Last week, Regan Smith capitalized on the dual misfortunes of Scott Speed’s engine failure and Elliott Sadler’s grinding crash to gain 60 points of cushion at Atlanta, matching his 14th-place finish in the spring with a 17th in the fall.
But the night also belonged to Front Row Motorsports, whose three teams each gained more than 20 points of cushion apiece. David Gilliland’s 20th-place finish allowed him to set his sights on Travis Kvapil’s 32nd-place rank as both now sat more than 80 points ahead of 35th. Behind them, Dave Blaney gunned FRM’s No. 38 a full 39 points closer to the bubble, where Robby Gordon’s new wheelman Kevin Conway suffered a second straight DNF. But for Bob Jenkins’s only team outside the Top 35, in order to exact FRM’s revenge on the Conway-ExtenZe duo, the team would still have to drive through Latitude 43 Motorsports, now a tantalizing seven points right in front of them.
The Chase field may be set, but the bubble battle rages on! Read on to find out how the Richmond race set the stage for the final ten rounds of the 2010 season.
LOCKED-IN AT NEW HAMPSHIRE
No. 19 – Elliott Sadler (Richard Petty Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 30th (+384 points ahead of 35th)
Saturday’s Finish: 27th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 30th (+426 points ahead of 35th)
Though he had one of the fastest cars in Friday’s Nationwide Series race, Sadler’s performance in the Cup event was a more subtle success. He qualified 36th and lost a lap on the 54th circuit as Jimmie Johnson used Sadler’s No. 19 as a pick to pass Carl Edwards for the lead. Fortunately, David Reutimann’s spin came just two laps later, drawing a yellow flag that gave Sadler his lap back – at least for a moment. Long green-flag runs in an ill-handling car eventually put him three laps down at the finish, but as the second-highest finishing bubble driver, he still gained a healthy 42 points – one of his largest jumps since he finished ninth at Michigan last month. It was a welcome change from the spring race at Richmond, where multiple crashes left him a distant 38th.
No. 78 – Regan Smith (Furniture Row Racing)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 31st (+298)
Saturday’s Finish: 25th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 31st (+346)
The best bubble performance this week was authored by Smith, who finished just one lap and two positions ahead of Sadler. The No. 78 team had high hopes for a good finish in Saturday’s race as Smith’s test at the Milwaukee Mile last week was geared toward improving the New York driver’s short-track performances. In most respects, what they learned proved successful Saturday night. Smith qualified 17th and remained in the top 20 until the halfway mark, when slight damage to the nose of his car slipped him back in the pack. After losing a lap, he was actually able to hold off Jeff Gordon for the Lucky Dog position for several laps before relenting just prior to the third and final yellow for rain. In the end, Smith’s No. 78 was the last car to finish two laps down, worth 48 points of cushion to leave him a healthy 346 ahead with 10 races left.
No. 34 – Tony Raines (Front Row Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 32nd (+86)
Saturday’s Finish: 38th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 32nd (+95)
As Blaney exercised his options by leaving the No. 38 to drive a sponsored No. 36 for Tommy Baldwin at Richmond, Raines returned to FRM, where he now was assigned Kvapil’s No. 34. In hindsight, the switch was well-timed as the team struggled to find speed all weekend, but was guaranteed a starting spot: Raines’s No. 34 was down on power and ended up 40th on the grid, slowest of the FRM trio. The race did not go much better as the veteran finished eight laps down, the final car still running at the finish. Nine points of cushion were gained – the smallest jump of any team this week – but a jump nonetheless for a program looking to make the most of a small budget.
No. 37 – David Gilliland (Front Row Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 33rd (+82)
Saturday’s Finish: 37th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 33rd (+94)
Gilliland came to Richmond with Charter Air Transport returning as associate sponsor, but speed still eluded him as well. The No. 37 finished one lap and one position ahead of Raines in the No. 34 and gained 12 points of cushion. With Gilliland and Raines one point apart in the owner points, however, both must keep their eyes on another bubble team that is suddenly just 17 points behind them…
No. 71 – Landon Cassill (TRG Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 34th (+53)
Saturday’s Finish: 33rd
Current Owner Points Ranking: 34th (+77)
For the first time in his young Cup career, Cassill acquired sponsorship that would enable him to complete his first race in NASCAR’s elite division. Driving a very patriotic paint job for the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, Cassill made the most of it without doing any damage to owner Kevin Buckler’s Chevrolet. Five laps down at the finish, but 24 points higher in the standings, such small gains may be just enough to keep the team in the Top 35 – especially given the struggles of their nearest competitor.
No. 7 – Kevin Conway (Robby Gordon Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 35th (On the Bubble)
Saturday’s Finish: 41st
Current Owner Points Ranking: 35th (On the Bubble)
For the third time in as many races since he joined RGM at Bristol, Conway was one of the slowest drivers in qualifying, ran in 43rd for much of the early stages and failed to finish the race. The mechanical gremlins that have plagued RGM this season have amplified since Conway’s arrival. The team has consistently spent several laps in the garage area during the opening stages of each race. On Saturday, trips to the garage for brake trouble left Conway eight laps down by the 68th circuit, then ultimately vanquished him after he completed 118 laps.
RGM has now lost nearly half of the 161-point cushion on 36th the team held before Conway took over, and at the present rate, the No. 7 could fall out of the Top 35 at Fontana, just four races from now.
NOT LOCKED-IN AT NEW HAMPSHIRE
No. 26 – Jeff Green (Latitude 43 Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 36th (-98 points behind 35th)
Saturday’s Finish: 36th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 36th (-83 points behind 35th)
If Latitude 43 Motorsports is going to capitalize on the woes of Conway and RGM, they will need better performances than the one they endured at Richmond. Green performed admirably his last time out at Bristol, securing a much-needed 24th-place finish, and it seemed last Saturday would offer the same promising results. However, though Green topped all the “go-or-go-homers” with a 16th-fastest qualifying speed, the No. 26 dropped like a rock from the drop of the green flag. Jeff was 40th on lap 20, a lap down 18 circuits later, and a second lap down by the one-quarter mark. In all, the No. 26 finished seven laps down, inching 15 points closer to the Promised Land but one spot behind their own competition from FRM…
No. 38 – Travis Kvapil (Front Row Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 37th (-105)
Saturday’s Finish: 35th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 37th (-87)
Back on “go-or-go-home” duty, Kvapil timed in at 38th and kept the No. 26 in his sights from the moment Green’s Ford slipped into view. In fact, both cars were lapped at the same time by Edwards on the 38th circuit and both finished seven laps down. Somehow, Kvapil just beat Green to the finish line and gained three extra points, closing the No. 38 within just four of the No. 26 for the all-important 36th spot – should Conway continue to DNF. If Kvapil will reprise his role as driver of the No. 38 at New Hampshire, however, he will have to take no prisoners in qualifying as he left there early in June with the team’s first DNQ of 2010.
2010 Bubble Chart After Richmond
|Pos||Owner||Car #||Driver||Points||Points +/- of 35th Place|
|27||Red Bull Racing||83||Various||2,468||+617|
|28||Red Bull Racing||82||Scott Speed||2,349||+498|
|29||Penske Racing||77||Sam Hornish Jr.||2,331||+480|
|30||Richard Petty Motorsports||19||Elliott Sadler||2,277||+426|
|31||Furniture Row Racing||78||Regan Smith||2,197||+346|
|32||Front Row Motorsports||34||Tony Raines||1,946||+95|
|33||Front Row Motorsports||37||David Gilliland||1,945||+94|
|34||TRG Motorsports||71||Andy Lally||1,928||+77|
|35||Robby Gordon Motorsports||7||Robby Gordon||1,851||0|
|36||Latitude 43 Motorsports||26||Patrick Carpentier||1,768||-83|
|37||Front Row Motorsports||38||Travis Kvapil||1,764||-87|
|38||Tommy Baldwin Racing||36||Dave Blaney||1,308||-543|
|39||Phoenix Racing||09||Bobby Labonte/Landon Cassill||1,299||-552|
|40||Germain Racing||13||Casey Mears||1,278||-573|
|41||Whitney Motorsports||46||Michael McDowell||1,098||-753|
|42||NEMCO Motorsports||87||Joe Nemechek||1,079||-772|
|44||PRISM Motorsports||66||Scott Riggs||941||-910|
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