NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Bubble Breakdown: Clock Ticking for Team Red Bull While The Monster Mangles Several Others

As the NASCAR season begins winding down, time is running out for Scott Speed‘s Team Red Bull No. 82 team, the only real threat to John Andretti‘s No. 34, to catch and pass them and get a guaranteed spot for the first five races in 2010. Not only is time now working against Speed and his Red Bull Racing Toyota team, but with up to six start-and-park teams in the race, as was the case last Sunday, Andretti has just to make laps early and is guaranteed a finish of no worse than 37th as opposed to a 43rd. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but that’s 18 points a race which adds up over a season. So to see if the distance between the two was able to shrink, read on in this week’s edition of the Bubble Breakdown.

Focusing on the Bubble

Well, Speed again finished ahead of Andretti, and again it wasn’t far enough ahead to really make a dent in the point lead for the No. 34 of Front Row Motorsports. This week, Andretti did manage to start ahead of Speed, 37th to 39th, but neither driver ever was able to drive their car as their problems mirrored each other as did their position on the track. On lap 40, Speed had managed to put 10 spots between the two, but that advantage was short-lived as both drivers had to battle extremely loose conditions. Both drivers also benefited from a Lucky Dog award, but that was the only bright spot for the two racers. Speed eventually finished 25th to Andretti’s 37th, making up a whopping six points.

Around the Bubble

Yates Racing No. 98 Ford Fusion driven by Paul Menard – Menard is a tease, plain and simple. You keep thinking the guy is about to come around and boom, then he’ll rip off three finishes of 30th or worse. Right now, though, he’s on an upswing, posting a 19th-place, lead-lap finish at Dover last Sunday in looking relatively decent most of the race. He also had two runs of five straight top-30 finishes earlier in 2009. However, he also ran himself out of the Top 35 earlier in the season and sits outside the top 30 in points. Maybe in 2010 with three solid teammates to share information with Menard will reach his potential, or maybe he’ll spend his father’s money flirting with the guaranteed starting spot cutoff point again.

Michael Waltrip Racing’s No. 55 Toyota driven by Michael Waltrip – For the 13th time in 2009, Waltrip failed to crack the top 30 after he blew a right-front tire and hit the wall on lap 84, finishing a dismal 36th. The team slips to 33rd in the owner standings as they limp towards the finish at Homestead. And while their spot in the Top 35 in 2010 is all but assured, this is not how Mikey envisioned finishing his full-time driving career, especially after a seventh-place finish in the season opening Daytona 500.

Furniture Row Racing’s No. 78 Chevrolet driven by Regan Smith – After establishing a very impressive run of finishing over 50 straight races to begin his career, he has now started a streak of races not finished. On lap 341, Smith spun and collected several drivers, doing enough damage to park his car for the remainder of the event.

Bubble Chatter

“Still massive loose from the middle off.” – Speed on lap 39

“We blew a right-front tire. Started skating about two laps ago.” – Waltrip to team after hitting the wall

“We’re total junk, this is ridiculous.” “Will you quit your whining and focus!” – Exchange between Speed and crew chief midway through race

“We’re way too loose in, free on throttle in the center and then tight off.” – Andretti to crew chief under caution on lap 164

“We’re awesome for 10 laps, and then it all goes away.” – Speed to crew chief on lap 342

“Hey, somebody bring back the jaws of life.” – unknown crew member from the No. 78 team after Smith took car to the garage

“It feels like the sway bar fell off this thing like 100 laps ago.” – Bobby Labonte on lap 393

What to Expect at Kansas

Up next for NASCAR’s premier series is Kansas Speedway, where some of our bubble teams had decent runs in 2008. David Gilliland, Labonte and Bill Elliott all posted top-25 finishes there. However, next weekend Erik Darnell will be in Labonte’s car, Labonte is in Gilliland’s, and David isn’t scheduled to drive anyone’s as of this writing. So with all that in mind, what should we expect next weekend? Well, Darnell hasn’t done well in the Yates Racing Ford Fusion while Labonte has been solid in the TRG No. 71 Chevrolet. Assuming TRG gets enough money to run the whole race, I think Labonte will again post a top 25. As far as Darnell, you could put all the gold in Fort Knox behind them and he won’t crack the top 30. Maybe next year after he gets some more seat time under his belt, we’ll start seeing an improvement in the young man. Another guy to keep an eye on is Brad Keselowski. He has run well in the No. 25 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports and should do so again in another start for that organization.

So, that’s it for this week’s edition of the Bubble Breakdown. Check back next week to see how all of your favorite bubble dwellers fared in the heartland of America on Sunday.

And don’t forget to check out the newsletter for my part of the head-to-head spoiler picks I do each week with Phil Allaway. So, until next Monday, so long from the bubble!

2009 Bubble Chart After Dover

Pos Owner Car # Driver Points Points +/- of 35th Place
31 Hall of Fame/Yates Racing 96 Bobby Labonte/Erik Darnell 2,430 +339
32 Yates Racing 98 Paul Menard 2,374 +283
33 Michael Waltrip Racing 55 Michael Waltrip 2,349 +258
34 Robby Gordon Motorsports 7 Robby Gordon 2,258 +167
35 Front Row Motorsports 34 John Andretti 2,091 0
36 Team Red Bull 82 Scott Speed 1,967 -124
37 TRG Motorsports 71 Various Drivers 1,682 -409
38 Phoenix Racing 09 Various Drivers 1,497 -594
39 NEMCO Motorsports 87 Joe Nemechek 1,297 -794
40 Furniture Row Racing 78 Regan Smith 1,212 -879
41 Prism Motorsports 66 Dave Blaney 1,151 -940
42 Tommy Baldwin Racing 36 Various Drivers 1,134 -957

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