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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Bubble Breakdown: Scott Speed Slowly Chipping Away at John Andretti’s Lead

I am gonna start this week’s column with a bit of advice, as I know many of you attend races and even camp at the track like I do. So if you are camping at the race, and they come over the PA system and warn of impending severe thunderstorms, go take down your 30-foot high metal flagpole BEFORE the lightning moves into the area. However, I am sure my readers are smart enough that I don’t need to tell them that… so on to the race from Watkins Glen.

My Ron Fellows in victory circle prediction fell apart very early, as a broken starter sent the road racing ace to the garage for repairs on lap 28, costing him several laps on the track. But not every bubble driver struggled at the Glen, and we even had a non-Top 35 driver post their first career top-10 finish. So read on in this week’s edition of the Bubble Breakdown to see which drivers actually had a good Monday in upstate New York.

Focusing on the Bubble

Scott Speed got some track time on Saturday in the Nationwide race, finishing 10th, and parlayed it into a decent 22nd-place finish in his first trip to Watkins Glen in the Cup Series. Speed started 26th and stayed smooth all afternoon, even staying out during green flag stops to lead a lap and pick up five bonus points as Red Bull Racing continues to chase down Front Row’s No. 34 driven by John Andretti. Speed actually ran a better race than his finish showed, but had brake problems late in the event and lost several spots. Andretti, on the other hand, once again started in the mid-30s, passed the cars that had problems or failed to finish, and posted a 30th-place run after going behind the wall with mechanical problems. Following that lackluster performance, it allowed Speed to again cut into Andretti’s hold on the 35th spot in the owner standings, which is now down to just 142 markers. And while Andretti isn’t in any immediate danger, the team may soon be looking over their shoulder as their lead dwindles.

Around the Bubble

Germain Racing’s No. 13 GEICO Toyota driven by Max Papis: Papis posted a career-best finish Monday afternoon with an eighth-place run that backed up his 16th-place qualifying spot. After the race, Papis gushed about his teams “insane strategy” and “calibrated engine” that helped him keep the car up front and in contention all race long. One would assume he was referring to the fact that he ran out of gas about 100 feet past the finish line. Papis, running a partial schedule in 2009, won’t be back in action until Bristol.

Penske Championship Racing’s No. 12 Dodge driven by David Stremme: Stremme may have posted a great fifth-place qualifying run, but he seems to be losing respect from some of his fellow drivers after finishing 26th at the Glen. Stremme drove wildly into the inner loop on lap 23, lost control of his No. 12 Dodge and spun, collecting the cars of Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick. Afterward, Harvick remarked that perhaps a certain driver “lacked the necessary skill set” to compete lap after lap with the rest of the field. I am sure he wasn’t talking about Gordon… Stremme also got “doored” by Patrick Carpentier after Stremme ran into him in turn 11 a few laps before.

Robby Gordon Motorsports’ No. 7 Toyota driven by Robby Gordon: Gordon had a really nice 18th-place run that could have been a lot better were it not for some problems in the pits. When the caution flew for debris on lap 17, Gordon brought his car to pit road to replace a faulty power steering pump. Gordon felt the team could replace it under a single caution lap, and even told them to go get the one off the Nationwide car as it worked great on Saturday. He was wrong, as the team had to return to pit road and lost two laps. Gordon came back out and was fast though, eventually working his way past the leader to get a lap back and then receiving the Lucky Dog for the nasty wreck involving Sam Hornish Jr. The No. 7 Toyota was strong enough to take advantage of getting back on the lead lap, picking up 10 more spots before the checkered flag flew.

Bubble Chatter

“You gotta take it to the garage. I believe that mount is broke on the track bar.” – crew chief Steve Lane to John Andretti on lap 15

“Come up with a plan, because I think we could change a pump under caution here without losing a lap.”
“If I had a working power steering pump, my car would be real good”
“GO GET THE PUMP OFF THE NATIONWIDE CAR!”
– series of exchanges between Robby Gordon and crew chief Kirk Almquist between laps 17 and 24

“Paul, start saving as much fuel as you can.” – crew chief Larry Carter to driver Paul Menard on lap 19

“Ron, will the starter turn over? No, it’s dead as a doornail.” – Ron Fellows and Marc Reno discussing problems with the No. 09 Chevrolet

“These guys ahead of you are all points racing – go use them up buddy!” – crew chief Peter Sospenzo to Max Papis on lap 38

“I’m just not really driving the car that hard. I’m letting off early, accelerating late, and saving the car and brakes.” – Andy Lally to crew chief Slugger Labbe on lap 43

“Yeah, it sucks because the [No.] 5 car and [No.] 6 car both made it through and we were between them.” – Labbe to Andy Lally after getting caught up in the big wreck on lap 63

“I’m gonna be out of cigarettes here in a minute.” – Speed’s spotter on lap 43

“The brakes are gone.” – Speed over radio to crew on lap 79

What to expect next week at Michigan

Both Bill Elliott and Robby Gordon posted top-20 runs on their last trip to Michigan, and I think we are gonna start seeing some better runs out of Gordon as he builds on his momentum from the Glen. Elliott has run well with the Wood Brothers Ford in almost all of his races in 2009, and Ford historically does well at Michigan, so I think we’ll see that combination work well again next weekend. Meanwhile, Speed has chipped away at Andretti’s lead the last few weeks, and I think he will again despite a 37th-place run last trip to Roger Penske’s oval. Expect top 20s all around for these three drivers. On the flip side, Andretti will finish 33rd and Gilliland 32nd, as they did back in June, while the No.’s 87, 66 and 09 are all expected to start-and-park.

Well there you have it, your rain-delayed Bubble Breakdown from Watkins Glen. Check back next week to see how all of your bubble heroes made out at Michigan International Speedway. And don’t forget the Friday newsletter for the head-to-head picks between Phil and myself. So until next Monday, so long from the bubble! In the meantime, though, after spending five days at the infield of Watkins Glen I’m gonna go and sleep for a week.

2009 Bubble Chart After Watkins Glen

PosOwnerCar #DriverPoints*Points +/- of 35th Place
31Michael Waltrip Racing55Patrick Carpentier1,906+280
32Penske Racing12David Stremme1,856+230
33Yates Racing98Paul Menard1,829+203
34Robby Gordon Motorsports7Robby Gordon1,781+155
35Front Row Motorsports34John Andretti1,6260
36Team Red Bull82Scott Speed1,484-142
37TRG Motorsports71Andy Lally1,294-332
38Phoenix Racing09Various Drivers1,218-408
39NEMCO Motorsports87Joe Nemechek1,033-593
40Furniture Row Racing78Regan Smith989-637
41Prism Motorsports66Dave Blaney923-703
42Tommy Baldwin Racing36Various Drivers906-720