Well the 24 Hours of Charlotte finally came to an end late Monday afternoon and the 50th running of the Coca-Cola 600 was dominated by Kyle Busch and the weather. The race never went green on Sunday and suffered rain delays again on Monday before finally being called and producing a surprise winner. So to see which bubble teams gambled on the weather and won, and which wound up all wet, read this week’s edition of the Bubble Breakdown.
Robby Gordon tops the good list this week as the pit crew made up for the mishaps they made at Darlington two weeks ago. When the leaders came to pit road after the caution flew for rain, the call was made by Kirk Almquist, Gordon’s crew chief to stay out, and several hours later it paid off. By staying out Gordon moved up to third, and after a two-hour delay, the race was called making Almquist look like a genius. Robby picks up his first top-five finish since Watkins Glen in 2007 and his first oval top five since Talladega in April of 2004. Robby Gordon Motorsports still sits in 34th in the owner standings, but his cushion is extended to 181 points. More importantly, it was the third straight strong run for Gordon even though the Darlington finish doesn’t reflect how well the car ran.
Sam Hornish Jr. has finally arrived. Hornish followed up his win in the NASCAR Sprint Showdown two weeks ago by posting another top-20 run in the Coca-Cola 600. Hornish didn’t qualify particularly well, starting 26th, but was able to overcome a tight racecar to steadily move up and get into the 16th spot before the rains came – again. One could reasonably assume that had the rain not interrupted the race, Hornish would have been able to get his Penske Championship Racing No. 77 Dodge up into the top 10, but the team will take a top 20 anytime. Hornish will look to continue his strong run next weekend at Dover where he posted an 18th-place finish last year.
Rounding out the good this week is rookie Joey Logano. Logano had a strong qualifying run starting 14th and drove his way up into the top 10 again for the third time in the last four races. After a slow start, Logano is showing he belongs in NASCAR’s top series. His ninth-place finish again tied his career best – he now has three ninth-place finishes. While Logano won’t contend for the chase this year, one could assume that he won’t have a problem staying away from the bubble, probably win the Rookie of the Year, and may even pull off a win before 2009 is over.
This is a new one on me. James Finch’s No. 09 Dodge driven by Mike Bliss this week has its official reason for retirement as a vibration. Again, maybe this isn’t new, but I have heard many drivers complain of a vibration and keep going. Must have been a REAL bad vibration.
While 28th is a bad finish, for Dave Blaney and Prism Motorsports it’s a season-best run. Blaney was able to lead a couple of laps and actually finished a race for the first time this year. Throw in the 25th place qualifying run and it was a pretty good weekend for these guys. But don’t expect them to string together a bunch of these runs.
Another team having a bad run, that was good for them anyways, was the No. 87 Toyota out of the NEMCO Motorsports stable. Driver Joe Nemechek posted the team’s second-best start with an 11th-place qualifying run but slid back to the 37th place when the race was called. The team did manage to finish the race though, only the second one they have finished this year. Don’t expect them to finish next weekend at Dover though.
Tommy Baldwin Racing tops the list of the ugly this week. The main reason for landing in the ugly column is the announcement that the team and driver are parting ways immediately. Driver Scott Riggs will be replaced by the trio of Mike Skinner, Brian Simo and Patrick Carpentier. Rumor has it that Baldwin asked Riggs to start and park the car until more money can be secured to run full races. In a statement released by Riggs he stated, “I’m not willing to start and park. That’s why I have to go.” While I do tip my hat to the driver for taking that stance, he’s now out of a job. Riggs’s last run with the team resulted in an unceremonious 38th place finish after starting 43rd.
Mayfield Motorsports No. 41 Toyota driven by JJ Yeley – In his first appearance with the team, Yeley was unable to get the car into the field.
Gunselman Motorsports No. 64 Toyota driven by Todd Bodine – In his 13th appearance with the team, Bodine was unable to get the car into the field.
A Look Ahead
Next weekend NASCAR heads to Dover where several bubble team had strong run last season. As a matter of fact, with the exception of Nemechek’s 34th place finish, there are no current bubble dwellers that ran poorly. So who do we bet on next week? I like to go with momentum. That means that Hornish and Logano will continue their drive away from the bubble and each will post top-20 runs. Also, I am going to say Gordon runs well, as he finished 19th last year in this event and will continue to distance himself from the 36th-place team.
Chances are the No. 66 Toyota of Prism Motorsports and the No. 87 Toyota will fail to finish, and the No. 34 Chevrolet of Front Row Motorsports will again struggle with the return of John Andretti.
So that’s it from the bubble for this week. Check in next week to see if Scott Speed can close the gap and get his way into the Top 35. And don’t forget to check out the Friday newsletter to see the head to head picks between Phil Allaway and myself.
So until next Monday, or maybe Tuesday, so long from the bubble!