers Gilliland and Hornish in the top half of the field. Menard also runs well in the desert, as his average finish in 2008 at Phoenix was 23rd.
Among those that struggled at Phoenix was Nemechek, who missed the fall race and had a start/finish of just 41/40 there in the spring. Speed also struggled last November, coming home with a start/finish of 38/40 in his first Cup start at the track.
So, who do we put our money on at PIR? I’m gonna kick myself for saying this, but Menard looks to be building some momentum after good runs at Martinsville and Texas. Look for Menard to begin moving away from the bubble with a top-25 run. Moving in the opposite direction is Logano. He will struggle at the semi-road course and fall out of the Top 35, with Gilliland, who finished 15th in the spring Phoenix race, driving his No. 71 TRG Chevrolet back into a locked in starting spot.
That’s it for this week’s edition of the Bubble Breakdown. Check back in two weeks to see which drivers are moving in the right direction and which ones are still searching for the right line. And don’t forget to check out the Friday edition of the newsletter for my head-to-head bubble picks with Frontstretch‘s Phil Allaway. After losing the first four weeks to Mr. Allaway, I have taken three in a row to make a game of it.
Until next time, so long from the bubble!
2009 Bubble Chart After Texas
|Pos||Owner||Car #||Driver||Points||Points +/- of 35th Place|
|31||Penske Racing||77||Sam Hornish Jr.||571||+61|
|32||Yates Racing||98||Paul Menard||543||+33|
|33||Front Row Motorsports||34||John Andretti||540||+30|
|34||Robby Gordon Motorsports||7||Robby Gordon||531||+21|
|35||Joe Gibbs Racing||20||Joey Logano||510||0|
|36||TRG Motorsports||71||David Gilliland||487||-23|
|37||Earnhardt Ganassi Racing||8||Aric Almirola||451||-59|
|38||Team Red Bull||82||Scott Speed||414||-96|
|39||Yates Racing||28||Travis Kvapil||323||-187|
|40||Tommy Baldwin Racing||36||Scott Riggs||310||-200|
|41||Prism Motorsports||66||Dave Blaney||306||-204|
|42||Furniture Row Racing||78||Regan Smith||276||-234|
|43||NEMCO Motorsports||87||Joe Nemechek||267||-243|
|44||Mayfield Motorsports Inc.||41||Jeremy Mayfield||258||-252|
|45||Wood Brothers Racing||21||Bill Elliott||228||-282|
|46||Phoenix Racing||09||Mike Bliss||211||-299|
|47||Gunselman Motorsports||64||Todd & Geoffrey Bodine||199||-311|