With the waving of the checkered flag at Miami on Sunday evening, the 2009 NASCAR season came to a close after 36 points races and 10 long months of racing. And John Andretti needed every one of those races to finally lock himself and his Front Row Motorsports No. 34 Chevrolet team into the Top 35 and give themselves a locked-in spot in not only the 2010 Daytona 500, but also the ensuing four events. To see how Andretti finally put away Scott Speed and his Red Bull Racing No. 82 Toyota, read on in your final Bubble Breakdown for 2009.
Focusing on the Bubble
Well it wasn’t pretty but nothing that FRM has done all year has been. Andretti moved from 40th to 28th before hitting the wall hard on lap 101. But John rebounded by winning the lucky dog award on laps 116, 155 and 193 to stay in touch with the lead lap and watch Speed work his way back to him. With the damage to the car, the handling was never quite right but didn’t need to be as Andretti pretty much had to just finish the race as long as Speed didn’t post a career day, which he didn’t. After the wreck John hovered around the low 30s, eventually finishing 33rd and locking up the final spot in the Top 35 by 96 points over Speed.
Speed put up a blistering qualifying lap to start on the outside of the front row at Miami, but unfortunately for team Red Bull Racing that was the high point of the weekend for the No. 82 race team. Scott fell like a stone right from the drop of the green flag, falling to 17th by lap 15, and found himself in 27th just 45 laps into the event. The team threw everything at the car in a desperate attempt to get the car right but never found a good balance. Speed eventually finished 27th, not nearly enough to race his way into the Top 35 meaning they will have to race their way into the first five races of 2010.
Around the Bubble
Wood Brothers Racing’s No. 21 Ford driven by Bill Elliott: What an up and down race for the Wood Brothers. After starting ninth, Elliott fell to 38th by lap 60, back up to 18th 120 laps into the event, back down to 28th on lap 195 and eventually up to 16th on lap 267. While the team ran a limited schedule it can be considered a successful year as in 12 events the team posted seven top-16 starts and five top-20 finishes.
TRG Motorsports’ No. 71 Chevrolet driven by Bobby Labonte: While last Sunday’s 31st-place finish was nothing to shout about, better days do lie ahead for this team. Labonte, who has had several strong runs with the team including their first top 10 at Talladega, has been signed to drive for them full-time in 2010. His past champion’s provisional will get them into the first five races in 2010 and if sponsorship money is secured the team should be competing for the top 25 next year instead of the top 35 as they did in 2009.
Michael Waltrip Racing’s No. 55 Toyota driven by Michael Waltrip: It was the end of an era as Waltrip ended his full time driving career with a 30th-place run at Miami. Mikey will drive a limited schedule in 2010 in the Cup Series and maybe full-time in the Nationwide Series. Martin Truex Jr. will take over the driving duties for the team in 2010.
“If they don’t give us the one to go we’ll stay out and lead a lap.” – No. 55 crew chief
“We’re like 35 points behind the No. 96 car so if that call costs us that spot then its pretty dumb.”
“Well he’s like 20 laps down so don’t worry about him” – Exchange between Michael Waltrip and his crew chief
“You guys are really not fixing this racecar at all” – No. 78 driver Regan Smith
“Gimme lap times or something, I need some help out here!” – No. 78 driver Regan Smith
“I lost it up in the high groove” – No. 7 driver Robby Gordon
“We’re done, we’ll never get it fixed in time” – No. 7 driver Robby Gordon (subsequently the crew did get the car repaired and Robby returned to the track)
What to Expect Next Week
With no race next week I would like to take this opportunity to thank my readers for taking the time each week to read the Breakdown. I can’t say how much I appreciate your following and the comments and contacts I get from week to week. Next week will be the 2009 Bubble review. Check back in to see a review of your favorite bubble dwellers and a look ahead to the 2010 Daytona 500. So until next week, so long from the bubble!