Race Weekend Central

Bubble Breakdown: Bill Elliott Takes Advantage of Blaney’s Misfortune, Helps Wood Brothers With Top 35

There may have been little change in the Top-35 picture this week as far as positions go – but just 40 laps into the race at Atlanta, the gap between 35th and 36th narrowed substantially. With an eventual “locked-in” spot for the first five races of 2008 on the line, engine problems struck Dave Blaney‘s No. 22 on lap 39, bringing out the race’s second caution and moving Bill Elliott and the No. 21 team 56 points closer to the coveted bubble position.

To see how close the No. 21 team is to Blaney, check out this week’s edition of the Bubble Breakdown:

Engine woes narrow gap

What was once a single-digit margin week-in and week-out between the No. 21 and No. 22 teams a little over one month ago widened to 142 points last week when Elliott crashed at Martinsville. But the 1988 Cup Series champ cut back into that margin this week when Blaney lost power on a lap 39 restart and had to go to the garage. The No. 22 car did return to the race but finished 38th, 66 laps down, making them vulnerable to losing their locked-in spot.

Last week’s deficit between 35th and 36th – 142 points
This week’s deficit – 82 points

Elliott returns home

The Dawsonville, Ga. native returned to his home track where he has enjoyed much success throughout his career, but was forced to start last in the Atlanta field after qualifying. Starting shotgun on the field, Elliott improved 25 positions throughout the race, fighting numerous times to get back on the lead lap through the Lucky Dog pass after going a lap down early. Finally getting the break he needed with 90 laps remaining, Elliott’s lead lap machine moved up from 27th to 18th by the time the checkered flag flew. Afterwards, he was impressed with the team’s performance:

“It felt pretty good to get back on the lead lap there towards the end and I’m pleased with everybody’s effort today,” beamed Elliott. “I think that the communication was great all day, and that’s what you need if you’re going to improve your track position.”

Other notes

Kyle Petty finished 13th, his best finish since Lowe’s in May, and gave his No. 45 car a 168-point cushion on Elliott in 36th – all but assuring himself of a Top-35 spot for ’08.

Far back of those on the bubble, Michael Waltrip continues to run strong. Finishing 11th, Waltrip has made six consecutive races now and recorded four consecutive top 25s – too bad he’s still nearly 900 points behind 35th with his No. 55 NAPA-sponsored car.

Tracking Toyota

An impressive four Toyotas finished in the top 20 this weekend, with Brian Vickers leading the way by collecting his fifth top 10 of the season. Out of five cars to make the race, the lone Toyota to not crack the top 20 was Blaney, who ran into the mechanical gremlins described above.

A few season milestones were reached, as well; besides Waltrip, teammate Dale Jarrett‘s 19th-place finish was his first top 20 of the season, while AJ Allmendinger‘s 16th-place run was his third, earning him the Rookie of the Race award for the second time.

David Reutimann and Mike Skinner (driving Bill Davis’s No. 36 after a midweek driver change from Jeremy Mayfield) failed to qualify for the race.

Top-Three Finishing Toyotas

Vickers (No. 83) – Finished 10th
Waltrip (No. 55) – Finished 11th
Allmendinger (No. 84) – Finished 16th

Breaking Down the Bubble

Pos Owner Car # Driver Points Points +/- of 35th Place
31 Robert Yates Racing 88 Ricky Rudd 2,724 +170
32 Robert Yates Racing 38 David Gilliland 2,699 +145
33 Haas CNC Racing 70 Johnny Sauter 2,654 +100
34 Petty Enterprises 45 Kyle Petty 2,640 +86
35 Bill Davis Racing 22 Dave Blaney 2,554 0
36 Wood Brothers 21 Ken Schrader/Bill Elliott 2,472 -82
37 Evernham Motorsports 10 Scott Riggs 2,266 -288
38 Michael Waltrip Racing 00 David Reutimann 2,149 -405
39 Team Red Bull 83 Brian Vickers 2,120 -434
40 Michael Waltrip Racing 55 Michael Waltrip 1,759 -795
41 Michael Waltrip Racing 44 Dale Jarrett 1,698 -856
42 Furniture Row Motorsports 78 Joe Nemechek 1,522 -1,032
43 Team Red Bull 84 AJ Allmendinger 1,496 -1,058
44 Morgan McClure Motorsports 4 Ward Burton 1,456 -1,098
45 BAM Racing 49 John Andretti 1,424 -1,130
46 Bill Davis Racing 36 Mike Skinner 1,388 -1,166

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