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Bubble Breakdown: Top 20 Not Enough for Team Red Bull’s Last-Gasp Bid for 35th

The fight for the Top 35 has now come down to three teams heading to Phoenix next week. Robby Gordon Motorsports, Front Row Motorsports and Team Red Bull are vying for the final spots in the Top 35 heading into 2010. The good news for Scott Speed and his No. 82 team is they have been putting together some better runs as of late – but the bad news, though, is that so has John Andretti and the No. 34 of FRR. Their late surge has brought Robby Gordon‘s No. 7 back into the picture, who – entering Sunday – hadn’t posted a finish better than 30th since the first race of the Chase at New Hampshire. So read on to see if Robby continued his slide and just how close the back half of the points standings has become in this week’s edition of the Bubble Breakdown.

Focusing on the Bubble

Speed needed to make a serious gain on Andretti at Texas, but despite a top 20 performance, the gain wasn’t really enough. For the fourth time in five races, the FRM No. 34 Chevrolet team finished in the top 26, minimizing the damage from Speed/TRB’s 18th-place run with a 24th-place finish of their own. As the green flag dropped on Sunday, Andretti started 12 spots behind Speed and quickly moved up through the field, getting up to 23rd by the halfway point. Speed also progressed through traffic, overcoming a too fast off pit road penalty on lap 89 to run in the top 20 by lap 180. 100 laps later, Andretti had taken a 23rd- to 28th-place advantage over Speed as the cars flipped positions again, but the two teams used opposing pit strategies, enabling Scott to overtake Andretti late. FRM went into fuel conservation mode a little earlier than TRB, who pitted and then adopted the “drive it like you stole it” line of thinking. That allowed the No. 82 to muscle its way to an 18th-place finish, while a fading Andretti fell back to 24th. However, that caused a gain of just 18 points for TRB – not nearly what they were hoping for with just two races left.

Around the Bubble

Penske Championship Racing’s No. 12 Dodge driven by Brad Keselowski: Well, that wasn’t how Roger Penske had hoped to usher in the Keselowski era. After a poor qualifying effort had the team back in 35th for the start of the race, they got caught up in a multi-car wreck on lap 174. The team spent 70 laps in the garage, returning to the track on lap 252 to just ride around and deny a spot for Jimmie Johnson to pick up for the benefit of teammate Kurt Busch. As a result, Brad’s debut with his new team was a disappointing 35th-place start and finish.

Robby Gordon Motorsports’ No. 7 Toyota driven by Robby Gordon: Gordon looked awesome early, moving from his 29th starting spot all the way up to 16th on lap 60. However, the troubles on pit road that have plagued him all year reared their ugly heads again, with several slow stops combined with adjustments that didn’t help the car enough. Robby slid back through the field, finishing three laps down in 27th position despite getting the Lucky Dog at one point. Because of yet another tough day, both Andretti and Speed gained on Robby in the owner standings as a result.

Who’s In and Who’s Out

Well, it’s down to a three-man race for the final spot in the Top 35 of owner points. Based on their finishes, the No.’s 96, 55 and 98 are all locked into the Top 35 for 2010. On the flip side, no one was eliminated, as Speed remained in contention for the last spot, meaning it’s now down to Gordon, Andretti and Speed and their respective teams.

Bubble Chatter

“They’re talking about debris on the track right now.” – No. 82 team spotter

“This car exits really, really good.” – No. 82 driver Scott Speed

“I can’t do anything with the [No.] 6 car right now, so I am just gonna wait and save my tires.” – No. 7 driver Robby Gordon

“That must have been a really slow pit stop.”
“Well it certainly wasn’t one of out best.” – exchange between Robby Gordon and his crew chief

“It keeps jumping out of gear, even with the bungee on it.” – No. 21 driver Bill Elliott, whose car broke a transmission Sunday

“I need a (expletive) side, they’re comin’ on! High, low, something cause I can’t see (expletive!) – No. 82 driver Scott Speed

What to look for at Phoenix

To be quite frank, don’t expect much from our bubble teams next weekend out in the desert, as our remaining bubble dwellers Speed, Andretti and Gordon finished 34th, 38th and 39th respectively last time out to Arizona. But I am thinking you’ll see Speed drive like hell as he has to try and squeeze his team into the Top 35. Meanwhile, Andretti will probably run a more conservative race, maybe stay out under a caution to lead a lap, collecting a few more points while they look to set themselves for a nice, easy run at Homestead in two weeks. Finally, Gordon will drive as hard as he can every lap, as he always does since the odds of Speed catching him are quite low. Speed will get a top 25, with Andretti and Gordon both posting finishes in the upper 20s and Gordon locking himself into the Top 35 for 2010.

So, there you have it, your Bubble Breakdown for Texas. Check back next week to see what Speed has to do to pull off a miracle and get himself into the Top 35 by the end of the season. And don’t forget to check out the head-to-head picks in Friday’s newsletter. My rival Phil Allaway wrapped up the title at Texas… but I can at least still make it close. Until next Monday, so long from the bubble!

2009 Bubble Chart After Texas

Pos Owner Car # Driver Points Points +/- of 35th Place
31 Hall of Fame/Yates Racing 96 Erik Darnell 2,910 +304
32 Michael Waltrip Racing 55 Michael Waltrip 2,900 +294
33 Yates Racing 98 Paul Menard 2,818 +212
34 Robby Gordon Motorsports 7 Robby Gordon 2,647 +41
35 Front Row Motorsports 34 John Andretti 2,606 0
36 Team Red Bull 82 Scott Speed 2,489 -117
37 TRG Motorsports 71 Bobby Labonte 2,099 -507
38 Phoenix Racing 09 Various Drivers 1,826 -780
39 NEMCO Motorsports 87 Joe Nemechek 1,534 -1,072
40 Tommy Baldwin Racing 36 Various Drivers 1,425 -1,181

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