NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Bubble Breakdown: Michael McDowell Into Top 35; Dave Blaney Into Bud Shootout

Forget the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship — the drivers in our bubble breakdown are chasing a few goals of their own. With 10 races to go in the 2008 NASCAR season, the battle to be locked in the field for 2009 has become a dogfight for five spots between seven teams separated by a total of 79 points. Also on the line for several Toyota cars is a berth in next year’s new-format Bud Shootout, in which the season’s top six performing Camrys will be selected to do battle in Daytona.

With so much at stake, how did our combatants position themselves for the final 10 weeks at Richmond? Read on to find out in this edition of the Bubble Breakdown.

Bubble Breakdown: AJ Allmendinger Races Way Into Top 35 & the Bud Shootout

On Tuesday, NASCAR announced a new format to the season-opening Budweiser Shootout, and in doing so, gave several bubble teams something new to focus on. The new format now takes the top six cars in owner points from each manufacturer. With the new format, the sixth Toyota to make the show is going to be a team now around the 35th place in the owner standings. Heading to California, the No. 55 NAPA Toyota, No. 22 Caterpillar Toyota and the No. 84 team Red Bull Toyota were separated by only 52 points. So with the proverbial carrot dangling in front of them, were any of these teams able to step up and make a run at being the final Toyota in the Budweiser Shootout? To find out, read on in this week’s Bubble Breakdown.

Bubble Breakdown: Regan Smith Builds Cushion With 14th-Place Run

Once again, the half-mile bullring that is Bristol Motor Speedway proved to be too much for the teams sitting around the bubble. Only one driver ranked between 29th and 37th finished in the top 25; and for that same group of nine drivers, the average starting position was 29th and the finishing position 31st. To add insult to injury, six of those nine cars were also involved in wrecks. With that list of poor performers, which lone driver was able to stand out and take advantage of the others’ misfortunes? Read on to find out in this week’s edition of the Bubble Breakdown.

Bubble Breakdown: AJ Allmendinger’s Stay in Top 35 Was a Short One

After plenty of speculation, Ryan Newman was formally introduced as the driver of what will be the No. 4 Chevy for Stewart-Haas Racing in 2009. This now officially makes Newman the biggest fan of current Haas CNC Racing driver Scott Riggs, as he fights to get the No. 66 Chevrolet back into the Top 35 in the owner standings — thus eliminating the need for Newman to qualify on time next year. On Sunday, Riggs didn’t disappoint his new fan, posting a strong 15th-place finish at Michigan. But was it enough to get the No. 66 Chevy back into the Top 35? To find out, read on in this week’s edition of the Bubble Breakdown.

Bubble Breakdown: AJ Allmendinger Creeps Closer to First-Ever Trip Inside Top 35

Set up in the mountains of eastern Pennsylvania is NASCAR’s tricky triangle known as Pocono Raceway. Like Indy, it’s a track that can be a nightmare to set up the car, as it has three straightaways all of different lengths, as well as three completely different types of turns. To make matters worse for teams and drivers, Mother Nature reared her ugly head all weekend. But despite all the wet weather, the sun did manage to shine down on some of our bubble teams by the time the checkered flag flew. So, read on to see which teams basked in the sun’s warm glow — and which teams wound up all wet in this week’s edition of the Bubble Breakdown.

Bubble Breakdown: Hidden Within Indy Madness, Scott Riggs, No. 66 Team Sneak Back Into Top 35

Amidst all the starting and stopping, crashes, and various pit strategies, an interesting subplot emerged concerning the usual slate of bubble teams. As the clouds lifted on a strange day of racing, Scott Riggs managed to post his second straight top-25 finish, giving his team enough of a boost to race their way back into the Top 35 in owner points. And if the No. 66 State Water Heaters Chevrolet is back in… then obviously, someone’s bubble just popped. Whose bubble was it, exactly, and how big of a hole have they dug for themselves starting at Pocono next week? To find out more, read on in this week’s installment of the Bubble Breakdown…

Bubble Breakdown: Michael Waltrip, Michael McDowell in a Bind After Tough Go at Chicago

NASCAR began a short Midwest swing this weekend in Chicagoland with the running of the 400. Mother Nature decided to play a big role in the proceedings early on, as the rains moved in and washed out NASCAR’s qualifying session. But the washout actually gave our Sprint Cup bubble teams a sigh of relief; with just 43 full-time entries remaining on the circuit, the field was set by owner points, allowing each of them to secure a spot in the starting lineup without so much as lifting a finger. Even the No. 70 Haas Automation Chevrolet — despite being 44th in the overall standings — made the cut in 43rd due to the shutdown of the No. 40 Chip Ganassi car. But once the race began, the era of good feeling left over from qualifying quickly faded away into frustration and disgust for these organizations.

Bubble Breakdown: Last-Lap Restrictor-Plate Mayhem Ruins Night for Several Bubble Teams

As NASCAR made its first return trip to a racetrack in 2008, several bubble teams once again showed signs of life during Friday’s qualifying session. Joe Nemechek, Johnny Sauter, and Regan Smith turned laps that qualified them in the fourth, fifth, and eighth starting positions respectively, serving notice they planned to be a force during the race at Daytona the following day. On the flip side of that, JJ Yeley’s No. 96 Toyota and Scott Riggs’ No. 66 Hunt Brothers Pizza Chevrolet — teams who sat 36th and 37th respectively in owner points — both failed to qualify, giving somewhat of a break to those teams already (un)comfortably within the Top 35 in the owner standings. Let’s break down this week’s bubble from the Daytona International Speedway:

Bubble Breakdown: Rain Shines Down On Several “Bubble” Teams

The teams on the edges of the Top 35 — or simply forced to qualify on speed — ruled the roost in Friday’s qualifying session. After a rain delay cooled the track, bubble dwellers swept five of the top 10 spots, including rookie Patrick Carpentier taking the pole to become the first top qualifier not born in the U.S. since 1953. That led to heightened expectations for this crowd on the weekend; and with Mother Nature playing a major role, those lofty goals were granted by the end of the day. Read on in this week’s Bubble Breakdown of the LENOX Industrial Tools 301.

Bubble Breakdown: Michael Waltrip Wrecks, But It’s Haas CNC Crashing Out of Top 35

Rain on Friday afternoon washed out NASCAR qualifying at Michigan International Raceway, meaning the starting grid was set by owner points — leaving the No. 70 Haas Automation Chevrolet and the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Chevy as the odd teams out. But while the teams on the bubble breathed a sigh of relief, their calm was short-lived, as they now had to deal with starting the race in the back of the field in a car that has been highly criticized for not running well in traffic. So, which teams towards the back of the field were able to navigate their way to the front? See for yourself as we break down the hunt for the Top 35 in this week’s Bubble Breakdown for the Lifelock 400 at Michigan International Raceway.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from