Several bubble teams made a little news this week, most notably Michael Waltrip Racing, who has scheduled a news conference for July 7th – where it is expected that Martin Truex Jr. will be announced as the team’s new driver for 2010. Also in the news was Robby Gordon, who continues to ride precariously close to the Top-35 cutoff with the No. 7 Toyota. The owner/driver for Robby Gordon Motorsports said he was dropping his appeal of the May 27th penalty levied against his team for exceeding the maximum specified toe of plus or minus one degree, accepting guilt and the accompanying fines and points penalties that come with it. Finally, after qualifying had been rained out, the No. 64 Toyota entry of Gunselman Motorsports withdrew from the race after having run just 14 practice laps. This enabled Furniture Row Racing’s No. 78 driven by Regan Smith to move up and into the starting grid, giving the young driver the opportunity to continue his 49-race streak of finishing every NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race he has participated in.
So to see if Smith continued his streak and whether or not Scott Speed could race his way up into the Top 35, read on for this week’s edition of the Bubble Breakdown….
Focus on the Bubble
The race for the Top 35 has effectively come down to three drivers: John Andretti sits in 35th place, followed closely by Speed and David Gilliland. At least, it was close until the rains fell Sunday at New England. Andretti’s No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Chevrolet had been slogging around, running anywhere between 25th and 39th for most of the day. That caused the team to make an extra stop under caution around lap 190, giving them a 30-lap advantage on fresh tires and fuel that would end up making a big difference. Holding their own with fresh rubber, the car steadily started moving up once green-flag pit stops started around lap 230. It was during this sequence that the team got a huge blessing: the rains came right before they were to make their final stop, leading to an end result of a season-best 16th-place run.
Speed also ran around in the mid-to-low 30s all day, but ended up not having the same late-race fortune as Andretti did. Instead, Speed brought out the 10th caution of the day when he hit the wall hard in turn one. The No. 82 Team Red Bull Toyota was able to be repaired and returned to the track, but it was many laps down and wound up with a 36th-place finish as a result. The gap between the two has now grown to 155 points with 19 races remaining. The third driver in this mix, Gilliland, ended his day rather strangely. When the competition caution flew on lap 45, David didn’t pit with either group on lap 46 or 47. He stayed out to lead lap 48 (although as of this writing, NASCAR hasn’t yet credited him with leading it on their unofficial results page), then ducked onto pit road as the field came to the green and never returned to the race. Gilliland’s TRG Motorsports No. 71 Chevrolet was credited with 40th place.
Around the Bubble
James Finch is going to miss Brad Keselowski when he’s gone. Brad posted another top-10 finish in the Phoenix Racing No. 09 Chevrolet by turning a 36th-place starting position into a sixth-place run, his third top 10 for that team. Brad drove a steady race and popped into the top 10 for good around lap 240, a fuel-mileage gamble paying off in the same way Andretti’s did above. As a result, the No. 09 team moves up to 38th in the owner standings; but as we all know, if you aren’t in the Top 35, then it really doesn’t matter what position you are in.
Things looked good early for the No. 12 Penske Racing Dodge driven by David Stremme and the Robert Yates Racing No. 98 Ford piloted by Paul Menard. When the competition caution flag waved at lap 40, Stremme had moved up five spots to 27th and Menard had gone all the way from 33rd to 24th. However, the adjustments made under the caution weren’t to either driver’s liking, and they never got the handle back on either car. Stremme pretty much held his spot and finished 28th, while Menard slid back to 30th by race’s end. Menard’s day also included meeting the turn three SAFER barrier after his left front tire locked up on lap 171, which didn’t help the team’s handling issues.
Finally, Smith did complete his 50th consecutive race, which is the longest such streak to start a career of any active driver. Smith was fortunate to get his No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet into the field, however, as it took the No. 64’s withdrawal to give the team the 43rd and final starting position (supposedly, a deal was made between the two teams for the No. 64 to pull out, although financial terms were no disclosed). The No. 78 then managed to move up 16 positions during the race, but that was still only good enough for a 27th-place run.
If the start-and-park cars aren’t going to make an effort to run a full race, then I am not going to make the effort to talk about them. So instead, I will pass along some of the quips heard over the radio during the race from our bubble drivers.
“I’m looking at how my brakes are labeled in this car and I think they are wrong.” – Robby Gordon, regarding his brake bias dials on lap 29
“No, I can’t drive the car like this or I wouldn’t be back here riding around in 40th.” – Robby Gordon’s emphatic response to crew chief Kirk Almquist’s inquiry about the state of the car’s handling
“OK guys, we’re gonna work on beating out the right side of the car.” – Paul Menard’s crew chief, Larry Carter, to his pit crew on lap 170 after Menard hit the wall
“I can’t see too good, so let me know if anything is in front of me.” – David Ragan, whose hood was partially pushed up on his way to the garage after being involved in a lap 175 accident
What to look for next week at Daytona
You may want to sit down before you read this, but few drivers have dominated Daytona International Speedway recently like… Ragan and Robby Gordon. But before you start laughing. consider this: since 2007, eight of the 10 finishes posted by these two at DIS are top 15s. In fact, five of those finishes register as eighth or better. Now, add Michael Waltrip and his restrictor-plate success into the mix, and you have some bubble drivers all licking their chops heading into next Saturday night. I see all three posting top-15 finishes, with Ragan in contention to win it when the white flag flies with a lap to go. Meanwhile, those who struggle and ride around in the middle to the back of the pack tend to get caught up in the Big One at the plate tracks… and that points to Andretti and Speed. Look for them both to get wadded up during the race, innocent victims of wrecks not of their making.
So, there’s your Bubble Breakdown for New Hampshire. Please make sure to check out the Frontstretch newsletter each day this week, especially Fridays… where the head-to-head spoiler picks now show Phil Allaway leading the season series 9-8.
Until next Monday, so long from the bubble!
2009 Bubble Chart After New Hampshire
|Pos||Owner||Car #||Driver||Points||Points +/- of 35th Place|
|31||Roush Fenway Racing||6||David Ragan||1,496||+248|
|32||Penske Racing||12||David Stremme||1,441||+193|
|33||Yates Racing||98||Paul Menard||1,410||+162|
|34||Robby Gordon Motorsports||7||Robby Gordon||1,366||+118|
|35||Front Row Motorsports||34||John Andretti||1,248||0|
|36||Team Red Bull||82||Scott Speed||1,093||-155|
|37||TRG Motorsports||71||David Gilliland||1,009||-239|
|38||Phoenix Racing||09||Brad Keselowski||928||-320|
|39||NEMCO Motorsports||87||Joe Nemechek||842||-406|
|40||Furniture Row Racing||78||Regan Smith||816||-432|
|41||Prism Motorsports||66||Dave Blaney||738||-510|
|42||Tommy Baldwin Racing||36||Patrick Carpentier||703||-545|