_A track well-known for attrition exerted little such impact on the Cup Series’ bubble teams Saturday night, with not a single team suffering a DNF for crash-related damage after 500 laps. Instead, if anything it was mechanical woes which took a toll on several of the teams fighting for the top-35; but, for the most part, the Bristol night race served as an equalizer, allowing numerous operations at the back of the Cup field to make some noise and log some laps._
Winner: Andy Lally Lally scored the first top-25 finish of his career on a short track Saturday night, finishing only two laps down after struggling to a 32nd-place result, nine laps behind earlier in the spring on the Bristol bullring. Though Lally was seen making contact down the straightaway, mixing it up with Jeff Gordon, the road course veteran capitalized on the cushion he started building in owner points earlier this month. Starting with a solid run at Watkins Glen, August has featured a long list of solid, controlled results that have kept the No. 71 out of trouble and finishing the race in one piece. The result? An expansion of his lead to 49 points over 36th place, giving the No. 71 a minimum one-race cushion for a locked-in spot in the field moving forward.
Loser: Travis Kvapil Lally’s top 25 took on even more significance in the owner points battle after Kvapil suffered mechanical woes throughout the night race, losing a rear gear and dropping fluid on Lap 129 that sent the No. 38 car behind the wall for over 100 circuits’ worth of repairs. Kvapil managed to avoid the wrecks that he’s seemingly been caught up in all season long, giving plenty of room as a helpless lapped car upon his return to the racetrack. However, a 37th-place finish did little to aid Front Row Motorsports’ second team, losing ground on the final locked-in spot in the Cup field even with the No. 7 car start-and-parking.
Loser: Robby Gordon Start-and-park, unfortunately, is the new modus operandi for RGM’s full-time Cup car unless sponsorship materializes, according to the driver/owner himself. The No. 7 team will continue to contest the full Cup schedule in an effort to keep their cars current, but Gordon reportedly stated his team would race the distance only three more times in 2011: at Chicagoland, Kansas, and Texas. As for Saturday night, the team qualified and ran just 10 laps before pulling into the garage, falling to 37th in owner points as a result.
Winner: Casey Mears Along with Travis Kvapil, Casey Mears’ No. 13 team was the only other one to move forward in the top-35 owner points battle Saturday. Unlike Kvapil, Mears was able to do so with a solid performance, utilizing the new investment money from Germain-Osceola to his best advantage. Dealing with a loose car on corner entry and a tight condition in the center, Mears brought home a 23rd-place finish a week after start-and-parking at Michigan. That meant Mears’ first top-25 result on an oval since Kentucky and his best result at Bristol since the night race in 2009. Mears improved the No. 13 car to 32nd in points, the furthest point in the standings his team has been as of late.
Loser: Dave Blaney The car that Mears and the Germain Racing No. 13 squad vaulted for 32nd place in the standings was Blaney and the No. 36 Tommy Baldwin Racing team. Fighting the same handling challenges that Mears and his team were facing, Blaney fought his way up to 31st as the night progressed until the engine blew on Lap 460. Running 35th, it was the first DNF for the No. 36 team since a crash at Daytona back in July.
Winner: The Part-Timers Two of the new additions to the Sprint Cup Series field in 2011 each enjoyed solid evenings tackling the concrete high banks. David Stremme and his No. 30 Inception Motorsports group landed sponsorship from Echostar Technologies for the weekend and ran the distance for only the second time since their debut at Richmond back in May, finishing 32nd, the best result the No. 30 team has scored in their existence. David Starr also posted a team-best result for Leavine Family Racing and the No. 95 team with a 27th-place finish, even leading two laps during a green-flag pit stop sequence and scoring TV time for the team’s Advocare sponsorship. Perhaps most importantly, this was Starr’s first start with the team that didn’t end with a DNF for a crash.
* Terry Labonte finished 33rd driving for the FAS Lane Racing No. 32 team, the team’s first start at Bristol (they DNQ’d with Ken Schrader behind the wheel back in the spring).
* David Gilliland backed up a top-20 qualifying effort with a top-25 result (24th) on the world’s fastest half-mile, widening his grasp on the 31st position in owner points. That was also his best short-track finish since a 19th-place result at Martinsville last spring.
*2011 Bubble Chart After Bristol:*
|*Pos*||*Owner*||*Car #*||*Driver*||*Points*||*Points +/- of 35th Place*|
|*31*||Front Row Motorsports||34||David Gilliland||422||+100|
|*32*||Germain Racing||13||Casey Mears||344||+22|
|*33*||Tommy Baldwin Racing||36||Dave Blaney||337||+15|
|*34*||FAS Lane Racing||32||Terry Labonte||330||+8|
|*35*||*TRG Motorsports*||*71*||*Andy Lally*||*322*||*0*|
|*36*||Front Row Motorsports||38||Travis Kvapil||273||-49|
|*37*||Robby Gordon Motorsports||7||Robby Gordon||269||-53|
|*38*||Wood Brothers||21||Trevor Bayne||238||-84|
|*39*||Max Q Motorsports||37||Jeff Green||166||-156|