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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Bubble Breakdown: Underdog Bubbles Burst While John Andretti Beats Scott Speed on Fuel Mileage

The last few weeks, John Andretti’s radio has been a little livelier than normal. Instead of just lap times and car positioning, John has been requesting to know where the No. 82 car is on the track. That’s because Red Bull Toyota has beaten Andretti’s No. 34 Chevrolet the last three races, slowly closing the gap between the teams. This type of behavior is called “looking over your shoulder;” but as Scott Speed applies more pressure, John will only be looking more and more. So to see if Speed did just that at Michigan, read on in this week’s edition of the Bubble Breakdown.

Focusing on the bubble

Speed and his No. 82 Red Bull Team thoroughly dominated Andretti’s No. 34 Carfax Chevrolet right up until two laps to go on Sunday afternoon. Speed’s Red Bull machine crushed Andretti on Friday, putting his car 18 spots ahead in qualifying. But as they say, qualifying doesn’t pay any points. On Sunday, he again was faster, leading Andretti by 8-12 positions throughout most of the race. But late in the afternoon, Speed started complaining that the car was losing grip for some reason. Then, it was completely gone and he fell like a stone from the 21st spot all the way back to 29th. With 35 cars on the lead lap, he would still beat Andretti, but it wouldn’t be by much as he needed to start making serious strides into his deficit. Then, when things couldn’t get any worse… Speed ran out of gas. Unable to make it to the checkered flag, the rookie had to pit for a splash of fuel instead. The car would not refire, though, and the team pushed it down pit road past the finish line. Meanwhile, Andretti not only didn’t run out of gas – he passed a half-dozen cars who did. The final tally left Andretti 28th and Speed 34th, extending the No. 34 team’s lead by 18 points to 160 as time continues to run out for Team Red Bull to break back into the Top 35.

Around the Bubble

Penske Championship Racing’s No. 12 Dodge: David Stremme had a pretty good run, for the most part. Starting from the 20th position, Stremme hung around the top 17 most of the afternoon until a harmless spin on lap 157 forced him to pit road for four new tires. The team was going to roll the dice on fuel mileage, but that strategy suddenly went out the window – probably for the better. As the laps wound down with David holding the 18th position, teams started falling out with dry tanks. Stremme picked up five more spots, coming home in 13th place. The finish equals the team’s best run of 2009, and is especially surprising considering the fact that David had an average career finish of 29th at Michigan.

Robby Gordon Motorsports’ No. 7 Toyota: Not a lot to say here about Robby Gordon, as a tire blew out going into turn 1 and ruined the suspension on the No. 7 Toyota. The car was pretty much undrivable after that, and team owner/driver Gordon decided to park it for the day on lap 101. Where the team is in points, it really won’t hurt them as they aren’t going to move up much – nor are they in any danger of falling out of the Top 35.

Yates Racing’s No. 98 Ford Fusion: Nothing earth-shattering but a nice run here for Paul Menard. Wasn’t quite as high as his career average finish at Michigan of 23rd, but the 26th-place result was higher than his season average finish of 27th. Menard’s team used some strategy to stay out and lead a lap, then got some luck as they got a Lucky Dog pass for a lap 121 caution. The No. 98 bunch also caught a break when Stremme got pinched across Menard’s front end. No significant damage was done, and Menard was able to continue his race unharmed. The team played the fuel-mileage game well and wound up with a decent finish. But like Gordon’s team, this team is in no danger of falling out of the Top 35 anyway.

Bubble Chatter

Exchange between Robby Gordon and crew chief Kirk Almquist on lap 99:
“Alright, I’m parking this thing! I can’t drive it.”
“You don’t wanna try and fix it?”
“Naa. I’m done.”

Exchange between Menard and crew chief Larry Carter on lap 158 under caution:
“The No. 6 car is comin’ up and wants you to look at his front fender.”
“The top of his tire is rubbin’ a bit. Do I have to save any fuel?”
“We’re good on fuel, we’re good on fuel. If you want to save some in case of a green-white-checkered, go ahead.”

Crew Chief Steve Lane to Andretti on lap 147:
“Well the No. 7 car is out of the race, so we’re good as far as that’s concerned.”

Speed to crew chief Jimmy Elledge on lap 165
“We just lost all our rear grip for some reason.”

Crew Chief Jimmy Elledge to Speed on lap 199 when car wouldn’t refire after running out of gas:
“PUMP THE (EXPLETIVE) OUT OF IT! PUMP THE LIVIN (EXPLETIVE) OUT OF IT!”

What to expect at Bristol

Well, not much really. God forbid someone bumps a Chase bubble car, and the new CoT just doesn’t race as well as the old one on this half-mile short track. However, our Top-35 bubble teams are free to beat on each other, and with Stremme ruffling some feathers recently, we may see a bunch of yellows with the Penske Dodge involved. That means a finish of 30th or worse for Team Penske. Meanwhile, Gordon and Menard ran fairly well in the fall, finishing 25th and 21st, respectively. Also, look for Speed to have a good showing. Speed had a good weekend in March, starting 11th and finishing 28th in his first trip to Thunder Valley. And once again, look for Andretti to place 30th–33rd and the start and parkers to include the Nos. 87, 66, 36 and 64.

So, that’s it for this week’s edition of the Bubble Breakdown. Check back next week to see if there were any changes to the bubble standings and for the look ahead to Atlanta. Also, please don’t forget to check out the newsletter all week, especially Friday for the head-to-head picks between Phil and I. So, until next Monday, so long from the bubble!

2009 Bubble Chart After Michigan

Pos Owner Car # Driver Points Points +/- of 35th Place
31 Michael Waltrip Racing 55 Michael Waltrip 1,993 +288
32 Penske Racing 12 David Stremme 1,980 +275
33 Yates Racing 98 Paul Menard 1,919 +214
34 Robby Gordon Motorsports 7 Robby Gordon 1,833 +128
35 Front Row Motorsports 34 John Andretti 1,705 0
36 Team Red Bull 82 Scott Speed 1,545 -160
37 TRG Motorsports 71 David Gilliland 1,337 -368
38 Phoenix Racing 09 Various Drivers 1,267 -438
39 NEMCO Motorsports 87 Joe Nemechek 1,079 -626
40 Furniture Row Racing 78 Regan Smith 989 -716
41 Prism Motorsports 66 Dave Blaney 960 -745
42 Tommy Baldwin Racing 36 Various Drivers 946 -759

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