Race Weekend Central

Bubble Breakdown: Vegas Deals Bad Hand to Underdog Drivers

As the Cup Series rolled into Las Vegas this week, our bubble teams were hoping for better results after struggling at Phoenix last week. I’m not sure if any of the bubble drivers or team members were successful at the tables in Vegas, but the race on Sunday (March 6) sure didn’t bring them any luck.

Sunday’s 400-miler at Las Vegas lacked a lot of the excitement that NASCAR fans had enjoyed the first two races of the season. There was no Big One this week, no close nail-biting racing at the finish line, and overall was a struggle to watch for 267 laps. It will be interesting to see what the overnight TV ratings are for the race.


No. 78 – Regan Smith (Furniture Row Racing)
Start: 12th
Finish: 39th

The No. 78 was solid in Friday’s practice session, finishing 12th on the speed charts. He followed up on Saturday’s qualifying session with another impressive run, placing him in the 12th position for the start of the race. Smith continues to surprise thus far in 2011, but would the Vegas odds treat him well?

See also
Regan Smith Driver Diary: Reflecting on Speedweeks, Advice for Trevor & Remembering a Hero

The answer is NO. Smith wouldn’t suffer through a wreck as in his previous two races, but this week bowed to a blown engine on lap 78. Originally, Smith had taken his car to pit road, where the crew raised the hood to inspect, but it was just minutes before they pushed Smith to the garage.

Smith ran as high as 10th position in the race before the engine failure. He also ran 10 laps in the top 15.

No. 7 – Robby Gordon (Robby Gordon Motorsports)
Start: 38th
Finish: 31st

Gordon brought out the first caution of the day on lap 8 when his No. 7 Speed Energy Dodge spun in turn 4. There were no other cars involved in the incident and Gordon went directly down pit road after gaining control of the car. Fortunately for Gordon, the spin did not cause any damage to the body of the car, but he did take four tires while on pit road.

There were not a lot of positives in the race for Gordon, but he did score four fastest laps over the course of the race. Gordon was running 28th with 27 laps to go but dropped three spots before the end. Combined with an altercation with former driver Kevin Conway in the garage area on Friday that put him on immediate probation, it was a rough weekend for this owner/driver.

No. 34 – David Gilliland (Front Row Motorsports)
Start: 35th
Finish: 37th

Gilliland came into the race in 10th position in the points, only to end his day in 21st position. He had a quiet afternoon and primarily ran in the back between 30-35th position. On lap 147, the No. 34 Taco Bell Ford blew a right-front tire in turn 2 and hit the wall very hard. Gilliland’s car suffered heavy damage on the right front and along the right side. His car briefly caught fire around that right-front tire, but fortunately Gilliland was unharmed. To add insult to injury, prior to the blown right front, the No. 34 had ran its quickest lap of the race.

No. 38 – Travis Kvapil (Front Row Motorsports)
Start: 39th
Finish: 33rd

Kvapil did manage to finish a Cup race this week, although he was six laps down to race winner Carl Edwards. He had ran four races previously at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and actually had one top-10 finish, although his average finish has been in the 24th position. Kvapil did run as high as sixth position during green-flag pit stops. Although he did finish higher than his teammate Gilliland, his driver rating of 34.3 was still worse than Gilliland’s.

No. 09 – Bill Elliott (Phoenix Racing)
Start: 37th
Finish: 30th

Another quiet afternoon for Elliott and the No. 09 team. Elliott spent eight laps in the top 15, including his race high of third position. He has performed well at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, but today was not one of those days. In seven starts he has scored one top five and three top 10s, including a fourth-place finish back in 2000.

No. 36 – Dave Blaney (Tommy Baldwin Racing)
Start: 34th
Finish: 34th

As promised, Blaney did not start-and-park this week in Las Vegas, as the No. 36 team ran the entire race. Blaney did finish seven laps down, but he also led lap 59 to secure an extra bonus point. His average running position was 33rd, but he did spend five laps in the top 15. In his previous six races in Las Vegas, his average finishing position is 28th, not far removed from Sunday’s performance.

No. 46 – JJ Yeley (Whitney Motorsports)
Start: 32nd
Finish: 40th

The good news for Yeley and the No. 46 team this week… they did not blow an engine. The bad news… they failed to finish the race again. Yeley was (or so it appeared) the fourth car to start-and-park in the race, but officially a rear gear was listed as the problem. He was unable to outdo last week’s performance when he ran 72 laps, as he managed just 45 laps. Yeley did not crack the top 15 at all and continues to struggle this season without a single top-35 finish.

No. 87 – Joe Nemechek (NEMCO Motorsports)
Start: 31st
Finish: 42nd

Nemechek did manage to beat last week’s lap total of 22 by circling the oval in Vegas for 34 laps. He was officially listed in the post-race report as having transmission problems which forced him out of the race. For the second consecutive week, Nemechek’s No. 87 Toyota was unsponsored. Nemechek did get his No. 87 Toyota into 17th position for a lap, but he recorded an average racing position of 41st.

No. 66 – Michael McDowell (HP Racing)
Start: 43rd
Finish: 41st

One thing McDowell scores high marks for is consistency. Last week he completed 43 laps; this week his total was 41 laps. Coincidentally, in his last two races his car’s problem was listed as brakes by NASCAR. McDowell ran in the back for most of his 41 laps for an average position of 40th. He didn’t crack the top 15 at any point in the race. The No. 66 HP Racing Toyota was again unsponsored this week.

No. 32 – Mike Skinner (FAS Lane Racing)
Start: 29th
Finish: 29th

In his second race with FAS Lane Racing, Skinner was slightly off from last week’s surprising top-25 finish, taking the checkered flag in 29th position. Skinner did lead lap 60 during a cycle of green-flag pit stops. He also was successful again this week in recording seven laps in the top 15. Skinner had Southern Pride Trucking listed as his sponsor but their name was only on the rear corner panels. There was no sponsor on the hood of the No. 32 Ford.

No. 13 – Casey Mears (Germain Racing)
Start: 27th
Finish: 25th

For the second straight week, Mears had the best finish of the go-or-go homers by quietly finishing in 25th position. Unlikely last week, Mears was unable to spend any laps in the top 15, while reaching a race-high 19th position for the No. 13 GEICO Toyota. Mears was running 20th with 27 laps, to go but dropped back as Jeff Burton, AJ Allmendinger and others passed him before the end.

No. 60 – Landon Cassill (Germain Racing)
Start: 36th
Finish: 43rd

Sunday was the first race for Cassill at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in a Cup car, but it didn’t last long. Cassill cruised around the track for 32 laps this week at Las Vegas before being the first car to start-and-park, with the No. 60 officially listed as having rear gear problems which sidelined the team early in the race. This week’s performance for the No. 60 Big Red Toyota did little in helping to attract sponsorship money for future races.

For the second straight week our bubble teams took a beating out west. After his early success in Daytona, Gilliland continued his downward spiral today. Smith was again the top of the bubble teams going into the race and despite an engine failure remains a team that will likely be off the bubble come race six of the season. On the other side, Yeley and Nemechek have the honor of being the only two drivers to have three DNFs in the first three races. Look for Gilliland and Smith to rebound next race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

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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