Race Weekend Central

Bubble Breakdown: I’ll Take Start & Park for $77,500, NASCAR

The Monster Mile didn’t really chew up any racecars; instead, single-file, parade-type racing proved the order of the day on a dreary, overcast Sunday (May 15). The lack of attrition combined with long green-flag stints made life tough for the underdogs, limited practice and changing track conditions leaving it hard for anyone on the back end of the Top 35 to make a statement.

But with Robby Gordon’s team choosing to start-and-park, could anyone behind him take advantage and sneak into a locked-in spot for Charlotte’s Coca-Cola 600 the end of the month? Find out with the latest, greatest edition of our Bubble Breakdown focusing on the guys you don’t often see toiling for a spot on the 43-car grid each week.


No. 34 – David Gilliland (Front Row Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 30th (+36 points ahead of 35th in Owner Points)
Sunday’s Finish: 22nd
Current Owner Points Ranking: 30th (+52 points ahead of 35th)

One of the quiet, more consistent runs all day came from Gilliland and Front Row Motorsports. Starting 29th, Gilliland advanced to 25th by lap 120 and stayed inside the top 25 after that, the No. 34 Ford keeping pace despite Dover’s ever-changing track conditions. By the time of the race’s fifth caution, on lap 333 he’d fallen a second lap behind but that still was good enough for 22nd at the finish, outrunning better financed programs at Stewart-Haas (Tony Stewart), Joe Gibbs Racing (Joey Logano) and Richard Childress Racing (Paul Menard).

The result ties FRM’s best at a non-restrictor plate oval this season – Gilliland was also 22nd at Phoenix – and gives their primary car additional breathing room within the Top 35. Now, if only their second car could get up to speed.

No. 09 – Landon Cassill (Phoenix Racing)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 31st (+26 points ahead of 35th)
Sunday’s Finish: 30th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 31st (+34 points ahead of 35th)

“You give 100%, we’ll give 110. Dig hard, man.” That was the optimistic tone spoken on the No. 09 radio to Cassill before the race, a crew that remained pumped up even after their young driver encountered a long list of handling problems. Monster Mile days have never been good for first-timers, and for Cassill his first attempt going the distance was no exception; the car was pretty much all over the map while falling multiple laps down to the leader early on.

At one point, the team short-pitted in an attempt to gain speed and track position but nothing really seemed to jumpstart Cassill’s ability to tackle the treacherous one-mile oval; by the checkered flag, he was happy to simply depart in one piece with a 30th-place finish, a woeful six laps off the pace.

At least on the plus side, this team, so used to starting-and-parking through the years gained valuable experience while never losing their composure – their spotter was downright cheerful on the radio – creating a positive attitude combined with a long list of notes that can be utilized during a return trip visit to the East Coast this fall.

No. 36 – Dave Blaney (Tommy Baldwin Racing)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 32nd (+12 points ahead of 35th)
Sunday’s Finish: 26th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 32nd (+24 points ahead of 35th)

It always happens this way, doesn’t it? An underdog team has an outstanding, out-of-this-world run to convince a sponsor to jump on board and fund them the rest of the season. And then, as soon as it happens during the “exhale” period of everyone securing a job the team tends to let their guard down for a few weeks, at least subconsciously until the adjustment period ends and they realize continued funding means a continued uptick in performance.

While the attitude at the No. 36 team remains upbeat, their finishes somewhat reflect that; after a 13th-place run at Richmond, more ho-hum 24th and 26th-place performances have followed suit. Blaney was never happy with the handling on the radio Sunday, managing the Dover crises like a professional while owner Tommy Baldwin played cheerleader on top of the box.

For what it’s worth, it’s clear in listening to the radio this duo has a great chemistry; on Sunday, it just never quite showed in the final results although Blaney continues to build more breathing room with a locked-in spot inside the starting lineup each week.

No. 32 – Mike Bliss (FAS Lane Racing)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 33rd (+5 points ahead of 35th)
Sunday’s Finish: 25th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 33rd (+19 points ahead of 35th)

After running the past two races with Ken Schrader, FAS Lane and owner Frankie Stoddard switched to the underrated Bliss for Dover race weekend. Fighting hard on a limited budget, even with one-race U.S. Chrome sponsorship Bliss was dealt a difficult hand; scuffed tires, his only option stacked on pit road before the race looked more worn than what you’d buy from a local junkyard.

Still, this driver has seemingly spent a lifetime underappreciated, in rides where he has to make the most of extenuating circumstances; that’s why Sunday’s result shouldn’t surprise you. Scratching and clawing through the field, Bliss moved from 33rd starting spot to 25th by the finish, four laps back but easily bringing the team their best run since Schrader’s 22nd at Martinsville early in the Spring.

No. 13 – Casey Mears (Germain Racing)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 34th (+3 points ahead of 35th)
Sunday’s Finish: 23rd
Current Owner Points Ranking: 34th (+18 points ahead of 35th)

It’s taking time, but Mears seems to slowly be turning around the fortunes at Germain Racing’s No. 13. In yet another slow but steady climb for a bubble driver, he started 30th and rose seven positions to 23rd, the true definition of mid-pack runner as the GEICO Toyota spent most of the day good – just not great.

Three laps off the pace at the finish, the result was still more than enough to pull away from the start-and-park effort of Gordon’s team and establish a cushion this organization would love to keep. The more Mears can work on race setups each weekend, the better off this team will be as they continue a season-long recovery from the type of DNQ that haunts a team for months: February’s Daytona 500.

No. 7 – Scott Wimmer (Robby Gordon Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 35th (On The Bubble)
Sunday’s Finish: 38th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 35th (On The Bubble)

With Robby Gordon away for the weekend, in SPEED Energy Meetings while making off-road preparations his Sprint Cup team took a back seat without sponsorship. So much for RG making it through the year without a start-and-park; that No. 7 Dodge, with limited backing from his energy drink and Fast Five went the start-and-park route with former Cup veteran Wimmer Sunday.

Hearing Wimmer on the radio was a lesson in how S&Ps can sap your S&E (you know, that little thing they call self-esteem): the driver was outright begging after the competition caution to stay out on the track, fending off an early exit after the lap 45 restart. Why? As Wimmer explained it, the extra laps could benefit them just in case they could catch a quick yellow and lead a lap while other cars pitted (such a scenario would have given them a bonus point, one they already tried to steal under yellow but were beaten to the punch by Michael McDowell instead).

It’s a tough deal for a guy who’s also doing the same type of job, unexpectedly for Key Motorsports in the Nationwide Series; by 77 laps, “brakes” was the culprit for this Dodge while its driver wondered when, if ever he’ll get a break to go the distance again. At least $77,500 was a nice consolation price, a little more than $1,000 per lap for their “troubles.”


No. 71 – Andy Lally (TRG Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 37th (-12 behind 35th in Owner Points)
Sunday’s Finish: 33rd
Current Owner Points Ranking: 36th (-7 behind 35th)

To say the Monster Mile was an adjustment for Lally, the sports car veteran-turned stock car rookie is a bit of an understatement. Never a factor from the start, the freshman finished 11 laps down in 33rd place as the slowest car in the field not to suffer mechanical failure. But in any race, you learn from your mistakes and with Gordon’s team start-and-parking, the No. 71 did make some gains – they’re now seven points back with the Coca-Cola 600 looming to give them a possible momentum boost.

No. 21 – Trevor Bayne (Wood Brothers Racing)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 36th (-4 behind 35th)
Sunday’s Finish: DNS
Current Owner Points Ranking: 37th (-10 ahead of 35th)

Skipping Dover, the only story with the Wood Brothers this week is whether their driver will skip out on the All-Star Race. Reportedly, Bayne plans to test at Gresham Motorsports Park in Georgia this week before making a final decision on his short-term future – the key is whether impaired vision has cleared up enough for him to race safely.

All NASCAR fingers are crossed he’ll slide back into the No. 21, make his illness a distant memory and thrill fans excited for his participation in this sport’s exhibition under the lights. No driver has been named to stand by for Bayne, but with Roush connections you’d have to think RFR will find someone; Bill Elliott would also be a candidate for standby duty.

No. 38 – Travis Kvapil (Front Row Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 38th (-35 behind 35th)
Sunday’s Finish: 31st
Current Owner Points Ranking: 38th (-28 behind 35th)

Kvapil’s season, both in Trucks and Cup continues to be a 2011 nightmare of epic proportions. At Dover, it was the splitter often dragging the racetrack on restarts which hampered the handling of his No. 38 Ford; that led to an ugly, 31st place finish six laps off the pace which would have hurt his standing if not for the Robby Gordon team start-and-park. The way things are going, FRM will take points anyway they can get it with the second team but so far the chemistry doesn’t seem to be working quite like it used to.

No. 37 – Tony Raines (Front Row/Max Q Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 39th (-38 behind 35th)
Sunday’s Finish: 35th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 39th (-35 behind 35th)

Is Raines even on the track anymore? So much for a planned takeover by Larry Gunselman making this organization more competitive; the team has been slower and slower each week while suffering mechanical problems that have forced them behind the wall for legitimate reasons. This week, it was brakes on the car but by the time it happened, Raines was already 10 laps off the pace and well out of contention. Can this team find the money and parts to keep it in business?

2011 Bubble Chart After Dover

Pos Owner Car # Driver Points Points +/- of 35th Place
30 Front Row Motorsports 34 David Gilliland 202 +52
31 Phoenix Racing 09 Landon Cassill 184 +34
32 Tommy Baldwin Racing 36 Dave Blaney 174 +24
33 FAS Lane Racing 32 Mike Bliss 169 +19
34 Germain Racing 13 Casey Mears 168 +18
35 Robby Gordon Motorsports 7 Scott Wimmer 150 0
36 TRG Motorsports 71 Andy Lally 143 -7
37 Wood Brothers Racing 21 Trevor Bayne 140 -10
38 Front Row Motorsports 38 Travis Kvapil 122 -28
39 MaxQ Motorsports/Front Row 37 Tony Raines 115 -35

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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