Last week at Daytona, several of our teams on the bubble had a great showing in “The Great American Race” and likely surprised many, including themselves. But this week, as race teams traveled out west to the ‘diamond in the desert,’ many would have their bubbles burst by more than the sun and temperature in Phoenix.
Phoenix had its own Big One on lap 67, which involved 13 cars including several of our bubble teams. This week also saw a few start-and-parks hoping to keep their cars in one piece for next week in Las Vegas.
LOCKED INTO THE FIRST FIVE RACES
No. 78 – Regan Smith (Furniture Row Racing)
After his impressive overall performance at Daytona, Smith was running well and up front with the leaders early in the race until lap 67, when he smashed into the rear bumper of Clint Bowyer. Until the wreck, Smith had been in the top 15 for 42 of the 68 laps. His car had severe damage to the left front and a busted radiator put him in the garage long enough to keep him 99 laps behind the race winner. Smith ran in the top 15 during both practices and had another strong No. 78 Chevy when the green flag waved.
No. 7 – Robby Gordon (Robby Gordon Motorsports)
Gordon was involved in the second caution of the race and the Big One, but salvaged his rough outing by returning to the track to earn 12 points. His day nearly ended when Marcos Ambrose got him loose, forcing Gordon to spin out avoiding nearby Joey Logano. He had an average running position of 25th and never cracked the top 15 at any point in the race. Gordon did manage to get his No. 7 Speed Energy Dodge as high as 20th position, but quickly dropped into the pack after just a few laps.
No. 34 – David Gilliland (Front Row Motorsports)
Gilliland posted the best finish in history for Front Row Motorsports last week at Daytona and had hoped to carry that momentum into Phoenix this weekend. Unfortunately, that was not the case for Gilliland or teammate Travis Kvapil. Gilliland had a solid performance in the final Cup practice finishing 20th but felt his car was much stronger than shown during practices.
He was involved in the Big One on lap 67 that involved 13 cars, which caused heavy damage to the front of his car. Gilliland did manage to break the top 15 once during the race but spent most of his afternoon between 20th and 25th. On a bright note for the No. 34 team, they did add a new sponsor for the race from TMone.
No. 38 – Travis Kvapil (Front Row Motorsports)
Kvapil had a similar day in Phoenix as he did in Daytona last week. He did get plenty of unwanted TV time when he was involved in a incident on lap 51 that saw him clip the right rear of Daytona race winner Trevor Bayne. Kvapil didn’t seem to give Bayne enough room to the outside, which ultimately spun Bayne and ended his dream week early. When the Big One struck shortly after his first incident, Kvapil suffered severe damage to the front and rear of his car, ending his day. Kvapil did spend 15 laps in the top 15, but averaged running around 30th position during his shortened afternoon of racing.
No. 09 – Bill Elliott (Phoenix Racing)
Elliott had a pretty quiet afternoon on his way to a 23rd-place finish. He narrowly avoided disaster on lap 128, scarcely avoiding contact when David Ragan blew a right front tire. Elliott did break the top 10 early in the race but had an average running position of 18th. He was running 21st with 32 laps to go but was unable to maintain or gain any positions.
No. 36 – Dave Blaney (Tommy Baldwin Racing)
Tommy Baldwin Racing had originally planned to run the full race at Phoenix International Raceway this weekend, but on Saturday night (Feb. 26) TBR broke new ground in the sport by announcing they were going to be a start-and-park on Sunday. The whole concept of start-and-park is not new, but that announcement is not something anyone wants to hear.
Blaney’s wreck in the second practice caused severe damage to the front of the No. 36 team’s primary, forcing the team to their backup car. However, with two races out west, the team backup car was intended for next week’s race in Las Vegas.
No. 46 – JJ Yeley (Whitney Motorsports)
Yeley was able to avoid early disaster at Phoenix after running just 10 laps at Daytona before suffering a blown engine. He stayed out on an early caution which put him in fourth position for a brief period. That time up front was short lived though; Yeley was pushed to the garage soon after, spending time with the hood up on pit road after apparent electrical problems and would not return to the track. Whitney Motorsports needs to improve on their engine quality assurance practices if they intend to race the entire season.
No. 87 – Joe Nemechek (NEMCO Motorsports)
This weekend at Phoenix, Nemechek managed to keep his car from harm’s way for 22 laps before parking his Toyota for the afternoon. After receiving a last-minute sponsorship deal from AM FM Energy for Daytona, Nemechek’s ride was unsponsored for the race in Phoenix. Money in the bank, it’s on to Las Vegas for NEMCO Motorsports, where they hope to set their sights on racing more than 22 laps.
No. 66 – Michael McDowell (HP Racing)
McDowell completed just 43 laps before encountering reported brake problems which sent him to the showers for the day. On the bright side, McDowell did spend four of those 43 laps in the top 15, including leading a lap and earning one bonus point. McDowell was another car that did not have a sponsor for the race.
No. 32 – Mike Skinner (FAS Lane Racing)
Skinner made his debut with FAS Lane Racing in the No. 32 Ford and made a strong showing, finishing in 24th position. Despite finishing four laps down, Skinner did spend a brief time in the top 15 and even ran as high as second before settling in and remaining around the 20th to 25th positions.
No. 13 – Casey Mears (Germain Racing)
Mears had the best finish of all the go-or-go homers despite being involved in the Big One on lap 67. His No. 13 suffered some rear damage when Ragan was unable to stop in time to avoid hitting his rear bumper. Mears recorded 14 of the fastest laps during the race and was in the top 15 for 12 laps. Mears was running in 22nd position with 32 laps to go and jumped four positions before taking the checkered flag.
No. 60 – Landon Cassill (Germain Racing)
Cassill was another start-and-park, but did complete 68 laps before parking his No. 60 Big Red Toyota. He did average 28th position in his short 68 lap run, but most of his time was in the rear of the pack. Cassill did go to the garage once and return to the track before officially ending his day with “brake” problems. Germain and Big Red had signed a deal to race the remainder of the season starting in Phoenix but that already seems to be up in the air.
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Overall it was a rough week for our bubble teams, but a few things to take away from Phoenix. If he can avoid these huge wrecks each week, Smith seems poised to leap well within the Top 35 after the fifth race of the season. Gilliland also looks to be heading in the right direction, possibly moving away from our Top-35 bubble teams.
Which leads me to ask the question: is Front Row’s decision to cut to two primary cars helping Gilliland? Or is the FR9 engine aiding his early runs thus far? Meanwhile, his teammate, Kvapil, is headed in the opposite direction. As for Whitney Motorsports, the team needs to get their act together on engine and electrical problems or it’s going to be a long season.
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