All the hype of strong ticket sales for the race in Fontana fizzled, as the fans still chose to be some place other than at the track. For the first 190 laps of the race, I found it difficult to watch the race and struggled to stay awake. Fortunately, I did stay awake to see the final 10 laps and a fantastic finish.
After a rough weekend in Bristol for our underdog teams, hopes were high that the two mile track in Fontana would treat them better. Again this week the bubble drivers had a disappointing afternoon, but each were successful in staying out of trouble and bringing home a chassis with little damage.
*LOCKED INTO THE FIELD AT MARTINSVILLE*
*No. 78 – Regan Smith (Furniture Row Racing)*
If drivers were rewarded points for qualifying, Smith would be a Chase contender at this point in the season. However, for Furniture Row Racing, qualifying results clearly are not parlaying into results on race day. Again this week, Smith was strong in practice and started the race in the fourth position. However, within the first 15 laps of the race, Smith found himself in 15th place and continued to move backwards. He managed to complete 16 laps in the top 15, but all in the early stages in the race.
Smith continued to complain the car was really loose as the event reached halfway, but adjustments were unsuccessful and he dropped further back in the field. He finished the race a disappointing 27th, one lap down.
Owner Point Rank: 32nd (+32)
*No. 32 – Ken Schrader (FAS Lane Racing)*
Ken Schrader took over the No. 32 for a second straight week with FAS Lane Racing, replacing Mike Skinner. Schrader did not complete a lap in the top 15 throughout the race, but he did successfully complete the event. He averaged 36th position for the entire race, but with 20 laps to go, he managed to move up to finish in 33rd position, three laps down. Schrader’s efforts erased the damage done by failing to qualify at Bristol last weekend, and locked Frankie Stoddard’s race team into the Cup Series field at Martinsville.
Owner Point Rank: 33nd (+16)
*No. 7 – Robby Gordon (Robby Gordon Motorsports)**Start: 35th**Finish: 34th*
A season of struggles continued for the stalwart single-car operation this Sunday, as Gordon avoided the spins and incidents that have plagued the No. 7 team throughout 2011, but without much of a result to show for it. Much like last season, RGM is going to be battling week in and week out this year simply to stay locked into the Cup field.
Owner Point Rank: 34th (+8)
*No. 13 – Casey Mears (Germain Racing)*
After finishing the first Cup practice in 37th position, Mears showed solid improvement in final practice, moving up to 19th position. While the results looked positive, Mears was unable to translate that into performance during the race. Mears remained in the middle of the field most of the race, running as high as 23rd position. He gained a couple of spots with 20 laps to go and finished in the 29th spot, two laps down.
Owner Point Rank: 35th (+6)
*ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN AT MARTINSVILLE*
*No. 71 – Andy Lally (TRG Motorsports)**Start: 38th**Finish: 32nd*
Lally may have only made the highlight reels on Sunday as a result of an unassisted late race spin in turns 3 and 4, but apart from that he turned in a solid day on the demanding Fontana oval. Despite doing about as well as could be expected for a road course veteran suddenly trying to tackle the big leagues of stock car racing full-time, Lally’s efforts in the first five races of the season were not enough to keep the No. 71 team locked into the field. With sponsorship already at a premium for the TRG bunch, a few missed races the next few weeks may bring this squad’s 2011 to a premature end.
Owner Point Rank: 36th (-6)
*No. 36 – Dave Blaney (Tommy Baldwin Racing)*
Blaney and Tommy Baldwin Racing brought a new chassis built during the offseason to Fontana hoping to yield some better results for the No. 36 team. It didn’t seem to work, as the veteran struggled during the race and never really moved up in the field. Blaney had one lap where he was the fastest car, but in the end a failed engine brought an early end to their day. He finished the race 12 laps down in 37th position.
Owner Point Rank: 37th (-9)
*No. 37 – Tony Raines (Front Row Motorsports/Max Q Motorsports)**Start: 42nd**Finish: 36th*
Starting near the back of the field, Tony Raines fans knew they were in for a long day early. Not 10 laps into the event, FOX cut to footage of the No. 37 car, blank quarterpanels exposed, trailing smoke from the rear of his machine. Though the engine kept firing on the machine, Raines was miles off the pace all afternoon, finishing a distant 10 laps down when the checkered flag flew. With journeyman owner Larry Gunselman moving into a managerial and ownership role with what was formerly Front Row Motorsports’ third car, questions about resources and finances will come to light in the weeks to come as to just how much racing the No. 37 will be doing for the rest of 2011.
Owner Point Rank: 37th (-9)
*No. 38 – Travis Kvapil (Front Row Motorsports)*
Kvapil’s car was well off the pace in the final two Cup practices, nearly six to seven miles per hour behind the leaders. He was quiet throughout the race and consistently was in the bottom five. Kvapil finished the race in 35th position, four laps behind race winner Kevin Harvick.
Owner Point Rank: 39th (-12)
*No. 46 – J.J. Yeley (Whitney Motorsports)*
The No. 46 has been cursed with “engine” problems this season, but on Friday, the team was struck again. Yeley was set to go out 41st for his qualifying run, but was unable to get his car started. With the failure to make a qualifying lap, Yeley locked himself in the 43rd position to start the race on the strength of his team presenting a car on the grid.
On Sunday, Yeley elected to stay out during the first round of green flag pitstops that began on lap 34. While the decision seemed good at the time, as Yeley did lead the next two laps, the No. 46 abruptly ran out of gas on the backstretch, forcing Yeley to coast back to pitroad. Yeley did return to the track, but would end his day after completing 47 laps. He finished in 41st place and has yet to finish a Cup race in 2011.
Owner Point Rank: 41st (-47)
*No. 60 – Todd Bodine (Germain Racing)*
Bodine replaced Landon Cassill this week in the No. 60 Big Red Toyota. He finished each of the Cup practices near the bottom and was there most of the race. At no point did Bodine appear competitive on the track, and he was the first to hit the garage after just 17 laps. Bodine returned to the track and completed 50 laps before parking his No. 60 Toyota. Post race report showed transmission problems for Bodine being the official reason for retiring, resulting in a 40th place finish.
Owner Point Rank: 42nd (-54)
*No. 87 – Joe Nemechek (NEMCO Motorsports)*
For the fifth consecutive race, Joe Nemechek’s No. 87 Toyota went unsponsored. And for the fifth consecutive event, Nemechek made little progress during the race, spending most of his laps in the rear of the field. He completed just 39 laps before parking his No. 87 Toyota for the day. In the post-race report, transmission problems officially forced him out of the race. Nemechek finished in 42nd position.
Owner Point Rank: 43rd (-54)
*No. 66 – Michael McDowell (HP Racing)*
McDowell started in 33rd position, moved up as high as 29th position, but finished dead last in 43rd. He struggled with his lap times during practice, which carried over into his race performance. While he did move up several positions early, he quickly dropped backward where he would ultimately finish. McDowell completed just 32 laps this week, his lowest total of the season even driving for a start-and-park organization.
Owner Point Rank: 44th (-58)
_After another tough race out west, our bubble drivers really need to step up their game starting this weekend at Martinsville, where NASCAR will switch over to 2011 owner points. For drivers such as Tony Raines and Andy Lally, getting back into the top 35 and fast could make the difference between racing every weekend and simply showing up every week…if that. Martinsville is always an exciting race, so perhaps the underdog drivers will have some better luck at a track that’s never short on attrition._