Race Weekend Central

Bubble Breakdown: Scott Riggs, Michael Waltrip Securing Spots for Their Teams in Top 35

Lowe’s Motor Speedway was the venue Saturday night in Concord, N.C., for the running of the Bank of America 500. With just six races remaining in the ’08 season, the bubble teams should now look at each race as a qualifying attempt for next year’s Daytona 500. Struggling teams have trouble finding funding, and without a locked-in spot for the 2009 Daytona 500, or the next four races after it for that matter, attracting good sponsorship in a slow economy can be next to impossible. But don’t take my word for it; just give a call to the guys at Morgan-McClure Motorsports and ask them.

There was a bit of an interesting story surrounding Lowe’s that didn’t seem to get any attention, probably because it involved back of the pack teams. AJ Allmendinger was slated by Michel Waltrip Racing to drive the No. 00 Toyota at Lowe’s, just two weeks after being unceremoniously dumped by Team Red Bull. The No. 84 Red Bull Toyota previously driven by the ‘Dinger sat just 56 markers ahead of MWR’s No. 00 team. How big of a smile would AJ be sporting on his way out of Lowe’s if he were able to knock his former ride out of a Top-35 spot?

So was the ‘Dinger grinning after the Bank of America 500 Saturday night? Read on to find out in this week’s edition of the Bubble Breakdown.

Biggest Winner

Scott Riggs continued his late-season push with his third top-25 finish in the last four races. Considering the other run was a 42nd-place effort due to a broken driveshaft while running in the top 15, it’s clear the chemistry between him and his Haas CNC team is hitting on all cylinders. The No. 66 State Water Heaters Chevrolet struggled during qualifying, starting back in the 33rd position.

But once again, driver Riggs and crew chief Bootie Barker used a slow and steady plan of smart driving and pit strategy to move up through the field. The Haas Chevrolet had moved into the mid-20s by the midpoint of the race before finishing a respectable 19th. With the effort, team Haas moves up a spot in the owner standings to 32nd; but more importantly, the cushion is extended to 165 points over 36th. Somewhere, Ryan Newman is smiling.

Biggest Loser

Lowe’s was another wasted opportunity for the No. 00 Toyota out of Michael Waltrip Racing. A week after Kenny Wallace breathed some life into the team with a season’s best 12th-place finish at Talladega, a 43rd-place finish in Charlotte has sucked the wind back out of their sails. MWR slated Allmendinger as their driver du jour this weekend; but while running in between two other cars on lap 53, the ‘Dinger spun and hit the wall, doing heavy damage to both the front and the rear of his Toyota – ending their night early.

Meanwhile Robby Gordon, who sits 35th in the owner standings, finished in the 30th spot after a miscue on pit road. MWR’s No. 00 Toyota sit in 36th in the owner standings, 63 points behind Gordon. There aren’t many opportunities left for MWR to put its third team in the Top 35 for 2009, and the team can’t afford to waste any more.

Bubble Notes

Michael Waltrip’s No. 55 NAPA Toyota finished in the 24th spot, edging Bill Davis Racing’s No. 22 Caterpillar Toyota which came in 27th. That extended MWR’s lead over BDR’s No. 22 team to 37 points in the chase for the last spot reserved for Toyota in next year’s Bud Shootout. Gordon looked strong the first two-thirds of the race, moving from his 35th starting spot to 19th around lap 210 while inheriting the lead during green-flag pit stops. However, after a hangup on the right-side tires during his own stop, Gordon pulled away without getting the left sides changed.

The result was a blown left-front tire two laps later, shredding the front fender. The ensuing repairs led to a 30th-place finish, six laps down to the leader.

Mike Skinner drove the No. 84 TRB Toyota for the second week in a row. Skinner has driven a combined 11 races in 2008 for TRB and MWR, posting a best finish of 27th in the Kobalt Tools 500. He has yet to finish on the lead lap.

Not a single bubble driver won the Lucky Dog award during the race.

Roger Penske’s No. 77 Mobil 1 Dodge and Robby Gordon Motorsports’ No. 7 Menards Dodge both were penalized twice for pit-road violations.

Gordon, Allmendinger and Waltrip’s No. 55 NAPA Toyota were the only bubble drivers to lead laps, each leading one.

Waltrip was involved in several cautions. On lap 63, he got into the grass and pushed Skinner into Ken Schrader’s No. 96 Toyota. Both Schrader and Skinner hit the wall. Then, on lap 204, Waltrip got loose and tapped Bobby Labonte, sending them both spinning with neither receiving any real damage.

A Look Ahead

NASCAR returns to Martinsville Raceway next week, and not a single bubble driver is overly thrilled about it. Of the teams remaining on the bubble, the top finisher in March was MWR’s No. 00 Toyota driven then by rookie Michael McDowell – who finished a distant 26th.

TRB’s No. 84 Toyota has tabbed Scott Speed to finish out the season in their car. The team is slumping since dismissing the ‘Dinger two weeks ago, and Martinsville is no easy place to make your Cup debut. I would expect a finish no higher than 35th for this Formula 1 convert. Also, you can put your money on Gordon to come up short at Martinsville. In 50 career short-track starts, Robby has just one top-10 finish, an average start of 29th, and an average finish of 31st.

So, where do you put your money? You can probably put some on Riggs. While Scott struggled and finished 41st in the spring, his average career finish at short tracks is 25th, and he has posted a couple of top-five finishes. This leads me to believe the spring race was an anomaly, not the norm for Riggs. Another safe bet, as far as bubble teams go, is Dave Blaney. Blaney also finished poorly in the spring (43rd) due to an engine failure, but his career finish at short tracks is 27th. While that isn’t eye-opening, it’s better than most of the other bubble teams.

That’s it for this week’s edition of the Bubble Breakdown. Until next Monday, so long from the bubble.

Breaking Down the Bubble

Pos Owner Car # Driver Points Points +/- of 35th Place
31 Michael Waltrip Racing 55 Michael Waltrip 2,506 +119
32 Haas CNC Racing 66 Scott Riggs 2,489 +102
33 Bill Davis Racing 22 Dave Blaney 2,469 +82
34 Robby Gordon Motorsports 7 Robby Gordon 2,402 +15
35 Team Red Bull 84 Mike Skinner 2,387 0
36 Michael Waltrip Racing 00 AJ Allmendinger 2,324 -63
37 Penske Racing 77 Sam Hornish Jr. 2,244 -143
38 Gillett Evernham Motorsports 10 Patrick Carpentier 2,056 -331
39 Hall of Fame Racing 96 Ken Schrader 2,045 -342
40 Petty Enterprises 45 Chad McCumbee 1,993 -394
41 Furniture Row Racing 78 Joe Nemechek 1,886 -501
42 Wood Brothers Racing 21 Various Drivers 1,859 -528
43 Haas CNC Racing 70 Tony Raines 1,776 -611

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