Race Weekend Central

Bubble Breakdown: Team Red Bull Full “Speed” Ahead in Battle for Final Locked-In Spot

Last Saturday night, NASCAR ran for the final time at what has been known as Lowe’s Motor Speedway for well over a decade. The track will still be there in 2010, but it’ll have a new name as Lowe’s announced earlier in the year it wouldn’t renew its sponsorship deal. And while we’re on the subject of “lows,” John Andretti nearly reached a new one for 2009 with a very poor showing in the NASCAR Banking 500 Only from Bank of America, allowing Scott Speed to draw closer to the 35th position in the owner standings. How close has their battle come, you ask? Well, read on in this week’s edition of the Bubble Breakdown to find out!

Focusing on the Bubble

Not since April’s race in Phoenix, where Andretti finished 38th, has the team struggled so badly in a Cup event. Andretti’s No. 34 Front Row Motorsports car unloaded off the truck slow and never got any better, puttering around all night last Saturday before coming home in the 36th spot. John was only able to muster a 41st-place qualifying effort and was so slow during the race he remarked over his radio he could go “flat out through the corners” – and not because the car was handling so well. A stripped bolt on the carburetor also hurt the team, who needed two laps in the pits to repair the problem and dropped further back in the field as a result.

Speed, on the other hand, started well in the 16th position but fell back to 34th by lap 60 with handling problems. Knowing Andretti was struggling so badly, the team desperately tried to get the car to Scott’s liking, but were unable to make much headway with the car being loose in and tight off. They soldiered on, though, with Team Red Bull’s No. 82 machine, picking up a few spots late and finishing in the 28th position. The run cuts Andretti’s lead to 98 points with five races to go.

Around the Bubble

TRG Motorsports’ No. 71 Chevrolet driven this week by Mike Bliss: When you talk about small, underfunded teams doing a lot with a little, you have to look at TRG. While mathematically still alive for 35th, a handful of start-and-park efforts have in all likelihood doomed this team to having to qualify for Daytona in 2010. But last Saturday night, with enough money to run the full race, Bliss started seventh and backed up the strong qualifying effort by finishing 24th.

Bliss became the third driver to post a top 25 in that car, while a fourth driver, Andy Lally, had a great run going at Watkins Glen before getting caught up in a wreck and finishing 27th. If the team can nail down some money and a full-time driver for 2010, they have shown they can run in the top 25 week in and week out and could easily end up in the Top 35.

Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 25 driven by Brad Keselowski: Saturday night marked the final run for Rick Hendrick’s fourth best driver in a HMS racecar. Keselowski will move to a full-time ride in 2010 for Penske Championship Racing and rounds out a pretty solid stable of drivers for team owner Roger Penske, joining current drivers Kurt Busch and Sam Hornish Jr.

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Keselowski had a solid effort in his swan song for HMS, posting a fine eighth-place qualifying run, and – despite ruffling some feathers during the course of the night – was able to overcome a pit-road speeding penalty to finish 12th. The talented youngster has now posted six top-15 starts and five top-15 finishes with one race left on his 2009 schedule. And that race is at Talladega, where he won earlier this year.

Who’s In and Who’s Out

Add Joe Nemechek and his NEMCO Toyota operation to the list of teams mathematically eliminated from the Top 35, as his 17th finish of 40th or worse was the final nail in this team’s coffin. One the other side of the coin, Richard Childress Racing’s No. 29 Chevrolet and Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 20 Home Depot machine have locked themselves into the Top 35 for 2009.

Bubble Chatter

“Overall, this whole run we were a little bit too loose on entry, but a little bit tight on exit.” – Scott Speed to crew chief

“Track bar, track bar, track bar!” – Robby Gordon explaining to his crew chief what needed to be adjusted on the ensuing pit stop

“Well, I like your optimism.” – Michael Waltrip to crew chief after Mikey rattled off a dozen things wrong with the car and the crew chief told him they’d fix it in the next stop

“I’m gonna get that No. 25 car! I’m (explicative) tired of these son of a (explicative) smartass kids!” – John Andretti to crew chief

What to Expect at Martinsville

Looking back to see who did well at the old track in Virginia this spring, it was the old-school bubble drivers topping our list. Bobby Labonte finished 16th and Waltrip was 13th after both started in the 20s on the half-mile oval. Some of our younger drivers, Speed and David Gilliland, finished 39th and 36th, respectively, showing that experience at the little paperclip-shaped track is invaluable.

So what’ll happen this fall? I think you can again count on our two veteran drivers to post top-20 finishes. As far as the youngsters, look for them to again struggle but not quite as badly. Speed will get into the top 30 while Gilliland should have a solid qualifying run (although unfortunately, the team is scheduled to start-and-park this event).

So there you have it, your Bubble Breakdown for the week. Check back next week to see who’s in, who’s out and if Andretti can rebound and start really putting the squeeze on Speed. Plus, don’t forget to check out Friday’s newsletter as the head-to-head bubble picks have come down to the wire. So until next week, so long from the bubble!

2009 Bubble Chart After Charlotte

Pos Owner Car # Driver Points Points +/- of 35th Place
31 Hall of Fame/Yates Racing 96 Bobby Labonte/Erik Darnell 2,661 +335
32 Yates Racing 98 Paul Menard 2,611 +285
33 Michael Waltrip Racing 55 Michael Waltrip 2,582 +256
34 Robby Gordon Motorsports 7 Robby Gordon 2,441 +115
35 Front Row Motorsports 34 John Andretti 2,326 0
36 Team Red Bull 82 Scott Speed 2,228 -98
37 TRG Motorsports 71 Various Drivers 1,844 -482
38 Phoenix Racing 09 Various Drivers 1,599 -727
39 NEMCO Motorsports 87 Joe Nemechek 1,414 -912
40 Furniture Row Racing 78 Regan Smith 1,291 -1,035
41 Prism Motorsports 66 Dave Blaney 1,259 -1,067
42 Tommy Baldwin Racing 36 Various Drivers 1,236 -1,090

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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