LOCKED INTO THE FIELD AT DARLINGTON
No. 78 – Regan Smith (Furniture Row Racing)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 31st (+42 points ahead of 35th)
Sunday’s Finish: 17th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 29th (+37 points ahead of 35th)
Smith likes coming to Richmond, but he has seen little success at the 0.75-mile short track. In just five start at Richmond International Raceway, his best finish entering Saturday (April 30) was 21st. He has been hitting home runs all season when it comes to qualifying, and this week was no exception, with Smith briefly holding the pole before giving way to Juan Pablo Montoya.
Smith dropped from the second position quickly after the green flag dropped, but he still held his own, remaining in the top 15 for 188 laps. He stayed out of trouble, remained in the top-20 throughout the race and finished the evening with a 17th-place finish.
No. 7 – Robby Gordon (Robby Gordon Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 33rd (+19 points ahead of 35th)
Sunday’s Finish: 35th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 33rd (+5 points ahead of 35th)
This weekend marked the finale of the Fast Five movie promotion for Gordon, who had ran the last four races with the action movie theme. Gordon had a busy weekend scheduled for his fans with an exclusive viewing of Fast Five and other activities. With that said, Gordon had set high expectations this weekend for Dodge, his VIP guests and fans.
Unfortunately for all parties, Gordon had a dismal qualifying run that placed him in the rear of the field in 42nd position. The race was equally frustrating for Gordon and the No. 7 team, as the they failed to crack the top 30 at any point in the race on their way to a 35th-place finish. Gordon remains 33rd in owner points but dropped 11 points and fell closer to the bubble position.
No. 36 – Dave Blaney (Tommy Baldwin Racing)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 37th (-11 behind 35th)
Sunday’s Finish: 13th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 34th (+4 ahead of 35th)
Blaney and Tommy Baldwin Racing have a number of things to be happy about the last couple of weeks, but nothing bigger than the sponsorship the team received for the remainder of the season. Golden Corral and Big Red Inc. will be the primary sponsor for the No. 36 team for the rest of the season. This is a huge relief for an underdog team that was unclear of its future this season. Perhaps Blaney helped drive these sponsors to commitments after his surprising, yet impressive, run at Talladega before being taken out late in the race.
Blaney stepped up again this week at Richmond with a 13th-place finish, which most importantly jumped the team three spots in owner points, putting them in the Top 35 for the first time in team history.
The No. 36 Golden Corral Chevrolet was fast off the truck and proved solid in both practice sessions. While the team didn’t qualify as they hoped, the team remained confident the car was much better than their qualifying run showed. Blaney, like many other during the race, had problems with handling issues both in and out of the corners. After slight adjustments during the first pitstop yielded little improvement, the crew took a “big swing” during the next stop.
Blaney radioed the adjustments made the car much better and he was now focused on getting his lap back. He got the lap back on lap 302 when the caution came out for a wreck on the backstretch. Despite being three laps short on fuel late in the running, Blaney was able to conserve enough to finish 13th when the checkered flag waved.
No. 32 – Ken Schrader (FAS Lane Racing)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 34th (+17 points ahead of 35th
Sunday’s Finish: 32nd
Current Owner Points Ranking: 35th (On The Bubble, wins tie-breaker over the Nos. 13 and 71)
Veteran Schrader was back in the seat of the No. 32 Ford this weekend at Richmond, in hopes the team could turn around a disappointing finish at Talladega after suffering their first engine failure of the season. Schrader, like several of our underdog drivers, struggled in qualifying and did not much success during the race. The team started in the back of the field in 38th position and fought hard to stay on the lead lap, but their efforts where quickly thwarted by an 107-lap green-flag run to start the race which put them down a couple of laps.
Despite the efforts of the pit crew, with solid pit stops throughout the race, the team was unable to return to the lead lap.
Schrader finished six laps down, a result that dropped FAS Lane Racing a spot in owner points, landing them on the bubble. With a three way tie on the bubble, the team needs to rebound down next week to avoid dropping out of the Top 35. As a side note, FAS Lane Racing has place an open invitation out to any road-course “ringers” interested in driving the No. 32 at Infineon and/or Watkins Glen.
No. 13 – Casey Mears (Germain Racing)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 35th (on the bubble)
Sunday’s Finish: 28th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 36th (loses tiebreaker with No. 32, on the bubble)
The No. 13 GEICO Toyota, piloted by Mears, made sound improvements over the weekend at Richmond International Raceway from the time they unloaded to the start of the race. Mears finished the first practice in 39th position, but jumped to 19th in happy hour after making several changes between practice sessions. He followed up with a nice qualifying run that place him 15th in the field to start the race.
Mears battled “zero” rear grip early in the race and remained frustrated after adjustments during his first pit stop under green. The crew made numerous adjustments through the first half of the race before Mears finally got the rear grip he desperately needed. With the car handling in check, Mears was moving his way up in the field until Bobby Labonte spun his tires on a restart, triggering an accordion that sent Mears spinning.
Mears successfully avoided any serious damage to the car, but later during the run had difficulty with the car turning. He was unable to gain a few spots as the race wound down and finished a disappointing 28th. The only reason that they are still locked into the field at Darlington is that the Wood Brothers Racing No. 21 did not attempt Richmond.
ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN AT DARLINGTON
No. 21 – Trevor Bayne (Wood Brothers)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 32nd (+21 points ahead of 35th)
Sunday’s Finish: Was not scheduled to race
Current Owner Points Ranking: 32nd (+8 points ahead of 35th)
With the Wood Brothers team running a limited schedule, Bayne and the No. 21 Ford were not scheduled to make the trip to Richmond this weekend. This turned out to be a blessing on the team’s part with the Daytona 500 winner being admitted to the hospital again early in the week. Initial reports were that Bayne was being treated for symptoms related to an insect bite he had received after the Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway, but updates over the weekend provided limited details of the testing, with results yet to be released.
What we do know is Bayne spent the week at Mayo Clinic to undergo a series of tests to determine the source of the symptoms. The most recent information release by Bayne via Twitter is he doesn’t believe the symptoms are related to the insect bite. The story will continue to be monitored closely, but Jack Roush is expecting Bayne back for Darlington weekend. Although the team is still in the Top 35 in owner points, the team is no longer locked into the field for the rest of the season since they did not attempt Richmond.
No. 71 – Andy Lally (TRG Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 36th (-2 behind 35th)
Sunday’s Finish: 26th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 37th (loses tiebreaker with No. 32 and No. 13)
Lally is showing signs of improvement when it comes to race day, but he needs to improve his qualifying results to get his No. 71 from the rear of the field when the green flag drops. This weekend was another example of qualifying struggles, an effort that placed him in 41st position for the start of the race. By comparison, the No. 46 driven by JJ Yeley suffered a blown engine on the first lap of final practice, forcing the team to replace the engine in hopes of making the race. Despite that, Yeley still qualified ahead of Lally with no laps on his new engine.
Lally was none too pleased with the brakes on his car midway through the race, to the extent he commented that his car felt like it had two cracked rotors. The team continued to have issues with the brakes, something critical at Richmond, with Lally joking that his windshield was vibrating like it was going to fall out every time he hit them.
Lally finished in 26th, which isn’t horrible considering the No. 71 car did not go without some handling, brakes, temperature, etc., issues throughout the race. After the race, Lally thought they had jumped in the Top 35 but would later find out the team was in a three-way tie with the No. 13 and No. 32, 37th after tiebreakers.
No. 37 – Tony Raines (Front Row/Max Q Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 38th (-6 behind 35th)
Sunday’s Finish: 33rd
Current Owner Points Ranking: 38th (-34 behind 35th)
After failing to qualify at Talladega, Raines and the Front Row/Max Q Motorsports squad needed to make the field at Richmond or face dropping deeper outside the top-35. Although Raines did manage to make the field this week, he would start dead last. The No. 37 team continues to head in the wrong direction in owner points and will likely be fighting to make the field for the rest of the season. The car seems to be one of the slowest right off the truck and shows little signs of improvement during each session.
With Raines again starting in the rear, he was quickly put a lap down by the leaders. Despite the lack of speed on the track, the pit crew didn’t help gain any positions, but instead cost them any hope on improving track position. Another disappointing performance and a 33rd-place finish cost them additional owner points heading to Darlington.
No. 38 – Travis Kvapil (Front Row Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 39th (-39 behind 35th)
Sunday’s Finish: 30th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 39th (-41 behind 35th)
Kvapil backed up his 29th-place finish at Talladega with a 30th place at Richmond International Raceway. This weekend resulted in another loss in owner points for the No. 38, but fortunately they maintained their position for now. While the team has a 46-point cushion from dropping behind the No. 46, Kvapil and the team remain hopeful to move up in the Top 35 and not down.
Kvapil’s practice speeds were an average of four mph slower than the leaders. His disappointing speeds during practice carried over to the race, with the No. 38 falling off the pace early. Kvapil complained of a very tight car through nearly half the race until adjustments made some improvement. He remained deep in the pack for most of the race. Although not the worst of our underdogs, Kvapil did finish five laps down with his 30th-place finish.
Editor’s Note: This column was written with the assumption that all Cup teams from 39th in owner points on back would be attempting the upcoming event at Darlington. The Wood Brothers’ No. 21 is not expected back until Charlotte, which locks in the No. 13 team for the upcoming race Saturday night.
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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.