After a one-year apprenticeship under Mark Martin – one where Aric Almirola drove a limited schedule to prepare for his Sprint Cup transition – he’s finding full-time isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Now 37th in the points with six finishes of 30th or worse in seven starts, his EGR organization is meeting as we speak this Tuesday to determine if the car will even make the trip to Phoenix (Almirola has no primary sponsorship remaining from any company this season). Only time will tell whether the young driver gets a second lease on life; but in the meantime, he stood around chatting with our Tom Bowles last week about the struggles of his 2009 season to date. He also talks about his new race shop, the one thing he can’t live without, and a rather strange fan request… involving a shoe?
Optimism ran rampant amongst several bubble drivers this weekend as Paul Menard, Sam Hornish Jr., and Joey Logano all posted top-12 qualifying runs. But qualifying pays no points and Texas is a big, fast, nasty track that some of the best drivers have yet to master. So, as the race began questions loomed for those with solid starts – would Logano finally break through with a great finish? Would Menard continue his success at Texas? Would Hornish run a race and not hit anything? For the answers to these questions as well as who’s in and who’s out of the Top 35, read on for this week’s edition of the Bubble Breakdown.
They say that everything is bigger in Texas; and in the case for most of the rookies and almost rookies, it was bad news that loomed large this past weekend. Brad Keselowski offered the lone bright spot as he once again shined in his Hendrick ride, finishing in the top 25 for the second consecutive race at the track. Marcos Ambrose may have also offered some good news if it weren’t for a faulty engine. I mentioned earlier this season that the No. 47 team may have an outside shot at the Chase, but they are quickly seeing those chances disappear as their engine department has not been able to keep pace with the rest of the team.
The lack of rookie incidents in last week’s race at Bristol certainly surprised me, but the Goody’s Fast Pain Relief 500 sure made up for it. In an event that was appropriately named for this year’s freshmen, all rookies and almost rookies not named Ambrose ran into some sort of issue on the track or with their equipment. Speed certainly had to be the most disappointed leaving the track on Sunday evening. In a very similar fashion to what happened during the Las Vegas Nationwide race earlier this season, Speed fell victim to Busch, who uncharacteristically lost control of his car in the corner. If you think about it, Busch probably does not make a mistake like that more than twice a year – and Speed was the “lucky” man to be a part of both. Seems like that guy has to shake some bad karma moving forward!
The results certainly weren’t much to get excited about, but I said last week that given their experience levels, both Rookie of the Year candidates should only worry about finishing at Bristol. Looking at it from that perspective, Speed met his goal and Logano certainly would have if it weren’t for some nasty engine gremlins. However, with five races in the books, both drivers should look at their respective points position as wakeup calls for the remainder of the season. Given the fact that there is no testing this year, don’t expect the duo to light the series on fire. However, with Speed now outside of the Top 35 and Logano squarely on the bubble, they’re going to need to step it up to avoid putting themselves in jeopardy of missing races. One top-20 finish between the two certainly cannot be acceptable to their teams, crews and most importantly, the drivers themselves.
If you remember back to 2008, Jamie McMurray – a good driver on one of the super teams, Roush Fenway Racing – was not only sitting on the bubble heading to Bristol, but on the wrong side of it when he left there. It was proof even the best organizations could fall victim to having to qualify on speed. One year later, Ryan Newman and Mark Martin felt that same pressure, needing strong performances from their top-tier organizations to avoid what happened to McMurray last year. So, did Martin and Newman avoid being the big-name drivers on the outside looking in? And what underdog defied the odds to sneak into the Top 35? Read on to find out as we break down the bubble for the Food City 500 from Bristol Motor Speedway.
The Sprint Cup Series returns to its roots this weekend with the first short-track race of the 2009 season. Since it was resurfaced, Bristol Motor Speedway has gone from a one lane bullring to a multi-groove, high-banked, high-speed oval unlike any other track on the Sprint Cup circuit. Even with the new surface, Bristol is still home to a lot of beating and banging, and the Frontstretch Fantasy Insiders are going to make sure your fantasy shelves are stocked with talent for this weekend’s Food City 500.
Four races in, how would you grade the 2009 Cup season to date? And what, if anything, can be done to make things better?
Throughout Sunday’s telecast of the Kobalt Tools 500, we heard several times how the Atlanta Motor Speedway was racing just like its neighbor about 300 miles to the north, Darlington Raceway. The way the surface was eating through tires forced crews to bring their driver in for fresh rubber almost every chance they had. Well, it was no wonder why rookie Logano thought that this was the week to put the Darlington stripe on the right side of his Home Depot Camry. Whether it was by himself, or getting help – like from the No. 44 and No. 14 machines of AJ Allmendinger and Tony Stewart, respectively – “Logano is in the wall” was a common phrase called out by the FOX announcers all afternoon.
The first three races of 2009 have yielded surprising results at the top of the bottom of the points standings. Some drivers, like Mark Martin, are left scratching their head after having fast cars at each race, but no finishes to show for that. Likewise, teams like Michael Waltrip Racing in the top 12 and some of the startup teams near the brink of emergence in the Top 35 are among other early surprises in the points. That being said, here are the best of both this week.