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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Bubble Breakdown: Hornish Didn’t Win … But He Still Lucked Out At Pocono

_Last week, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was mean to the Bubble drivers, preventing all but one – 24th-place Travis Kvapil – from finishing any higher than 30th. A first-lap crash crunched the fenders of Elliott Sadler and Sam Hornish, Jr., a shredded tire ended Robby Gordon’s day, and mechanical troubles wreaked havoc on both Kevin Conway and Regan Smith._

_Landon Cassill was forced to park his TRG Motorsports No. 71 for the second-consecutive race, dropping the team to the Bubble for the first time since New Hampshire. Ironically, though, even with the early exit Kevin Buckler’s team still left Indy with a firmer grasp on the Top 35. Both 36th-ranked David Stremme in the No. 26 and 37th-ranked David Gilliland in the No. 38 failed to make the Brickyard 400, giving returning No. 71 driver Bobby Labonte 40 more points of cushion to work with at Pocono. But would the beginning of Labonte’s four-race return help to move TRG back up the standings? Read on to find out!_

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Sam Hornish continues to build on his lead over the Bubble with a strong showing at Pocono this week.

*_LOCKED-IN AT WATKINS GLEN_*

*No. 77 – Sam Hornish, Jr. (Penske Racing)*
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 30th (+278 points ahead of 35th)
*Sunday’s Finish: 11th*
Current Owner Points Ranking: 28th (+334 points ahead of 35th)

On Sunday, Hornish extended an impressive streak by finishing inside the Top 11 for the fourth consecutive Cup race at Pocono. Hornish was the Lucky Dog recipient after Dale Earnhardt, Jr. spun out with 41 laps remaining, so crew chief Travis Geisler chose to make the ensuing pit stop the last one of the day. This allowed the No. 77 to move to the top of the scoreboard five circuits later, when Hornish stayed out after Kurt Busch and Elliott Sadler crashed hard in turn two. A timely rain delay kept him out front for nine laps before the race was finally restarted with 21 to go.

On the restart, Hornish held his own by racing eventual winner Greg Biffle through turns one and two. It wasn’t until lap 191 that he fell any farther back than second, courtesy of a Turn 3 bump from Tony Stewart. Though the tires fell off from there, Hornish still finished just outside the Top 10 and gained 56 points of cushion. He has now gained points every week since his crash at Sonoma: 157 points in all over the last five races.

*No. 47 – Marcos Ambrose (JTG-Daugherty Racing)*
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 28th (+349)
*Sunday’s Finish: 39th*
Current Owner Points Ranking: 29th (+316)

Not so fortunate was Marcos Ambrose, whose third engine-related failure of 2010 dropped him 33 points back into this week’s group of Bubble drivers. Ambrose qualified a respectable 19th, but pulled behind the wall during the first round of green flag stops on lap 46. On top of his plans to change teams at the end of this season, these mechanical gremlins will certainly be a major concern next week as the Tasmanian looks for road course redemption at Watkins Glen.

*No. 19 – Elliott Sadler (Richard Petty Motorsports)*
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 29th (+309)
*Sunday’s Finish: 34th*
Current Owner Points Ranking: 30th (+291)

As we all know, it was both the best of times and the worst of times for Elliott Sadler at Pocono. Just over a day after his emotional return to Victory Lane in the Truck Series, Sadler was lying on the track catching his breath next to a completely annihilated Air Force Ford, the car’s engine ripped free and smoking on the infield grass. Sadler had lost two laps when an early spin off turn three failed to draw a yellow flag, but he was holding his own when Kurt Busch wrecked in front of him with 36 laps remaining. Fortunately, Sadler was not only able to walk away from his grinding crash, but the No. 19 only lost 18 points of cushion – just the fourth-most among this week’s teams.

*No. 78 – Regan Smith (Furniture Row Racing)*
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 31st (+173)
*Sunday’s Finish: 21st*
Current Owner Points Ranking: 31st (+194)

One week after the cockpit of the No. 78 filled with smoke, Regan Smith was back in his element when he picked up the team’s 11th top-25 finish of 2010. Like Hornish, the only other Bubble driver to finish on the lead lap Sunday, Smith picked up a timely Lucky Dog on lap 146 and remained there throughout the rest of the event. Smith also gained a healthy 21 points of cushion, more than making up for the seven he lost at Indy.

*No. 7 – P.J. Jones (Robby Gordon Motorsports)*
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 32nd (+49)
*Sunday’s Finish: 35th*
Current Owner Points Ranking: 32nd (+28)

The 2010 season at Pocono could not have ended soon enough for Robby Gordon Motorsports. After Ted Musgrave failed to get the No. 7 into the show in June, P.J. Jones lost the primary car in Friday’s opening practice after a hard slap into the Turn 1 wall. The plain, black-painted backup car was never quite able to get up to speed, either. Jones called off his qualifying lap on Friday and, after starting 42nd, the car was black-flagged by NASCAR for failing to meet the minimum speed requirement. Like the No. 47 team, Gordon’s is looking to bounce back in a big way at Watkins Glen after a strong showing of their own at Sonoma.

*No. 37 – David Gilliland (Front Row Motorsports)*
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 33rd (+20)
*Sunday’s Finish: 30th*
Current Owner Points Ranking: 33rd (+14)

The three Front Row Motorsports cars finished 29th, 30th, and 31st on Sunday as the final three cars to take the checkered flag. Second among them was David Gilliland, who carried sponsorship from Gander Mountain for the second time in 2010. Gilliland qualified 37th, and lost the first of his two laps on the 51st circuit. However, since so many other Bubble teams struggled on Sunday, Gilliland lost just six points of cushion. And since he secured a Top 20 driving the No. 38 at Sonoma, expect him to climb back into that car next week at The Glen.

*No. 34 – Kevin Conway (Front Row Motorsports)*
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 34th (+19)
*Sunday’s Finish: 31st*
Current Owner Points Ranking: 34th (+10)

Last among the Front Row Trio was Kevin Conway, who was making his first return trip to a track as a Cup Series driver. Conway lost nine points on the day, but again, has continued to hold his own in the Top 35 ever since he was moved to the No. 34 team.

*No. 71 – Bobby Labonte (TRG Motorsports)*
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 35th (On The Bubble By 196 Points)
*Sunday’s Finish: 28th*
Current Owner Points Ranking: 35th (On The Bubble By 199 Points)

TaxSlayer and Bobby Labonte returned to Kevin Buckler’s team for the first of a four-race deal, allowing the No. 71 to run the entire race for the first time since Mike Bliss’ standout performance at Daytona last month. Despite his post-Sonoma frustrations, Labonte performed admirably: he qualified 22nd, beat all three of the Front Row Motorsports cars, and gained three points of cushion as a result.

Next week, expect Andy Lally to return to this car as the road race ace marks the one-year anniversary of his Cup Series debut. Assuming this deal comes together, it should be interesting to see if Lally can capitalize on the continuing struggles of Front Row Motorsports to put the No. 71 back ahead of the rest of the field.

*_NOT LOCKED-IN AT WATKINS GLEN_*

*No. 38 – Travis Kvapil (Front Row Motorsports)*
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 37th (-196 points behind 35th)
*Sunday’s Finish: 29th*
Current Owner Points Ranking: 36th (-199 points behind 35th)

Kvapil bested both of his FRM teammates for the third consecutive race, this time doing so in the No. 38 that missed the show last week at Indy. Although the team lost three points to 35th-ranked TRG Motorsports, the team returned to the 36th spot in owner Points after qualifying, once again, dashed the hopes of their persistent Bubble competitors…

*No. 26 – David Stremme (Latitude 43 Motorsports)*
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 36th (-154)
*Sunday’s Finish: DNQ*
Current Owner Points Ranking: 37th (-202)

Stremme threw everything he had into his qualifying lap on Friday, but left too much black and blue paint on the Turn 3 wall to keep the No. 26 from missing its second consecutive race. The team lost 48 points of cushion, capping off a costly 106-point slide since Stremme wrecked at Daytona last month. Watkins Glen and the return of the “Said Heads” could not have come at a better time – except that Boris will be piloting Red Bull’s No. 83 on Sunday instead.

*2010 Bubble Chart After Watkins Glen*:

*Pos**Owner**Car #**Driver**Points**Points +/- of 35th Place*
*29*JTG Daugherty Racing47Marcos Ambrose1,885+316
*30*Richard Petty Motorsports19Elliott Sadler1,860+291
*31*Furniture Row Racing78Regan Smith1,763+194
*32*Robby Gordon Motorsports7Robby Gordon1,597+28
*33*Front Row Motorsports37David Gilliland1,583+14
*34*Front Row Motorsports34Kevin Conway1,579+10
*35*TRG Motorsports71Various Drivers1,569*0*
*36*Front Row Motorsports38Travis Kvapil1,370-199
*37*Latitude 43 Motorsports26David Stremme1,367-202
*38*Tommy Baldwin Racing36Casey Mears1,096-473
*39*Phoenix Racing09Landon Cassill1,069-500
*40*Whitney Motorsports46J.J. Yeley943-626
*41*Germain Racing13Max Papis910-659
*42*NEMCO Motorsports87Joe Nemechek885-684
*43*PRISM Motorsports66Dave Blaney / Michael Waltrip804-765
*44*PRISM Motorsports55Michael McDowell771-798

“Contact Brock Beard”:https://frontstretch.com/contact/28430/

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