Greetings race fans, happy Friday to everyone. The Bud Shootout is less than 48 hours away and qualifying for the Daytona 500 begins on Sunday (Feb. 13). Even though it only locks in the front row, I have always thought it is the most dramatic qualifying session we have all year. It gives us the starting line up for the Gatorade Duels and it also gives three teams outside the Top-35 cutoff a chance to secure a starting spot in the Great American Race.
Earlier this week I wrote in the Bubble Breakdown about some of the teams that went through some sort of points exchange in the offseason. In somewhat of a sequel to that, here is a look at the teams that finished 26th or worse in owner points last year – and who will get to race and who will have to race their way in.
Bobby Labonte – No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Toyota
After 14 months of being a field-filler at TRG Motorsports, Labonte is now with a team that has the potential to win races. During that time, he depended on his past champion’s provisional to keep his consecutive start streak alive (which is now at 616 by the way, one behind the active leader Jeff Gordon). Now that he is at JTG Daugherty Racing, the 2000 Cup champ can rely on owner points to keep that streak going.
Regan Smith – No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet
Smith heads into 2011 with no worries about making the Daytona 500 or the four races that follow. This underdog team based out of Colorado continues to make steady gains and seem to have found a solid driver in Smith. While this organization hasn’t had a single top-10 to date, it came close on a couple of occasions last year and saw its average finish end at a team best 24.6, with Smith behind the wheel for every race.
Robby Gordon – No. 7 Robby Gordon Motorsports Dodge
Since Gordon became an owner again back in 2005, he has attempted to run the full schedule every season. This year he will be scaling back; he will run about 16-20 races, including the first five for which he is locked in. Gordon will return to running Dodges this year after two seasons of driving Toyota Camrys. Gordon’s energy drink, Speed Energy, will be the sponsor for his 2011 campaign.
Travis Kvapil – No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford
Robert Richardson and sponsor Mahindra USA Tractors will again be racing this car for the Daytona 500. After that, the plan is to have Kvapil in the seat for most of the season. Since he is committed to competing for the Camping World Truck Series championship, Kvapil will be the first Cup regular not to run for drivers points. Instead, the focus for FRM will be all about the owner standings and staying in the Top 35.
Casey Mears – No. 13 Germain Racing Toyota
Mears returns to the GEICO Toyota after running 12 races for them last year. Since they finished 38th in the owner standings last year, the team will have to make it on speed the first five races. How they do in the first five could dictate the rest of their season; Bob Germain has said they will run at least 20 races and possibly more depending on their performance in the first few events.
Dave Blaney – No. 36 Tommy Baldwin Racing Chevrolet
After reuniting with his former crew chief Tommy Baldwin in 2010, Blaney returns to run more races for TBR in 2011. Regardless of sponsorship, the team hopes to run the whole distance in 16 of the events. Without funding, the team will be forced to start and park in the remaining races. Even with sponsorship, Blaney will still have to qualify on time as the team finished 40th in the owner standings last year.
Joe Nemechek – No. 87 NEMCO Motorsports Toyota
Nemechek is back for another year as an owner/driver. He will be bringing two cars down to Daytona with Kevin Conway and his Extenze sponsorship on the No. 97 Toyota. Nemechek also has sponsorship from AM FM Energy LLC for his car, but will likely continue to start and park in the following races as he struggles to find full-time funding.
Crew chief turned car owner Frank Stoddard is bringing this startup team down to Daytona with Labonte behind the wheel for the first race. The team will have backing from U.S. Chrome and the Air National Guard for Daytona and funding to run about 8-10 races. Since the team doesn’t have any owner points to fall back on, Stoddard is depending on Labonte’s past champion’s provisional to make the race. After Daytona, Stoddard plans for former Truck Series champion Skinner to run the rest of the schedule, depending on sponsorship.
Bill Elliott – No. 09 Phoenix Racing
The 1988 Cup champ joins James Finch’s operation this year to run at least 18 races, including Daytona. Elliott, who holds the track qualifying record for the Daytona 500, will need to qualify on speed. Elliott will be pulling for Terry Labonte to make the race on speed – Texas Terry gets the champion’s provisional before him due to his championship coming more recently than Elliott’s.
Michael Waltrip – No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota
I briefly mentioned Waltrip the other day in the Bubble Breakdown. This will be the only race the two-time Daytona 500 winner is scheduled for, but he didn’t acquire any owner points to secure a spot. Waltrip will be sporting his paint scheme from 2001, with black on the sides. The scheme and color is out of respect for the man who gave him that ride, Dale Earnhardt. What a story it would be if Waltrip could not only make the race, but win on the 10-year anniversary of that bittersweet day of his first win and his friend’s death.
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