What a week it was for those teams positioned outside of the Top 35 in owner points at Talladega. What was already billed as the wildcard of the Chase proved to be a shake up in the standings not only for those battling for this year’s title, but for those racing for a locked-in spot next week at Lowe’s Motor Speedway and the 2008 season, as well.
As if the drama of restrictor-plate racing wasn’t enough, the impound format allowed a number of go-or-go-home cars the opportunity to qualify at the front of the 43-car field. The result was a wild race that saw a last-lap pass for the win, the Big One, and a new car sneaking inside the Top 35 in car owner points, led by a driver who tied his best career finish in the series.
To see who moved into the 35th and final bubble position, what team suffered a precipitous fall, and which Toyota held their head up high, check out this week’s edition of the Bubble Breakdown:
Storylines from ‘Dega
Who’s that up front?
While the same thing would have occurred in Daytona this July if it weren’t for the rain, on Saturday it was the go-or-go-homers sweeping the top-eight spots in the field for Sunday’s race – the first time in the rule’s short history that’s happened. The reason for the somewhat strange lineup comes from the fact that this was an impound race, meaning that the final practice session for the weekend would be before qualifying, not after; and once the session was over, cars couldn’t be touched before Sunday’s event.
That meant those teams locked into the field worked all weekend on race setups and drivability in the draft, while those outside the Top 35 worked on qualifying trim – creating a huge speed differential at the restrictor-plate facility. As a result, a record five Toyotas qualified in the top-six spots, highlighted by Michael Waltrip‘s first pole in over two years (June 2005 at Pocono).
The Big One
It was only a matter of time until it happened, and on lap 145, the big wreck Talladega’s known for finally broke loose. Bobby Labonte‘s car got sideways in turn 4 and collected a number of others, including Paul Menard, David Reutimann and Brian Vickers… all of whose cars are outside of the Top 35 in owner points. The wreck was especially damaging for Vickers, who now finds his No. 83 team 359 points behind 35th with just six races left in the season. On the flip side, a notable driver involved in this accident but receiving minimal damage was the No. 22 of Dave Blaney, who charged all the way back to finish third.
Blaney sneaks in
Blaney’s third-place finish coupled with a lap 153 accident by Ken Schrader – who came into the race 35th in car owner points – moved the No. 22 car and Toyota back into the Top 35. It was a great run for the Bill Davis Racing veteran, who not only qualified on the front row, but dispelled the theory that his car was setup to run solely in qualifying trim. The run also tied Blaney’s best career finish – he last finished third at Darlington in the spring of 2003.
“I just got with the right group of cars there at the end,” said Blaney after his run. “I was lucky enough to get behind the No. 24 (Jeff Gordon, who won) and No. 48 (Jimmie Johnson, ran second), getting pushed by the No. 99 (Carl Edwards). I was in a good group. I could’ve easily run 23rd with that car, but here, it’s all about the group you’re with.”
Unfortunately, one team’s fortune is another team’s failure, and it was Schrader’s cut tire on lap 153 that allowed Blaney to move beyond the No. 21 and back into the 35th position. Schrader was angry about the ending, of course, but quick to take what positives he could from what would have been a solid run:
“I’m just so mad right now,” he explained. “I could feel the tire maybe going a lap or two before. I was just about to say something when it went. [But] I’ve got to give a lot of credit to my guys today. Their work on pit road was excellent and kept us up with the pack all day. It just wasn’t meant to be for us today.”
The Fall of Petty
Kyle Petty continues to struggle over at Petty Enterprises; a cut tire on lap 162 resulted in a 28th-place finish for the No. 45 team. That leaves the car just two points ahead of the 35th and final locked in spot, with the No. 21 just 53 back and in position to knock him off the bubble.
Taking advantage of the impound rules, Toyota claimed five the top-six spots and six of the top eight in qualifying. The race, on the other hand, wasn’t as good for the manufacturer. While Vickers, Waltrip and Blaney all spent time battling for the lead, Blaney was the only Toyota to crack the top 20 by the checkered flag. Surprisingly, Jacques Villeneuve was the only other Toyota to finish on the lead lap, coming home a solid 21st in his Cup debut. Vickers and Dale Jarrett, meanwhile, both ended their days with DNFs.
Top-Three Finishing Toyotas
Blaney (No. 22) – Finished third
Villeneuve (No.27) – Finished 21st
Reutimann (No. 00) – Finished 22nd
Breaking Down the Bubble
|Pos||Owner||Car #||Driver||Points||Points +/- of 35th Place|
|31||Robert Yates Racing||38||David Gilliland||2,486||+191|
|32||Haas CNC Racing||70||Johnny Sauter||2,417||+122|
|33||Robert Yates Racing||88||Mike Wallace/Ricky Rudd||2,400||+105|
|34||Petty Enterprises||45||Kyle Petty||2,297||+2|
|35||Bill Davis Racing||22||Dave Blaney||2,295||0|
|36||Wood Brothers||21||Ken Schrader||2,244||-51|
|37||Evernham Motorsports||10||Scott Riggs||2,020||-275|
|38||Team Red Bull||83||Brian Vickers||1,936||-359|
|39||Michael Waltrip Racing||00||David Reutimann||1,930||-365|
|40||Michael Waltrip Racing||44||Dale Jarrett||1,488||-807|
|41||Furniture Row Racing||78||Joe Nemechek||1,411||-884|
|42||Michael Waltrip Racing||55||Michael Waltrip||1,386||-909|
|43||Morgan McClure Motorsports||4||Ward Burton||1,351||-944|
|44||Bill Davis Racing||36||Jeremy Mayfield||1,301||-994|
|45||BAM Racing||49||John Andretti||1,244||-1,051|
|46||Team Red Bull||84||AJ Allmendinger||1,200||-1,095|
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