Race Weekend Central

Bubble Breakdown: Brad Keselowski Posts Top-10 Run… But It’s John Andretti Who Widens Top-35 Gap

Several bubble teams made a little news this week, most notably Michael Waltrip Racing, who has scheduled a news conference for July 7 – where it is expected that Martin Truex Jr. will be announced as the team’s new driver for 2010. Also in the news was Robby Gordon, who continues to ride precariously close to the Top-35 cutoff with the No. 7 Toyota. The owner/driver for Robby Gordon Motorsports said he was dropping his appeal of the May 27 penalty levied against his team for exceeding the maximum specified toe of plus or minus one degree, accepting guilt and the accompanying fines and points penalties that come with it.

Finally, after qualifying had been rained out, the No. 64 Toyota entry of Gunselman Motorsports withdrew from the race after having run just 14 practice laps. This enabled Furniture Row Racing’s No. 78 driven by Regan Smith to move up and into the starting grid, giving the young driver the opportunity to continue his 49-race streak of finishing every NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race he has participated in.

So to see if Smith continued his streak and whether or not Scott Speed could race his way up into the Top 35, read on for this week’s edition of the Bubble Breakdown.

Focus on the Bubble

The race for the Top 35 has effectively come down to three drivers: John Andretti sits in 35th place, followed closely by Speed and David Gilliland. At least, it was close until the rains fell Sunday at New England. Andretti’s No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Chevrolet had been slogging around, running anywhere between 25th and 39th for most of the day. That caused the team to make an extra stop under caution around lap 190, giving them a 30-lap advantage on fresh tires and fuel that would end up making a big difference.

Holding their own with fresh rubber, the car steadily started moving up once green-flag pit stops started around lap 230. It was during this sequence that the team got a huge blessing: the rains came right before they were to make their final stop, leading to an end result of a season-best 16th-place run.

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Speed also ran around in the mid-to-low 30s all day, but ended up not having the same late-race fortune as Andretti did. Instead, Speed brought out the 10th caution of the day when he hit the wall hard in turn one. The No. 82 Team Red Bull Toyota was able to be repaired and returned to the track, but it was many laps down and wound up with a 36th-place finish as a result. The gap between the two has now grown to 155 points with 19 races remaining.

The third driver in this mix, Gilliland, ended his day rather strangely. When the competition caution flew on lap 45, David didn’t pit with either group on lap 46 or 47. He stayed out to lead lap 48 (although as of this writing, NASCAR hasn’t yet credited him with leading it on their unofficial results page), then ducked onto pit road as the field came to the green and never returned to the race. Gilliland’s TRG Motorsports No. 71 Chevrolet was credited with 40th place.

Around the Bubble

James Finch is going to miss Brad Keselowski when he’s gone. Brad posted another top-10 finish in the Phoenix Racing No. 09 Chevrolet by turning a 36th-place starting position into a sixth-place run, his third top 10 for that team. Brad drove a steady race and popped into the top 10 for good around lap 240, a fuel-mileage gamble paying off in the same way Andretti’s did above. As a result, the No. 09 team moves up to 38th in the owner standings; but as we all know, if you aren’t in the Top 35, then it really doesn’t matter what position you are in.

Things looked good early for the No. 12 Penske Racing Dodge driven by David Stremme and the Robert Yates Racing No. 98 Ford piloted by Paul Menard. When the competition caution flag waved at lap 40, Stremme had moved up five spots to 27th and Menard had gone all the way from 33rd to 24th.

However, the adjustments made under the caution weren’t to either driver’s liking and they never got the handle back on either car. Stremme pretty much held his spot and finished 28th, while Menard slid back to 30th by race’s end. Menard’s day also included meeting the turn 3 SAFER barrier after his left front tire locked up on lap 171, which didn’t help the team’s handling issues.

Finally, Smith did complete his 50th consecutive race, which is the longest such streak to start a career of any active driver. Smith was fortunate to get his No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet into the field, however, as it took the No. 64’s withdrawal to give the team the 43rd and final starting position (supposedly, a deal was made between the two teams for the No. 64 to pull out, although financial terms were no disclosed). The No. 78 then managed to move up 16 positions during the race, but that was still only good enough for a 27th-place run.

Bubble Chatter

If the start-and-park cars aren’t going to make an effort to run a full race, then I am not going to make the effort to talk about them. So instead, I will pass along some of the quips heard over the radio during the race from our bubble drivers.

“I’m looking at how my brakes are labeled in this car and I think they are wrong.” – Robby Gordon, regarding his brake bias dials on lap 29

“No, I can’t drive the car like this or I wouldn’t be back here riding around in 40th.” – Robby Gordon’s emphatic response to crew chief Kirk Almquist’s inquiry about the state of the car’s handling

“OK guys, we’re gonna work on beating out the right side of the car.” – Paul Menard’s crew chief, Larry Carter, to his pit crew on lap 170 after Menard hit the wall

“I can’t see too good, so let me know if anything is in front of me.” – David Ragan, whose hood was partially pushed up on his way to the garage after being involved in a lap 175 accident

What to look for next week at Daytona

You may want to sit down before you read this, but few drivers have dominated Daytona International Speedway recently like… Ragan and Robby Gordon. But before you start laughing. consider this: since 2007, eight of the 10 finishes posted by these two at DIS are top 15s. In fact, five of those finishes register as eighth or better. Now, add Michael Waltrip and his restrictor-plate success into the mix, and you have some bubble drivers all licking their chops heading into next Saturday night.

I see all three posting top-15 finishes, with Ragan in contention to win it when the white flag flies with a lap to go. Meanwhile, those who struggle and ride around in the middle to the back of the pack tend to get caught up in the Big One at the plate tracks… and that points to Andretti and Speed. Look for them both to get wadded up during the race, innocent victims of wrecks not of their making.

So, there’s your Bubble Breakdown for New Hampshire. Please make sure to check out the Frontstretch newsletter each day this week, especially Fridays, where the head-to-head spoiler picks now show Phil Allaway leading the season series 9-8.

Until next Monday, so long from the bubble!

2009 Bubble Chart After New Hampshire

Pos Owner Car # Driver Points Points +/- of 35th Place
31 Roush Fenway Racing 6 David Ragan 1,496 +248
32 Penske Racing 12 David Stremme 1,441 +193
33 Yates Racing 98 Paul Menard 1,410 +162
34 Robby Gordon Motorsports 7 Robby Gordon 1,366 +118
35 Front Row Motorsports 34 John Andretti 1,248 0
36 Team Red Bull 82 Scott Speed 1,093 -155
37 TRG Motorsports 71 David Gilliland 1,009 -239
38 Phoenix Racing 09 Brad Keselowski 928 -320
39 NEMCO Motorsports 87 Joe Nemechek 842 -406
40 Furniture Row Racing 78 Regan Smith 816 -432
41 Prism Motorsports 66 Dave Blaney 738 -510
42 Tommy Baldwin Racing 36 Patrick Carpentier 703 -545

About the author

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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