Did You Notice? That if Matt Kenseth does fall out of the Chase, the two races he’ll look to that cost him his opportunity were a failed fuel mileage gamble at Pocono – the race won by track position, not pure speed – as well as an explosive tire failure at Indianapolis. That makes me think the sport shouldn’t count points from that race… if the results at Indy were that controlled, aren’t you controlling who makes and misses the Chase by shutting out guys who had poor performances there?
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…
Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer, Elvis Presley, and Martin Truex Jr. A flurry of names have been sailing in the rumor clouds as a result of the Stewart-Haas Racing partnership. Newman and Penske Racing’s announcement that they will part ways after this season adds further strength to the rumors that he will be Stewart’s wingman for the revitalized organization, with primary sponsorship soon to follow his switch from Dodge to Chevrolet. One name that has not been mentioned at all in relation to this huge Silly Season domino is the lone full-time driver remaining for the two-car team – Scott Riggs.
NASCAR began a short Midwest swing this weekend in Chicagoland with the running of the LifeLock.com 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.
The long-awaited first Hendrick-Earnhardt victory finally came this week at Michigan, but it didn’t come without controversy. Winning on fuel mileage, the No. 88 team worked some pit strategy to make it to Victory Lane; however, Matt Kenseth and Brian Vickers have criticized Dale Earnhardt Jr. and NASCAR for allowing the eventual winner to pass the pace car under caution. And Earnhardt wasn’t the only one who enjoyed success at the 2-mile oval; the Red Bull and Roush Fenway teams also had strong runs. Will this hot topic land all three teams on the HOT list this week? Check out this week’s edition of Who’s Hot/Who’s Not in Sprint Cup for the answer.
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.
The competition to stay in the Top 35 in owner points has dissolved into a dogfight, with many more teams falling back towards the bubble as opposed to moving away from it. While a few select cars — such as Bill Davis’ No. 22 Caterpillar entry and Michael Waltrip Racing’s No. 44 UPS Toyota — have been able to develop some semblance of consistency, many others have simply not developed any at all… or have just been consistently bad. And while those two teams have distanced themselves from the bubble fray, others — like Chip Ganassi’s No. 41 Target Dodge and Robby Gordon’s No. 7 — have struggled enough to come back towards the cut line. As it stands now, there’s less than 100 points separating 30th from 36th in owner points — a number that has plenty of organizations just a little nervous. At least there’s just one spot they’ve got to worry about, for now; a healthy gap of 128 points currently separates the 36th-place team from 37th.
If you were starting a new three-car team in NASCAR next season — and let’s just set aside the financial burden and inevitable sponsorship woes that come with a start-up outfit for a minute — you could do a lot worse than to assemble your own trio of wheelmen from the sort of stable of drivers you see at Gillett Evernham Motorsports. Just a quick glance at the roster shows you just how good you’ve already got it. You have the young-ish, successful hot shot and sponsor’s dream in Kasey Kahne; the affable, (mostly) talented, good ol’ boy veteran in Elliott Sadler; and the exotic (in NASCAR terms) open-wheeler looking to become a crossover star in Patrick Carpentier. OK, you’re almost certainly saying, “Well, I’d pick Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, or NASCAR’s newest arch-villain himself, Kyle Busch…” but I’m sure you get the point: it’s not exactly a bad set of drivers to start with.
The notorious “Monster Mile” jumped out and attacked the competition Sunday when Elliott Sadler came down on the No. 38 of David Gilliland on lap 18, triggering a massive pileup that ended the days for a number of Chase contenders before they could even get into a rhythm. Aside from Sadler’s blunder, though, it was Kyle Busch who once again stole the headlines by claiming his fourth win of the season. Busch is undoubtedly the hottest driver in the series right now; but how does his start stack up against Jimmie Johnson’s impressive start to 2007? Check out this week’s edition of Who’s Hot/Who’s Not in Sprint Cup to find out.
The big story from the bubble this week has been the heavy penalties handed down by NASCAR to the Haas CNC Racing teams. Both cars were hit with 150-point owner and driver standings deductions, as well as various team fines and six-week suspensions of the car chief and crew chief for each vehicle. As a result, the No. 66 car went from solidly in the field to right on the bubble, while the No. 70 has been put in a hole from which it may never recover.