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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Bubble Breakdown: Top-15 Finish Has Scott Speed in Striking Distance of Top 35

Well bubble fans, it looks like we’re losing one of our bubble dwellers, again. During the week it has been reported that David Stremme will be replaced in the No. 12 Team Penske Dodge by rising star Brad Keselowski in 2010, if not sooner. David was just not getting the job done for Team Penske, sitting 31st in the owner standings while driving for an organization that has seen the resurgence of Kurt Busch and a huge improvement with Sam Hornish Jr. With Keselowski, Roger Penske gets a driver that has equaled the number of top-10 finishes posted by Stremme and has done it in just eight races this year compared to 98 career starts for David. And while Stremme has yet to win a race at NASCAR’S top level, Mr. Keselowski has the dramatic win at Talladega back a few months ago on his resume. So with news of his impending departure, would Stremme get up on the wheel and go out with a bang or just fizzle out? Read on to see how David and the rest of the bubble teams did at Bristol Motor Speedway in this week’s edition of the Bubble Breakdown.

Focusing on the Bubble

Look out Mr. Andretti, Scott Speed is a comin! Speed and his Red Bull Racing No. 82 team were good all weekend, starting third on Saturday night and bringing it home in one piece in the 15th position. Rather impressive for just his second trip to the half-mile bullring in NASCAR’s top series. Speed faded a bit early, dropping back to the 25th spot by lap 225, but got some great stops that combined strategy for track position and the adjustments necessary to get the car to Speed’s liking. Speed stayed mid-pack for the middle part of the race and sat in 25th at lap 350 when he began his march back towards the front. The run was the team’s best effort since a fifth-place run at Talladega way back in April and it cuts John Andretti’s lead down to 118 points.

Andretti, by contrast once again struggled his way through another race, pretty much passing only the cars that wrecked out or had some other sort of mechanical problems. Andretti’s No. 34 Front Row Motorsports’ Chevrolet stayed in the mid 30s most of the race as the team fought a tight in/loose off condition that made the car almost impossible to drive. The result was another 30th-place finish, six laps down to the leaders. The team really needs to gather themselves during the off week and come back with a strong run in two weeks at Atlanta or Team Red Bull is going to put a big dorsal fin on top of the team van and start circling FRM’s shop while blaring the theme to Jaws out of its sound system.

Around the Bubble

TRG Motorsports’ No. 71 Chevrolet driven by David Gilliland: It really was nice to see this team running well again. After showing some signs of life a few weeks ago at the Glen before getting damaged in a wreck, the team again looked strong starting 12th and running in the top 20 for the first 350 laps at Bristol. But that all changed on lap 355 when a blow tire sent the car hard into the wall, ending their night and sending the team to a 37th-place finish that wasn’t at all indicative of how well they were running. They remain 37th in the owner standings and will in all likelihood be qualifying on time at Daytona in 2010.

Furniture Row Racing’s No. 78 driven by Regan Smith: Well, Smith managed to keep his consecutive finishes to start a career streak going, by no means an easy thing to keep intact when racing at Bristol. But like several others, the team fought a tight in the middle of the corners issue and never got it right. Smith struggled around all night though and finished in the 27th spot. But there was good news for the team this week. They have announced that Smith will return for 2010 and the team is planning on running a full schedule next year, and may even add a few more this year.

Morgan-McClure Motorsports No. 4 Chevrolet driven by Scott Wimmer: While a 26th-place start followed by a 29th-place run isn’t very significant by itself, the fact that that team was Morgan-McClure‘s No. 4 Chevy is significant to all the old school NASCAR fans. Once a competitive mainstay in NASCAR, the team ran out of funding in 2007 and is hoping last Saturday night will let potential sponsors know they are still around. The team has six COTs and 18 to 20 race ready engines, all they need is some financial backing. Here’s to hoping that running a full race and not looking too shabby brings in some sponsorship money so this team may return to NASCAR either in 2009 or 2010.

Team Penske Championship Racing’s No. 12 Dodge driven by Stremme: After hearing of his replacement in 2010, Stremme went out and recorded his eighth top-20 run of 2009, moving the team up one spot in the owner standings to 31st. Stremme moved steadily up from his 34th starting spot to post a pretty decent run. The team made an error by pitting before pit road had opened but made up for it by receiving a lucky dog award late to get back on the lead lap. All in all not a bad night for a team sitting outside the top 30 in points.

Bubble Chatter

“Watch him sticking his nose in there on exit” – No. 71 spotter to driver referring to the No. 47 car

“Let him go and just get back to your focus” – No. 71 spotter to driver on lap 102

“Same deal tight in and in the middle” – Paul Menard to crew chief

“All clear, hang in there bud, I know this is frustrating” – No. 98 spotter to driver during green-flag run while driving an ill-handling car

“I get my ass kicked on pit road every (explicative) time and I’m getting tired of it” – Robby Gordon to crew chief on lap 138

“Drive hard and drive smart here, its money time” – spotter to Gilliland lap 309

“The redneck in me says it’s raining” – No. 82 spotter on lap 426

“Woo! That’s how we roll guys, much better!” – Speed to team after pit adjustments made the car a lot better late in the race

What to Expect at Atlanta

No racing next weekend as NASCAR gives its teams their final weekend off for 2009. When they do return at Atlanta, expect the bubble teams to struggle, as they historically do at Atlanta. One team that didn’t struggle last time at AMS was TRG Motorsports No. 71. The team posted a 24th-place run and even though they didn’t get a good finish at Bristol the team ran great until they blew a tire. Another team that you may see run well is the No. 12 Penske Dodge. Teammate Kurt Busch had the field covered last time and his team’s notes along with the fact that Stremme is now auditioning for a 2010 ride may combine to get them into the top 20 in the finishing order. Speed also is building momentum and a top 25 looks to be in order as they claw their way back towards the Top 35. Struggling will be Menard and Andretti (again). Both barely made the top 30 last trip to Atlanta and have struggled at the track in the past.

So there you have it, your Bubble Breakdown for Bristol. Check back in two weeks to see if our bubble dwellers had a better showing collectively than they did earlier in the year at Atlanta. And don’t forget to check out the daily newsletter and the head to head picks on Friday. Even though there won’t be any head to head picks this Friday, you should still check out the newsletter. So until two weeks from now, so long from the bubble!