*LOCKED INTO THE FIELD AT TEXAS MOTOR SPEEDWAY*
*No. 1 – Jamie McMurray (Earnhardt Ganassi Racing)*
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 30th (+26 points ahead of 35th)
*Sunday’s Finish: 7th* (won the pole)
Current Owner Points Ranking: 23rd (+58 points ahead of 35th)
McMurray has been a solid performer at Martinsville with one top-5 and 10 top-10s throughout his career entering Sunday. He started from the pole, led the first 31 laps of the race and remained in the top 10 throughout. While he lost several positions during his first two pitstops, he continued to fight his way to the front and put together a consistent performance that was easily the team’s best of 2011. Finishing strong, he gained four positions in the last 50 laps to wind up seventh, giving the team some much needed breathing room on the bubble while potentially ending their five-race slump. The 2010 Daytona 500 winner hadn’t sniffed the top 10 at all this season until Sunday’s event.
*No. 20 – Joey Logano (Joe Gibbs Racing)*
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 31st (+26 points ahead of 35th)
*Sunday’s Finish: 13th*
Current Owner Points Ranking: 27th (+47 points ahead of 35th)
Logano managed to salvage what could have been a disastrous weekend after destroying his car in practice, forced into his backup car. The second Home Depot machine was likely better than his primary, though, as he posted a strong qualifying run and would start the race on the second row.
Logano had a top-15 car all day but bad luck struck when a caution came out after a green flag pit stop midway through the event. He found himself two laps down after that, but used the wave around pit strategy to eventually work his way back onto the lead lap. He finished the day in 13th position, which turned out to be his lucky number today.
*No. 78 – Regan Smith (Front Row Racing)*
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 32nd (+25 points ahead of 35th)
*Sunday’s Finish: 31st*
Current Owner Points Ranking: 32nd (+28 points ahead of 35th)
This weekend, like the last several, looked bright for Furniture Row Racing and Regan Smith at Martinsville. He started from the tenth position, his sixth consecutive qualifying effort inside the top 12 and ran nearly half the race in the top 15, on the lead lap as the No. 78 Chevy looked headed towards their best finish of this young season.
But it wasn’t to be. With 33 laps to go in the race, Smith saw another promising day implode as a broke right front rotor sent him into the wall. A quick visit to the garage for repairs enabled Smith to finish the race, but unfortunately he would finish in 31st position, 24 laps off the pace.
*No. 32 – Ken Schrader (FAS Lane Racing)*
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 33rd (+10 points ahead of 35th)
*Sunday’s Finish: 22nd*
Current Owner Points Ranking: 33rd (+22 points ahead of 35th)
In just two starts for FAS Lane Racing, Schrader has performed much better than expected and posted two solid finishes at Bristol and now Martinsville.
Although he started deep in the field, Schrader managed to stay clear of the wrecks and avoided any tire issues which a number of teams encountered, finishing three laps off the pace. Despite running with all sets of scuffed tires – the team has a small budget to work with – he was on the lead lap at one point and got off sequence on green flag pit stops to work his way into the top 10 for an extended period midway through the race. Low on horsepower, the 15 minutes of fame didn’t last but the car was able to stick solidly within the top 25 even during their down cycles. With 50 laps to go, Schrader gained three positions to finish 22nd and, more importantly 12 points to keep the single-car effort solidly within the top 35.
*No. 7 – Robby Gordon (Robby Gordon Motorsports)*
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 34th (+8 points ahead of 35th)
*Sunday’s Finish: 23rd*
Current Owner Points Ranking: 34th (+13 points ahead of 35th)
Statistically, Martinsville hasn’t treated Gordon well throughout his career. In 22 starts on the paperclip-shaped track, his average finish has been just 33rd position.
Gordon didn’t practice or qualify well, but he was confident he had a good race car come raceday. However, a strong finish was not to be for the owner/driver, who dug a hole early for himself when penalized for a commitment line violation under the first caution of the race. Later in the day, he would suffer damage to the front end during a Lap 232 wreck involving Kurt Busch and Bobby Labonte; from that point on, temperature issues with the engine left overheating a constant concern.
Gordon also put blame on his pit crew during the final 150 laps, when told after a pit stop the team didn’t get the car full of fuel. He lashed out over the radio, claiming, “Just in general, you guys suck at pit road today.” While the incident never hurt the team over the long run, bad attitudes and bad handing all around left the car limping home 23rd, three laps off the pace.
*No. 37 – Tony Raines (Front Row / Larry Gunselman)*
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 38th (-9 points behind 35th)
*Sunday’s Finish: 25th*
Current Owner Points Ranking: 35th (On The Bubble)
Ever so quietly, the hybrid Front Row / Larry Gunselman team had themselves the type of performance you need if you’re an underdog at Martinsville. For most of the day, driver Tony Raines was the slowest in the field on speed but that didn’t deter his effort from their ultimate goal: stay out of trouble, dodge all the wrecks and bring the car home in one piece. It was a game of survival, perfectly played and when the music stopped the No. 37 car found themselves rewarded with a 25th-place effort, tied for their best of 2011 and a fifteen-position gain over starting the race in 40th place. That means heading into Texas, new owner Gunselman – transitioning into control of this operation – has himself an unexpected bonus, being locked into the field on speed for the first time in his NASCAR career. Think Raines might stay in this car for just a few more weeks?
*ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN AT TEXAS MOTOR SPEEDWAY*
*No. 71 – Hermie Sadler (TRG Motorsports)*
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 36th (-6 behind 35th)
*Sunday’s Finish: 28th*
Current Owner Points Ranking: 36th (-0 behind 35th – loses tiebreaker with No. 37 car)
For Hermie Sadler, Sunday’s race was about shaking off the rust; he hadn’t been inside a Cup car since driving the No. 71 the last time the series visited Martinsville in October, 2010. And for most of Sunday’s event, it seemed he never really did. Spending the first 200 laps well outside the top 35, Sadler went multiple laps down before a spinout on Lap 205 turned things from bad to worse. With a flat tire causing the issue, the team turned the day into a game of survival as Sadler tried to simply keep the Goodyears on it and not tear up the equipment any further. As attrition built up in the race’s latter stages, that proved a solid strategy; despite falling twelve laps off the pace, a 28th-place finish actually put them in position to gain back their top-35 standing that was lost following the race at Fontana. But since the No. 37 car has a better top finish this season (25th versus 28th) it’s them, not the TRG squad that earns the final “locked in” position come Texas this weekend. Sadler’s stint was a one-race deal, although it’s unclear at press time whether rookie Andy Lally will take the reigns of this Eco-Saver Chevy down in the Lone Star State.
*No. 13 – Casey Mears (Germain Racing)*
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 35th (On The Bubble)
*Sunday’s Finish: 36th*
Current Owner Points Ranking: 37th (-2 behind 35th)
Casey Mears started Sunday’s race like a rocket ship, raising hopes the team might score their first ever top-10 finish on an oval track. Jumping from his 30th starting spot to sit comfortably inside the top 20 by Lap 50, it looked like the GEICO Toyota would spend the majority of this 500-lap affair battling with the top half of the field.
But he didn’t finish there. As the race wore on, the team struggled to keep up with the racetrack as some rubber slowly built in; every run, the car was just that little bit worse until Mears was sitting off the lead lap and outside the top 25 by Lap 350. But the low point for the team was yet to come; mechanical woes doomed Mears to a late-race stint behind the wall, dropping him 43 laps off the pace and leaving a promising day in the tatters of a disappointing 36th-place result. Now, a team which has already failed to qualify once this season heads to Texas vulnerable, on the outside looking in and needing to make the field on speed.
*No. 36 – Dave Blaney (Tommy Baldwin Racing)*
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 38th (-9 behind 35th)
*Sunday’s Finish: 30th*
Current Owner Points Ranking: 38th (-5 behind 35th)
For Blaney, frustration ran high throughout the full 500 laps on Sunday, his No. 36 Chevy seemingly unable to finish a fuel run without encountering a blown tire on the way. Not once but twice in the first 200 circuits, the driver stopped on the track to cause a caution as melted beads turned his right front Goodyear into a pile of unusable mush. But in both cases, the car didn’t wreck; Blaney just rolled to a stop, drawing the ire of NASCAR in the same way Denny Hamlin did in that infamous Richmond race back in May, 2008. Slapping a two-lap penalty on Blaney the second time, both driver and crew chief expressed their displeasure at what they thought were officials unfairly kicking a team when they’re down:
“I’m not going to drive the car down the straightaway,” the driver exasperated, “And get run over with a flat tire.”
“We’ve got three freaking dollars to our name, trying to race,” added Baldwin. “Doing what we’re doing and that’s the way they are?”
But NASCAR rules are hard to change in-race, as the team quickly discovered; the penalty stood, becoming a moot point anyway as the pattern of blown right front rubber never stopped. Having to pit out of sequence several times took its toll on their place in the standings; a lead-lap car early on in the race, by the finish Blaney was 30th, an ugly fourteen laps off the pace and finishing ahead of only those cars who had wrecked or ended their day behind the wall.
*No. 38 – Travis Kvapil (Front Row Motorsports)*
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 39th (-12 behind 35th)
*Sunday’s Finish: 37th*
Current Owner Points Ranking: 39th (-15 behind 35th)
Kvapil started deep in the field again this week and his results at the end were the same as well. Early in the race, he fought handling problems and within the first 30 circuits found himself down a lap. His day did not improve from there but instead took a turn for the worse. Kvapil and the No. 38 team made several adjustments to help with wheel spin, which had the car running well until the first of two mechanical failures would strike. With under 200 laps complete, he headed to the garage to replace the rear gear on the car. He returned to the track, turning the day into a test session until mechanical tragedy struck again; this time, the driveshaft broke, ending the race for the No. 38 team as they posted a third DNF in just six 2011 events.
That inconsistency marks an ugly trend for Kvapil and the No. 38 Ford from Front Row Motorsports, who seem unable to piece together a solid finish even when they do make it to the end (their best run is four laps off the pace at Bristol, good enough for just 26th position). While Kvapil has had some bad luck, his practice and qualifying results have been poor with little sign of improvement going forward.
*2011 Bubble Chart After Martinsville:*
|*Pos*||*Owner*||*Car #*||*Driver*||*Points*||*Points +/- of 35th Place*|
|*30*||Front Row Motorsports||34||David Gilliland||112||+35|
|*31*||Wood Brothers||21||Trevor Bayne||108||+31|
|*32*||Furniture Row Racing||78||Regan Smith||105||+28|
|*33*||FAS Lane Racing||32||Ken Schrader||99||+22|
|*34*||Robby Gordon Motorsports||7||Robby Gordon||90||+13|
|*35*||*Larry Gunselman (Front Row)*||*37*||*Tony Raines*||*77*||*0*|
|*36*||TRG Motorsports||71||Hermie Sadler||77||-0|
|*37*||Germain Racing||13||Casey Mears||75||-2|
|*38*||Tommy Baldwin Racing||36||Dave Blaney||72||-5|
|*39*||Front Row Motorsports||38||Travis Kvapil||62||-15|
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