Race Weekend Central

Bubble Breakdown: Scott Speed Wins the Indy Battle, But John Andretti Winning the War

Sunday, NASCAR traveled to the hallowed halls of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in their annual attempt to show that if you take 43 stock cars and put them at one of the greatest tracks in the entire world, you really don’t get very good racing. While a caution with 30 laps to go made for a good finish for the fans, it was no help for several of our bubble teams, who were struggling all afternoon and wanted nothing more than for the race to be over.

Scott Speed found trouble early, Bill Elliott found it late and Robby Gordon found it both early and often. To see just what those troubles were – and if John Andretti was able to hold on to his guaranteed starting spot – read on in this week’s edition of the Bubble Breakdown.

Focusing on the Bubble

Speed came out with guns blazing at Indy Saturday afternoon, laying down a lap of 50.634 seconds to be good enough for 26th on the starting grid, putting him nine spots ahead of Andretti. But much like the last race at Chicagoland, Speed made it easy on Andretti by falling by the wayside early. Speed slapped the wall with his Red Bull Toyota, forcing him to the pits for repairs. The damage wasn’t terminal, but it did put Scott near the rear of the field where he would stay for the balance of the day.

With 10 cars having trouble during the afternoon, Speed was able to move up a little and salvage a 31st-place finish that equaled his best run since the Coca-Cola 600 back in late May.

Andretti, on the other hand, in typical fashion for this team took the green flag and did their version of points racing. They fought a tight in/loose off condition but never really pushed it to move the car ahead in the field, talking about a conservative game plan on the radio and running it to perfection on the track. The low-budget gang from Front Row Motorsports brought the car home in one piece again, finishing 32nd, four laps down to the leader. While Speed can take some solace in beating Andretti, he gained only three points, and at that rate they won’t get into the Top 35 by the end of 2009.

Around the Bubble

Robby Gordon Motorsports’ No. 7 Toyota driven by Robby Gordon: Gordon found trouble about as early as you can, sliding through Elliott Sadler’s oil before the first lap was completed. The incident was unfortunate for Gordon, as he had picked up several spots in less than a lap; but with him being the “cause” of the caution, even though it wasn’t his fault, he was the one sent to the back of the field. After pitting for four new tires, Gordon said the car wasn’t the same and never was able to mount a serious charge to the front.

The team had several of their usual slow stops and spent most of the day fighting for the Lucky Dog spot, an opportunity which didn’t come into play often thanks to only three cautions. They did manage to get back onto the lead lap late, however, and salvage a 28th-place finish. Not great, but with a 320-point cushion there also isn’t much for Gordon to worry about as far as keeping his guaranteed starting spot. However, one glaring problem still remains; the team is underachieving due to problems on pit road.

Furniture Row Racing’s No. 78 Chevrolet driven by Regan Smith: Regan Smith’s streak of finishing all 52 races he’s run in is still intact, but that’s about all you can say about the young man’s afternoon. Smith struggled in qualifying, posting just the 36th-fastest time on Saturday. Race day started a little better, as Smith had moved to the 22nd position by lap 30. But handling and mechanical problems plagued the team for the better part of the race. They went to the garage several times and were on pit road a number of others.

They wound up 39th by race’s end, a very disappointing run for a team that had performed well in the races they have run so far in 2009.

The Wood Brothers No. 21 Ford Fusion driven by Bill Elliott: I was all excited to write a “How about Bill Elliott” section for this week’s column. I even already had his name in the title of this week’s edition! Awesome Bill from Dawsonville was running in the 15th spot on lap 115 and had been no lower than 20th all day. But a botched pit stop late ended all that.

Coming in 15th and out in 28th is not how you wrap up a great afternoon. If you think moving through traffic was easy at Indy, go ask Juan Pablo Montoya about it. Unfortunately, for Elliott, his car wasn’t nearly as good as Montoya’s; the veteran only picked off two positions in the last 30 laps, finishing a disappointing 26th.

Bubble Chatter

Robby Gordon:
“I got into someone’s oil. It’s all over my windshield. I had a kick-ass start, this really sucks.” – After a lap 1 spin

“Ready, ready, GO GO GO GO, NO WAIT WAIT STOP STOP STOP!” – Robby’s crew chief giving “instructions” to Gordon on when to leave after a pit stop on lap 127

“This car has been really inconsistent from run to run.” – Gordon to his crew chief on lap 146

Scott Speed:
“It’s probably safer to pit at this point.” – Speed to his crew chief after hitting the wall on lap 11

John Andretti:
“This thing is turning like a snowmobile!” – To crew chief Steve Lane on lap 43

Paul Menard:
“Am I going on the jack or are you gonna tell me when to go?” – Asking crew chief when he should leave the pit box on lap 58

Conversation between the driver of the No. 36 Toyota Mike Skinner and crew chief Tommy Baldwin Jr.
Baldwin – “Lets run a couple more laps and we’ll call it a day.”
Skinner – “OK.”
Skinner – “The No. 11 just blew up! Do we need to run a couple more laps to get ahead of him?”
Baldwin – “No, now we’re already ahead of him.”

What to expect at Pocono

In a word: nothing! In the last two trips to Pocono, the best finish by any of the bubble teams is Menard’s 29th earlier this year. There is no way to try and sugarcoat our bubble dwellers’ performances at this track, and I am not going to even try. So next weekend, I say they’re all gonna stink! But I gotta put my money on someone, so I’m gonna put it on Dexter Bean assuming qualifying isn’t rained out. Dexter managed a 36th-place run last time in eastern Pennsylvania and beat out four of the regular bubble teams. So why not go with him next week?

So, there’s your Bubble Breakdown for this week. Check back next Monday to see if any of our beloved bubble dwellers can finally get their act together at the big triangle in the woods, or if they once again spend five hours slogging around at the back of the field. And don’t forget to check out Friday’s newsletter to see how the head-to-head picks between Phil and I are going. So, until next Monday so long from the bubble!

2009 Bubble Chart After Indianapolis

Pos Owner Car # Driver Points Points +/- of 35th Place
31 Michael Waltrip Racing 55 Michael Waltrip 1,772 +297
32 Penske Racing 12 David Stremme 1,699 +224
33 Yates Racing 98 Paul Menard 1,638 +163
34 Robby Gordon Motorsports 7 Robby Gordon 1,608 +133
35 Front Row Motorsports 34 John Andretti 1,475 0
36 Team Red Bull 82 Scott Speed 1,288 -187
37 TRG Motorsports 71 David Gilliland 1,162 -313
38 Phoenix Racing 09 Various Drivers 1,093 -382
39 Furniture Row Racing 78 Regan Smith 989 -486
40 NEMCO Motorsports 87 Joe Nemechek 956 -519
41 Prism Motorsports 66 Dave Blaney 843 -632
42 Tommy Baldwin Racing 36 Mike Skinner 826 -649

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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