Last week at Richmond, Regan Smith and Elliott Sadler shored up their Top-35 spots with a pair of mid-pack runs. However, the six teams ranked behind them in owner points finished no better than 33rd, setting up a number of close battles in the standings over the season’s final ten weeks.
Running 33rd that Saturday night was Landon Cassill, whose patriotic-sponsored No. 71 now had two Front Row Motorsports teams just 17 and 18 points ahead of him. Right outside the Top 35, FRM’s No. 38, driven this time by Travis Kvapil, nipped the No. 26 of Jeff Green for the 35th spot on the track and was now four points away from taking 36th in owner points. But both teams had reason to celebrate when looking just above them; Kevin Conway’s No. 7 suffered its third consecutive DNF at Richmond, sinking to just 83 or 87 points, respectively, from having to qualify Robby Gordon’s Toyota on speed and letting one of those teams slink by.
Robby would return to his No. 7 at New Hampshire, but without backing from sponsor ExtenZe, would the 2001 winner have a chance to keep his team’s Top-35 prospects strong? Read on to find out!
LOCKED-IN AT DOVER
No. 19 – Elliott Sadler (Richard Petty Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 30th (+426 points ahead of 35th)
Sunday’s Finish: 21st
Current Owner Points Ranking: 30th (+436 points ahead of 35th)
Sadler inched another 10 points away from the bubble on Sunday, narrowly averting another serious crash in the process. The No. 19 timed in 19th, but fell to around 30th by the one-third mark before he eventually lost a lap to the leaders. Kurt Busch’s spin with 78 remaining brought him the Lucky Dog, though, just in time to give his Ford a role in Busch’s next adventure with Joey Logano less than 20 circuits later. With 59 laps remaining, Sadler was turned by Jimmie Johnson in turn 2, an innocent victim while slowing to avoid the mess between Kurt and Logano in front of him. There were a few tense seconds, but happily, there would be no hard ending like at Pocono; the damage-free incident became another of the race’s many close calls for him while securing a lead-lap finish in 21st.
No. 78 – Regan Smith (Furniture Row Racing)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 31st (+346)
Sunday’s Finish: 19th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 31st (+362)
Two spots in front of Sadler, Smith scored the best bubble performance of the day – much to the chagrin of Dale Earnhardt Jr. It was Smith’s No. 78 that accidentally blocked Earnhardt’s Chevrolet in his pit stall, dropping the No. 88 out of the top 10 after Junior’s early rally to the front. Aside from that, Smith’s day largely resembled that of Sadler’s, though without any on-track incidents. The Furniture Row Chevrolet got its lap back when Matt Kenseth crashed with 67 to go and, after a slow start, Smith rejoined the top 20 in the final run to the checkers. The run was worth a modest 16-point gain in the owner points standings.
No. 37 – David Gilliland (Front Row Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 33rd (+94)
Sunday’s Finish: 33rd
Current Owner Points Ranking: 32nd (+68)
After seven months of Front Row Motorsports’ frequent team switches and sponsor woes, it has become impossible to tell one team’s performance apart from the others. In fact, after Sunday’s race, it looked like Bob Jenkins’s three cars were running on autopilot: they qualified 39th, 40th and 41st and all finished five laps down in 32nd, 33rd and 34th. Gilliland had the middle car this week. He fell to the back before the start due to a post-qualifying engine change, and could only move up enough to rejoin teammates Kvapil and Tony Raines outside the top 30. What little we saw of No. 37 from there was captured on ESPN’s pit-crew helmet cam, which revealed minor damage to Gilliland’s left-front fender during the middle stages of the race.
No. 34 – Tony Raines (Front Row Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 32nd (+95)
Sunday’s Finish: 34th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 33rd (+66)
The sole significance of FRM’s afternoon in Loudon is that all three teams lost more than 20 points of cushion by finishing behind the No. 7, which finished almost 10 spots in front of them (see below). Raines, in Conway’s vacated No. 34, suffered the biggest drop of the three by losing 29 points.
No. 71 – Andy Lally (TRG Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 34th (+77)
Sunday’s Finish: 37th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 34th (+39)
With Cassill giving Larry Gunselman’s No. 64 a try in place of an exiting Todd Bodine, Lally returned to TRG Motorsports at Loudon, scene of his oval-track Cup debut. Lally was given the still red-white-and-blue No. 71 Cassill drove at Richmond last week, but with its Post-9/11 G.I. Bill graphics removed. That proved significant, as although Cassill performed admirably in the car at Richmond, a lack of funding left Lally unable to compete any further than the halfway point on Sunday. He qualified a distant 42nd, fell to 43rd due to a transmission change, then called it a day with “brake failure” after 138 laps. As a result, like the two FRM teammates in front of him, the No. 71 also lost a significant amount of points to the bubble.
No. 7 – Robby Gordon (Robby Gordon Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 35th (On The Bubble)
Sunday’s Finish: 26th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 35th (On The Bubble)
After three visibly frustrating weeks in which the No. 7 acquired Conway and his sponsor only to park anyway, Gordon climbed back into his Toyota. Although Gordon’s bright orange machine was without sponsorship – again flying the flag for his SpeedFactory.tv – the run ironically ended up as one of the owner/driver’s best this season. Gordon qualified 29th and proceeded to collect as many points as possible. He stretched his fuel on two occasions to lead laps 27 and 102, but still managed to stay on the lead lap until the 190th circuit. In the end, Gordon was the second car to finish one lap down, trailing only the luckless Johnson for the uncollected Lucky Dog position.
The run proved a double boost for the struggling one-car operation, who will supposedly have Conway back in the car for seven of the final nine races this season – whether or not they go the distance. But not only did the finish give the freshman some much-needed breathing room for the future – moving Gordon and the No. 7 team almost 40 points closer to TRG Motorsports in 34th – it inched them more than 20 away from the teams still struggling to break into the Top 35.
NOT LOCKED-IN AT DOVER
No. 38 – Travis Kvapil (Front Row Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 37th (-87 points behind 35th)
Sunday’s Finish: 32nd
Current Owner Points Ranking: 36th (-110 points behind 35th)
After he failed to qualify in June, Kvapil undoubtedly was relieved to qualify 40th for Sunday’s race – so much so that he drove a rather forgettable event. On Friday, the No. 38 was not locked into the race until the closing moments of qualifying. His first lap was not fast enough to make the field, while the second only locked in Michael McDowell’s No. 46 with two cars still to go. However, when his nearest bubble competitor struggled even more, the stage was set for the No. 38 to reassume the 36th spot in owner points for the first time since last month at Pocono, Kvapil playing it safe on race day to come home a comfortable 32nd, five laps off the pace. Still, with nine races to go, the team cannot afford to lose any more points if the No. 38 is to re-enter the Top 35. Given the team’s resources, finishes in the top 25 may be a reasonable goal at this point.
No. 26 – Jeff Green (Latitude 43 Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 36th (-83)
Sunday’s Finish: DNQ
Current Owner Points Ranking: 37th (-145)
For the first time since that same Pocono race six events ago, Latitude 43 Motorsports failed to make a Cup race, costing the team 62 points of cushion and the 36th position in the standings. Green, who has turned in some of the team’s best performances, struggled with the car’s handling as the No. 26 seemed on the edge of control during both timed laps. With Conway away from the track, Green’s speed was the slowest overall, but just by a tenth of a second. As the team once again falls near a full race’s worth of points away from 35th, it is unclear as of this writing whether another driver change is in store.
2010 Bubble Chart After New Hampshire
|Pos||Owner||Car #||Driver||Points||Points +/- of 35th Place|
|27||Red Bull Racing||83||Various||2,550||+609|
|28||Penske Racing||77||Sam Hornish Jr.||2,465||+524|
|29||Red Bull Racing||82||Scott Speed||2,404||+463|
|30||Richard Petty Motorsports||19||Elliott Sadler||2,377||+436|
|31||Furniture Row Racing||78||Regan Smith||2,303||+362|
|32||Front Row Motorsports||37||David Gilliland||2,009||+68|
|33||Front Row Motorsports||34||Tony Raines||2,007||+66|
|34||TRG Motorsports||71||Andy Lally||1,980||+39|
|35||Robby Gordon Motorsports||7||Robby Gordon||1,941||0|
|36||Front Row Motorsports||38||Travis Kvapil||1,831||-110|
|37||Latitude 43 Motorsports||26||Jeff Green||1,796||-145|
|38||Tommy Baldwin Racing||36||Dave Blaney||1,378||-563|
|39||Phoenix Racing||09||Bobby Labonte/Landon Cassill||1,345||-596|
|40||Germain Racing||13||Casey Mears||1,327||-614|
|41||Whitney Motorsports||46||Michael McDowell||1,132||-809|
|42||NEMCO Motorsports||87||Joe Nemechek||1,127||-814|