Race Weekend Central

Bubble Breakdown: NASCAR Teams Miss Opportunity to Lock Down Top 35 for ’09

There’s an old saying that Hell hath no fury like that of a ‘Dinger scorned; or something to that effect, anyways. For the second straight week, AJ Allmendinger drove like a man on a mission right from the drop of the checkered flag. And “man on a mission” is exactly the mindset Allmendinger needs to be in if he wants to drive Gillett Evernham’s No. 10 Dodge into the Daytona 500 before the checkered flag flies over Homestead in a month’s time.

For the second week in a row, AJ drove his Dodge from the back to the front and posted another top-15 run. But did he make any measurable gains in his quest for a Top-35 locked-in spot? Read on to find out in this week’s edition of the Bubble Breakdown.

Gordon Comes Up Big

Robby Gordon got what he needed at Atlanta. After finishing in the top 25 the last three stops there, Robby improved upon those results Sunday with a great 19th-place run. Gordon took full advantage of the opportunity to gain some points at AMS, finishing 10 spots ahead of Marcos Ambrose’s No. 47 Toyota fielded by Michael Waltrip Racing. He also finished a whopping 15 positions ahead of Team Red Bull’s No. 84 Toyota, piloted by Scott Speed, moving Robby up one spot to 34th in the owner standings.

Missed Opportunities

On the flip side, several drivers looking for strong runs didn’t come through, and therefore are still looking to lock themselves into the Top 35 for 2009. With nearly a 150-point advantage over 35th spot, Scott Riggs needed only another top-25 finish to get the job done; however, that went up in smoke after a lap 35 crash that crippled his machine. After some contact with Elliott Sadler on the backstretch, Riggs blew a tire going into turn 3 and suffered heavy damage to his State Water Heaters Chevrolet. Riggs rode around the remainder of the race, finishing dead last, over 120 laps down.

Meanwhile, Michael Waltrip had his NAPA Toyota running well until around lap 167 when he began having tire issues. After an early pit stop to get fresh rubber, his right rear tire finally let go on lap 209. The NAPA Toyota was never the same after that, with Michael finishing 37th and maintaining the 29th spot in the owner standings. However, his lead over the cutoff shrunk to 141 markers, still within the margin of error if teammate Ambrose catches fire the end of the year.

Finally, Dave Blaney had a nice run going for 302 laps. Then, his Caterpillar Toyota made contact with Jeff Burton, collecting several other vehicles in the incident. With so many cars still running, the Bill Davis Racing Toyota fell all the way back to 41st position. Their cushion over the cutoff was cut by a third, to just 80 points.

Other Notes

Gap between 35th and 36th heading into Atlanta: 75 points (No. 7 and No. 47)
Gap between 35th and 36th heading out of Atlanta: 80 points (No. 84 and No. 47)

Last Man in for the Bud Shootout

Waltrip pulled further ahead of Blaney for Toyota’s last spot in the Bud Shootout. Despite both of them having horrible days, Mikey beat Blaney on the track again – 37th to 42nd – extending his lead for the last spot to 61 points with three races to go.

The ‘Dinger Watch

After calling it last week that AJ would race into the Top 35, the Dinger went out and finished 14th in just his second week with GEM. It was a great run for them, but not good enough if they want to close the gap completely. While AJ slashed 40 points off the margin, it still stands at 231 points between the No. 10 and the No. 84 Team Red Bull Toyota in 35th.

Locked Out for 2009

No. 70 Haas CNC Racing
No. 78 Furniture Row Racing
No. 45 Petty Enterprises

A Look Ahead

Of all the tracks NASCAR visits, Texas may very well be the one that not a single bubble team wants to be heading to. In the last three trips to the Lone Star State, only three times has a current bubble team started in the top 10. Two of those starts were by Allmendinger, and the third was DEI’s No. 01 Chevrolet when it was being driven by Mark Martin. The finishes get no better, either, as the only top 20 was posted by Riggs driving for the GEM Motorsports No. 10 Dodge team.

I think you’re going to see Robby Gordon Motorsports’ No. 7 Dodge driven by Gordon struggle again. Robby has finished 30th or worse in two of the last three events in Texas, and with the exception of the restrictor-plate tracks, he has struggled for most of this season. We are also going to assume that with little seat time in the car and not much oval experience in the car of tomorrow, Ambrose will also have a tough time getting a handle on the big fast track down in Fort Worth.

So, who’s gonna do well? I say BDR’s No. 22 Caterpillar machine piloted by Blaney will be OK. While they haven’t shined at Texas, they do have three straight 21st-place runs, and that’s what they need to lock up not only a Top-35 spot but a berth in next year’s Bud Shootout. Also, look for Riggs to break through.

Riggs posted a 13th-place finish driving for Gillett Evernham Motorsports at Texas last year, and has finished in the top 30 the last three trips out in Fort Worth. Combined with the fact that the Haas CNC Racing’s No. 66 State Water Heaters Chevy, Riggs’s current ride, has finished in the top 30 in their last several visits to Texas, he should be poised to pull off a top 25 and secure Ryan Newman’s spot in the first five races of 2009.

So that’s it for this week’s Bubble Breakdown. Until next Monday, so long from the Bubble!

Bubble Chart After Atlanta

Pos Owner Car # Driver Points Points +/- of 35th Place
31 Chip Ganassi Racing 41 Reed Sorenson 2,652 +126
32 Haas CNC Racing 66 Scott Riggs 2,628 +102
33 Bill Davis Racing 22 Dave Blaney 2,606 +80
34 Robby Gordon Motorsports 7 Robby Gordon 2,551 +25
35 Team Red Bull 84 Scott Speed 2,526 0
36 Michael Waltrip Racing 47 (was 00) Marcos Ambrose 2,446 -80
37 Penske Racing 77 Sam Hornish Jr. 2,396 -130
38 Gillett Evernham Motorsports 10 AJ Allmendinger 2,295 -231
39 Hall of Fame Racing 96 Ken Schrader 2,182 -344
40 Petty Enterprises 45 Chad McCumbee 2,136 -390
41 Wood Brothers Racing 21 Bill Elliott 2,023 -503
42 Furniture Row Racing 78 Joe Nemechek 1,957 -569
43 Haas CNC Racing 70 Tony Raines 1,913 -613

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The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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