Race Weekend Central

Bubble Breakdown: Blaney Who? Gilliland, Smith Prove Themselves in Final Results


No. 21 – Trevor Bayne (Wood Brothers Racing)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 30th (+42 points ahead of 35th)
Sunday’s Finish: 40th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 32nd (+26 points ahead of 35th)

Bayne and the Wood Brothers headed to the second restrictor-plate race of the season with a different car and a new sponsor, hoping for the same result the team had in the Daytona 500. This week at Talladega, the No. 21 Ford Fusion would carry the red and yellow colors of Good Sam Club. Bayne qualified 11th but was forced to drop to the rear of the field after making changes to the car post-qualifying.

Of course this is Talladega, so starting in the back of the field makes no difference, especially when the driver is the recent Daytona 500 winner. Unlike Daytona, Bayne’s car seemed to be faster when being pushed then pushing in the two-car tandem style racing at the superspeedway. He was strong early, spending 55 laps in the top-15 until a wreck on lap 90 would send him to the garage for the rest of the race.

No. 34 – David Gilliland (Front Row Motorsports)

Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 31st (+21 points ahead of 35th)
Sunday’s Finish: Ninth
Current Owner Points Ranking: 29th (+35 points ahead of 35th)

Gilliland was out to prove his run at Daytona was no fluke when he jumped behind the wheel of the No. 34 Taco Bell Ford in Friday’s practice at Talladega. He worked exclusively on race trim and looked solid in the two-car draft, finishing ninth fastest in the first practice. Most would be surprised to hear that Tony Stewart teamed up with Gilliland early in the race as each chose to hang out in the back of the field. Gilliland and Stewart were inseparable during the race as they progressed through the field.

With 19 laps to go, Gilliland found himself in 22nd position with his partner (Stewart) ready to make their run to the front. A late caution would bring the field together, but Gilliland and Stewart’s plan was thwarted as the two were separated. Gilliland found a late partner in Joey Logano, with the result a ninth-place finish for the No. 34 Ford Fusion team, the second top-10 result ever for Front Row Motorsports and their best ever at Talladega.

No. 78 – Regan Smith (Furniture Row Racing)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 32nd (+19 points ahead of 35th)
Sunday’s Finish: 15th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 31st (+28 points ahead of 35th)

Would this be the weekend that Smith and the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet would break their bad luck streak? Smith was looking for equal or better results than the team had in the Daytona 500, where they finished seventh but in contention for a win until being collected in a late accident.

He qualified just 18th, significantly off from his average qualifying result of sixth position this season. Smith teamed with Paul Menard through most of the race and both worked well together, making those difficult exchanges look easy. With Menard’s help, Smith managed to run in the top 15 for 135 laps, with six of those laps as the race leader. With 19 laps to go, Smith was the race leader before he lost his partner and dropped to 15th place at the checkered flag. While the team was hoping for better results at Talladega, they at least managed to finish without incident and broke their bad luck streak.

No. 32 – Terry Labonte (FAS Lane Racing)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 33rd (+17 points ahead of 35th)

Sunday’s Finish: 34th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 34th (+6 points ahead of 35th)

Labonte returned to the No. 32 Ford this weekend with sponsor C&J Energy Services at Talladega Superspeedway. He piloted the Ford in the Daytona 500 for FAS Lane Racing to a solid 15th-place finish. Labonte was unable to repeat his performance from Daytona this weekend, as he finished in 34th place after late engine problems forced the No. 32 to the garage. Although Labonte finished 36 laps down, he did get the team 10 points, enough to keep them in the Top 35 for at least another week.

No. 7 – Robby Gordon (Robby Gordon Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 34th (+11 points ahead of 35th)
Sunday’s Finish: 20th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 33th (+14 points ahead of 35th)

Gordon was unable to make it to the track for qualifying due to running a race in Utah. Sam Hornish Jr. sat in for Gordon during qualifying, but was his time was later disallowed when the car failed inspection for being too low. This was really not a huge impact, since the No. 7 would have gone to the back of the field for a driver change when Gordon returned.

Gordon was disappointed with his 20th-place finish but most would say it was a “winning” day for the No. 7 as he managed to stay clear, not create any accidents and bring his car home in one piece. He really didn’t have much help from his Dodge teammates, as Brad Keselowski was wrecked by Penske teammate Kurt Busch early. Gordon should be thankful he didn’t see Kurt Busch in his rearview mirror, since Busch personally took out three cars on the afternoon as the “pusher.”

No. 13 – Casey Mears (Germain Racing)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 35th (on the bubble)

Sunday’s Finish: 22nd
Current Owner Points Ranking: 35th (on the bubble)

Mears needed to avoid trouble on the track and have a solid finish to remain in the Top 35, and that is exactly what he accomplished. Mears partnered with Gordon as his “pusher” early in the race and found some success as they moved into the top 20 in under 35 laps.

By lap 107, Mears was in fifth place and running lap times equivalent to the leaders. Under a caution just 20 laps later, Mears elected to stay out to lead a lap to earn an extra bonus point. Mears took fuel only on his last pit stop of the afternoon, which gained him six positions for the restart. With seven laps to go, Mears was in 11th place and looking for more, but he quickly dropped to 23rd in two laps and would finish 22nd.


No. 71 – Andy Lally (TRG Motorsports)

Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 36th (-4 behind 35th)
Sunday’s Finish: 19th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 36th (-2 behind 35th)

Early in the week, TRG Motorsports announced a crew chief change for the No. 71 Ford Fusion and rookie driver Lally with veteran Doug Richert now atop the pit box. Lally started in 37th position and remained in the back of the field for most of the race. Without a drafting partner, Lally found himself down two laps at one point in the race, but with the aid of a couple of lucky dogs eventually got back on the lead lap. Lally finished a very respectable 19th place and inched a bit closer to the bubble spot.

No. 37 – Tony Raines (Front Row/Max Q Motorsports)

Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 37th (-6 behind 35th)

Sunday’s Finish: DNQ
Current Owner Points Ranking: 38th (-29 behind 35th)

After finishing 34th last week in Texas, Raines was one of three drivers that did not qualify for the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega. A huge blow to the Front Row/Larry Gunselman team as they continue to drop further out of the Top 35.

No. 36 – Dave Blaney (Tommy Baldwin Racing)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 38th (-6 behind 35th)
Sunday’s Finish: 27th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 37th (-11 behind 35th)

Tommy Baldwin Racing and Blaney brought the same chassis they had success with at the Daytona 500 and sat poised for a top-10 finish with before a late accident ended their day. Blaney teamed with Kevin Harvick in the back of the field and the duo methodically made their way to the front to lead at lap 100. Blaney and Harvick worked well throughout the race with the team having better success with Harvick behind the No. 36. Harvick joked on his radio that he was going to see “Kids Eat Free” in his sleep, making reference to a promotion by Blaney’s sponsor Golden Corral should he score a top-10 finish this Sunday.

Blaney looked well on his way to making it a reality. With Harvick having teamed with Clint Bowyer during the closing laps, Blaney found himself with Kurt Busch as his partner. The partnership looked good for a few laps but while running in 11th place with four laps to go, Busch took out his last victim of the race in Blaney.

Although he finished a disappointing 27th place, the No. 36 team did have several bright spots during the race, including leading the event six times for 21 laps. What looked to be a potentially great story and even more important a leap in the owner points turned out to be just another race result for the No. 36 team.

No. 38 – Travis Kvapil (Front Row Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 39th (-31 behind 35th)
Sunday’s Finish: 29th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 39th (-39 behind 35th)

Kvapil managed to rebound this weekend in qualifying at Talladega this weekend after failing to make the race last week in Texas. He not only qualified on speed but his efforts placed him in 28th position in the starting grid. With the focus on qualifying setup to get the car in the show, Kvapil was forced to make a trip to the garage after lap 1 to undo the changes made to ensure he qualified and back into race trim.

Since this was an impound race, the changes couldn’t be made before the race or on pit road. Kvapil’s day didn’t get much better as later in the race he ran out of gas and was in 34th place just five laps after losing his drafting partner Kasey Kahne, who was involved in a wreck. Despite losing two other drafting partners in Michael Waltrip (ran out of gas) and JJ Yeley (pit penalty), Kvapil managed to finish the race in 29th.

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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