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Bubble Breakdown: Rookie Lally Fighting Off His Rivals At Pocono

_It was a tough weekend for the bubble crowd at Pocono, where even strategy calls didn’t seem to keep the underdogs in contention for long. Without a top-25 result from anyone, the race became more a matter of survival than success, a day at the office with little if anything to hang their hat on. Pocono has a history of tearing up equipment, and more than one driver found himself babying it to the finish in the name of keeping their status intact in owner points._

_So after a weak weekend overall, which teams continue to stand out above the rest? And could rookie Andy Lally keep quietly impressing, just one week after Robby Gordon’s blown engine handed his team, TRG Motorsports a spot inside the top 35? Check out the Bubble Breakdown this week to see how the battle to keep a “locked in” spot is shaking out amongst NASCAR’s little teams that could…_

*LOCKED INTO THE FIELD FOR WATKINS GLEN*

*No. 51 – Landon Cassill (Phoenix Racing)*
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 31st (+106 points ahead of 35th)
*Sunday’s Finish: 27th*
Current Owner Points Ranking: 31st (+109 points ahead of 35th, gained 3 points)

Landon Cassill and the No. 51 team continued their practice of staying out during green flag runs to lead laps, but aside from a short time out front Cassill and team did not enjoy the type of weekend they’re normally capable of – especially given their Hendrick horsepower under the hood. With HMS-powered drivers such as Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman the class of the field this Sunday, finishing off the lead lap in 27th can only be considered an underachievement. Pocono now joins Richmond on a short list, the only tracks Cassill scored a worse finish upon a return visit when a start-and-park was not involved. On the plus side, after Cassill gets a likely week off in lieu of a road course specialist, the No. 51 team returns to Michigan, where the former NNS rookie of the year scored his career best Cup finish of 12th back in the spring.

*No. 36 – Dave Blaney (Tommy Baldwin Racing)*
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 32nd (+40 points ahead of 35th)
*Sunday’s Finish: 30th*
Current Owner Points Ranking: 32nd (+39 points ahead of 35th, lost 1 point)

Dave Blaney turned in a solid qualifying effort of 21st on Saturday morning that was by far the best of the season for the Tommy Baldwin Racing team. Fighting a loose condition early, the No. 36 team had their car to Blaney’s liking, putting them in position for a solid top 25, maybe even a top 20. Unfortunately, pit road penalties would doom this day, as multiple infractions left him two laps down in 30th at the finish. Coupled with Geoffrey Bodine missing the race after timing fast enough to qualify in practice, a second car that could have given them valuable information, and Pocono could only be chalked up as a disappointment for the TBR camp. On the positive side, the team did pick up an associate sponsorship deal with the Pepsi Max brand in conjunction with their Golden Corral sponsorship. Wonder how they made that jive with their Big Red sponsor deal…

*No. 32 – Jason White (FAS Lane Racing)*
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 33rd (+36 points ahead of 35th)
*Sunday’s Finish: 33rd*
Current Owner Points Ranking: 33rd (+32 points ahead of 35th, lost 4 points)

After weeks of fielding cars for veterans, this weekend FAS Lane Racing turned the No. 32 car’s keys over to a Cup newbie in Truck Series regular Jason White (who conveniently does have sponsorship with GunBroker.com that comes standard). White had his intro to Cup moment early into the race weekend, incurring the wrath of Jimmie Johnson over the radio for apparently cutting off the No. 48 car during a mock qualifying run in practice. While White spent Sunday racing the track instead of the pack, and had some moments wheeling the difficult Cup car (White was visibly pushing up the banking in turn 1 on several occasions), when all was said and done his 33rd-place result came at no one else’s expense.

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It’s always a tough day for Casey Mears when his Germain Racing program can’t even round up enough money to go the distance in the race.

*No. 13 – Casey Mears (Germain Racing)*
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 34th (+29 points ahead of 35th)
*Sunday’s Finish: 36th*
Current Owner Points Ranking: 34th (+27 points ahead of 35th, lost 2 points)

Sunday was a start-and-park race for the No. 13 team that capped a poor weekend for the Germain Racing operation; Mike Skinner failed to qualify in the No. 60 car the day prior to the 500-miler. Mears was the last of the start-and-parkers to finish the deed Sunday, leading a lap and completing 30 circuits before bowing out with “ignition” issues.

*No. 71 – Andy Lally (TRG Motorsports)*
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 35th (On the bubble)
*Sunday’s Finish: 29th*
Current Owner Points Ranking: 35th (On the bubble, locked in for Watkins Glen 16 points ahead of 36th)

Being locked in apparently fits TRG Motorsports like a glove, as Andy Lally’s first locked-in race in months demonstrated significant progress over the team’s last visit to Pocono. Lally finished 29th this go around, but was one lap down at the finish instead of six. Plus, with Robby Gordon’s continuing mechanical woes, Lally strengthened his grip on a locked-in spot heading to the road course at Watkins Glen. The No. 71 team gets through that one ahead of the No. 7 team; beat them there, and it very well may be smooth sailing for the rest of 2011.

*ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN AT WATKINS GLEN*

*No. 7 – Robby Gordon (Robby Gordon Motorsports)*
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 36th (-10 points behind 35th)
*Sunday’s Finish: 35th*
Current Owner Points Ranking: 36th (-16 points behind 35th, lost 6 points)

There is a twinge of irony that after months of start-and-parking, Robby Gordon Motorsports actually starts encountering mechanical woes when trying to run the distance. After falling out of the top 35 after losing a motor early at Indianapolis, Gordon’s No. 7 team lasted 79 circuits before finally succumbing to electrical issues. Making up ground at Watkins Glen is now a necessity if the RGM team expects to get locked back into the Sprint Cup field.

*No. 38 – Travis Kvapil (Front Row Motorsports)*
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 37th (-23 behind 35th)
*Sunday’s Finish: 31st*
Current Owner Points Ranking: 37th (-25 points behind 35th, lost 2 points)

Logging laps throughout the first half of the event, Kvapil and the No. 38 poured adjustment after adjustment into their car to improve speed on corner exit. A pit road speeding penalty on lap 70 complicated matters for the team, as Kvapil ended up a lap down. Kvapil also lost another lap for fueling too early after the race went back green following a red flag for rain, and was able only to make up one more spot on the track – a Lucky Dog was not in the cards for the team. Kvapil did manage to make up ground on Robby Gordon for 36th, though and is making some progress after an ugly start to the season.

*No. 21 – Trevor Bayne (Wood Brothers Racing)*
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 38th (-31 behind 35th)
*Sunday’s Finish: DID NOT ENTER*
Current Owner Points Ranking: 38th (-46 points behind 35th, lost 15 points)

*No. 37 Scott Speed / Max Q Motorsports Ford*
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 39th (-98 out of 35th)
*Sunday’s Result: 40th*
Current Owner Points Ranking: 39th (-109 out of 35th, lost 11 points)

It’s not flashy, but Scott Speed is now two-for-two as a start-and-park driver for the No. 37 team. Rides are at a premium right now, and S&P is ultimately the only real seat available in the current Cup garage. If Speed can make it three-for-three at Watkins Glen next weekend, fans may well start seeing more of him at the back of the Cup garage.

*2011 Bubble Chart After Pocono:*

*Pos* *Owner* *Car #* *Driver* *Points* *Points +/- of 35th Place*
*31* Phoenix Racing 51 Landon Cassill 373 +109
*32* Tommy Baldwin Racing 36 Dave Blaney 303 +39
*33* FAS Lane Racing 32 Jason White 296 +32
*34* Germain Racing 13 Casey Mears 291 +27
*35* *TRG Motorsports* *71* *Andy Lally* *264* *0*
*36* Robby Gordon Motorsports 7 Robby Gordon 248 -16
*37* Front Row Motorsports 38 Travis Kvapil 239 -25
*38* Wood Brothers 21 Trevor Bayne 218 -46
*39* Max Q Motorsports 37 Scott Speed 155 -109

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