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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Bubble Breakdown: Andretti, Labonte’s Solid Showing Leaves Speed Searching For Answers

Well if you were to ask John Andretti, he’d tell you that New Hampshire is just beautiful this time of year; but ask Scott Speed, and you may get a totally different answer. While driving to a solid 26th-place finish, Andretti and the No. 34 team extended their lead over Speed and the No. 82 car for the final “locked-in” spot in the field each week. So to see just how badly Front Row Motorsports beat their rivals, as well as how your other bubble dwellers did, read on in this week’s edition of the Bubble Breakdown.

Focusing on the Bubble

For the second week in a row, Speed and his Red Bull Toyota out-qualified Andretti and Front Row’s No. 34 Chevrolet; but for the second week in a row, Andretti overcame his starting position to get ahead of Speed by the time the checkered flag flew. However, it wasn’t easy as Andretti had to take advantage of two Lucky Dog awards, one on lap 85 and another on Lap 161. Then, on a lap 194 caution, crew chief Steven Lane opted to leave his driver out to gain track position. However, the 12th position in the running order was short-lived, and soon Andretti was again running outside the top 25. The team continued to wrench on it, though, and eventually got the handling a little better following the final green-flag pit stop of the day. A few late-race cautions helped the team climb up the standings before finally finishing in the 26th position, one lap down to the leader.

Meanwhile, the car chasing him struggled mightily, to say the least. Speed found himself a lap down very early with brake problems, and went another down before the halfway point in the race. Then, contact with Erik Darnell sent the No. 96 into the wall and caused some damage to Speed’s front bumper on lap 162. However, it looked like Speed’s fortunes were changing when Andretti was involved in a multi-car wreck just five laps later, leaving both cars limping around the speedway at slightly less than 100%. Another caution just eight laps later brought Speed back into the lead lap; however, the crew wasn’t able to fix the loose condition with Speed’s Toyota, and he quickly began losing time to the leader once more. When the checkered flag flew, Speed sat in 31st position, three laps down, slipping back in a battle Andretti’s team continues to win.

Around the Bubble

TRG Motorsports’ No. 71 Chevrolet driven by Bobby Labonte: It was definitely an up-and-down weekend for Labonte and TRG Motorsports. After qualifying eighth, it was announced that the team didn’t have enough money to run the full race and was seeking sponsors to avoid a dreaded “start-and-park.” Luckily, seven local companies stepped up with the needed funding to run the full 300 miles. Once that happened, Labonte tried to make the most of the opportunity – but it wasn’t easy. He went from his eighth starting spot to 29th on lap 105, to sixth on lap 165, to 24th on lap 210, to staying out during green-flag cautions to lead on lap 271, to finally finishing 22nd. But for having no money on Saturday to 22nd on Sunday is a victory for the team. And, by the way, Labonte has beaten his other ride both races he’s subbed in the No. 71 Chevrolet.

Robby Gordon Motorsports’ No. 7 driven by Robby Gordon: Robby had a nice run considering the season he’s having, but maybe not as nice as he’d hoped since his career average at New Hampshire is a 22nd-place finish. Gordon fought a loose condition that kept him in the mid-to-low 30s for most of the race, even getting caught up in a lap 167 melee with several other drivers. But Gordon soldiered on, got a few decent pit stops and a Lucky Dog pass to get back on the lead lap, and turned it into a lead lap, 24th-place finish for his team.

Yates Racing’s No. 98 Ford Fusion driven by Paul Menard: Honestly, Yates Racing never really had it figured out all weekend. With a career average finish of 29th, the team didn’t have real high expectations, but definitely expected more than they got. Menard was off the lead lap early, struggling along until a lap 167 wreck caused enough damage for him to go into ride-around mode to just salvage whatever he could. Turned out that only ended up being one spot, thanks to Dale Earnhardt Jr. getting spun into the wall by David Reutimann late in the going. The checkered flag mercifully brought the race to an end for the team, which finished in 34th – 13 laps down to race winner Mark Martin.

Bubble Chatter

“I don’t know why he’s racing us so hard; he’s gonna be the Lucky Dog no matter what.” – Gordon’s crew chief regarding John Andretti being the only car one lap down on lap 154

“You guys gotta add some brake fluid or something, because I can’t stop the car anymore.” – Speed on lap 168

“It’s not just loose in; it’s loose all the way through the middle. I hate my car!” – Gordon on lap 193

“The guys who just pitted and got tires are running 30.30s, and you are running 30.60s.” – Labonte’s crew chief discussing pit strategy on lap 266

“That’s the NASCAR ‘let’s have an exciting finish caution right there.'” – Labonte on lap 276

“The 31 car is restarting somewhere he’s not supposed to be. And so is the No. 7… but he’s an idiot.” – Michael Waltrip coming to the green flag on lap 282

“I don’t think they’re done yet, so go get whatever you can without getting wrecked.” – Gordon’s crew chief regarding the late-race cautions

What to expect next week at Dover

NASCAR heads down the coast to Delaware next Sunday, and that is not real good news for our bubble teams. The drivers currently sitting in 32nd to 37th place in the owner standings, including David Gilliland and Labonte (who will both be back in their regular rides next week) finished between 32nd and 43rd in their last trip to the Monster Mile. The only non-Top 35 contender to crash the Top 35 in the race was Regan Smith, who came home in the 22nd spot with his Chevrolet. With Smith slated to drive again next weekend, we’ll go with him again to crack the top 25. Behind him, if you want to call two consecutive top-30 finishes momentum, then Andretti has it – and so we’ll look for him to make it three top 30s in a row. Speed will qualify in the mid-20s and shake off the last two weeks’ struggles to post a top 30 also. On the flip side, Waltrip and Menard will continue to slump, finishing outside the Top 35, while Gilliland will unfortunately have start-and-park duty with TRG Motorsports.

So, there you have it, your Bubble Breakdown for New Hampshire. Check back next week, as we’ll be able to start eliminating some teams from the Top 35 while having a look at who’s locked in for next year. And don’t forget to check out Friday’s FREE Frontstretch newsletter, as I have pulled to within one and trail Phil in the head-to-head picks 14-13.

So, until next Monday, so long from the bubble!

2009 Bubble Chart After New Hampshire

PosOwnerCar #DriverPointsPoints +/- of 35th Place
31Hall of Fame/Yates Racing96Bobby Labonte/Erik Darnell2,336+327
32Michael Waltrip Racing55Michael Waltrip2,294+285
33Yates Racing98Paul Menard2,268+259
34Robby Gordon Motorsports7Robby Gordon2,197+188
35Front Row Motorsports34John Andretti2,0090
36Team Red Bull82Scott Speed1,879-130
37TRG Motorsports71Various Drivers1,631-378
38Phoenix Racing09Various Drivers1,454-555
39NEMCO Motorsports87Joe Nemechek1,257-752
40Furniture Row Racing78Regan Smith1,145-864
41Prism Motorsports66Dave Blaney1,099-910
42Tommy Baldwin Racing36Various Drivers1,085-924
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