Race Weekend Central

Bubble Breakdown: Hot Hot Heat Wears Down Bubble Drivers in Kansas City

While fuel mileage proved to shuffle the front of the Sprint Cup field on a hot afternoon in Kansas City, the same could not be said for a Top-35 bubble roster that scarcely fluctuated over the course of 400 miles on Sunday afternoon (June 5). With the Wood Brothers’ No. 21 not entered at Kansas Speedway, the bubble drivers struggled through a slick afternoon that ultimately proved to be of little consequence, with positions 31-39 holding serve as the Sprint Cup Series next turns to the Tricky Triangle of Pocono next week.


No. 51 – Landon Cassill (Phoenix Racing)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 31st (+20 points ahead of 35th)
Sunday’s Finish: 35th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 31st (+30 points ahead of 35th, gained 10 points)

A swap back to Phoenix Racing’s older No. 51 number did not prove to change the luck of Cassill and team, who wrecked out of the Coca-Cola 600 a week ago despite a promising stretch in the middle section of the race.

This weekend, Cassill and team fell backwards almost immediately from their 24th-place starting position. Struggling with handling through the first cycle of pit stops, Cassill was nonetheless able to score a valuable point for leading a lap by staying out late during the first spate of green-flag stops. Much like at Charlotte, Cassill found some decent speed in his machine and by lap 100 had managed to get back onto the lead lap.

Problem is, much like Charlotte, disaster struck just as the day was turning promising. On lap 119, racing three-wide exiting turn 4, Marcos Ambrose clipped the back of Cassill’s Chevrolet and sent his passenger side hard into the wall. The Phoenix Racing team was able to return Cassill to the track after extensive repairs, allowing their driver to complete 190 laps en route to a 35th-place finish, his third consecutive result of 30th or worse. Still, with the No. 21 team not running this weekend, the No. 51 team gained 10 points on the bubble, remaining 31st in owner points.

No. 36 – Dave Blaney (Tommy Baldwin Racing)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 32nd (+18 points ahead of 35th)
Sunday’s Finish: 32nd
Current Owner Points Ranking: 32nd (+30 points ahead of 35th, gained 12 points)

After a strong start to their Golden Corral sponsorship with top-25 finishes at Richmond and Darlington, Blaney and the No. 36 team have struggled the past two weeks with back-to-back races on intermediate ovals. Despite having skipped the Open race on all-star weekend to prepare their cars for this stretch, the No. 36 team appears to be finding its limitations with regard to horsepower on these longer racetracks.

After Blaney limped through much of last Sunday on seven cylinders, Kansas proved to be another slog-through-it kind of day for the Buckeye veteran. Starting 42nd, Blaney moved up eight positions in the first 12 laps, picking off the start-and-park brigade at the back of the field. Problem is, after those first 12 laps, Blaney would make only two more passes the next 255 circuits.

The 32nd-place finish that resulted was Blaney’s worst since Fontana…where the No. 36 team lost a motor. With horsepower-driven Pocono, Michigan and the road course at Sonoma the next few stops for the Cup Series, the next few weeks will likely prove to be battles of survival above all else for the TBR operation, at least until they hit Daytona.

No. 13 – Casey Mears (Germain Racing)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 33rd (+17 points ahead of 35th)
Sunday’s Finish: 37th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 33rd (+25 points ahead of 35th, gained 8 points)

A strong weekend in Charlotte on a similar racetrack looked even better for the No. 13 team on lap 47, when Mears cycled through a green-flag pit stop cycle to take the lead at Kansas, the third of the last four Cup races that Germain Racing’s flagship Cup car has led.

From there, it’s anyone’s guess as to what happened to Mears and the No. 13, which ended the day in 37th after completing only 100 circuits, his worst career finish at Kansas.

NASCAR’s results pages indicate that the team suffered a failure in the ignition system that rendered them unable to continue. However, it is also worth noting that Frontstretch staff following the No. 13 team’s PR apparatus observed no comment on Facebook or Twitter regarding the ignition failure, a deviation from standard practice for the team. Though it can’t be confirmed, a start-and-park is a possibility for this team, which openly admitted at the start of 2011 that without funds to supplement GEICO’s partial sponsorship that running the distance 36 times would not be an option.

No. 32 – Patrick Carpentier (FAS Lane Racing)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 34th (+10 points ahead of 35th)
Sunday’s Finish: 30th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 34th (+24 points ahead of 35th, gained 14 points)

Carpentier returned to the Cup Series for his first start of 2011 and first NASCAR race since the Cup race at Texas last November, taking over the reigns of the No. 32 from Mike Bliss, who was racing his Nationwide entry at Chicagoland this weekend. His return at the Kansas Speedway was a double-edged sword; on the negative side, the 30th-place result was Carpentier’s career-worst at Kansas.

On the other hand, the result was exactly what the No. 32 team needed; maintenance of their 34th-place position in owner points. Sunday marked the fourth consecutive top-30 finish for FAS Lane Racing, which dating back to its predecessor as Latitude 43 Motorsports last season it hasn’t done since the summer stretch between Watkins Glen and Atlanta… with Carpentier behind the wheel for three of those four races. Further, despite making only eight quality passes the entire afternoon and running an average between 33rd and 34th, Carpentier picked up spots late to move the No. 32 up 14 points from the bubble headed to Pocono.

No. 21 – Trevor Bayne (Wood Brothers Racing)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 35th (on the bubble)
Sunday’s Finish: Did Not Enter
Current Owner Points Ranking: 35th (on the bubble, lost 8 points)

It unfortunately says a lot about the state of the Cup field this far back that the Wood Brothers were able to skip Kansas and still maintain a locked-in position in the Cup field headed to Pocono. The No. 21 team will also skip the Pocono race and will return to action with regular driver Bayne at Michigan the following week.

What is shocking about the situation is looking at their nearest competition, they may still well be locked in when the Cup Series arrives in the Irish hills. With the No. 7 Robby Gordon Motorsports team start-and-parking and Andy Lally and the No. 71 team needing to finish well inside the top 30 to overtake both the No. 7 and the No. 21 (which they haven’t done in 2011 on a non-plate track longer than one mile), Bayne may be in for a relaxing Friday at MIS.

No. 7 – Johnny Sauter (Robby Gordon Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 36th (-17 behind 35th, locked into the field with No. 21 not entered)
Sunday’s Finish: 36th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 36th (-9 behind 35th, gained 8 points)

Owner Robby Gordon was again absent and busy with off-road racing, leaving the No. 7 car in the hands of Truck Series regular Sauter this weekend, who was making his first Cup start since the Coca-Cola 600 one year ago.

On and off the track for much of the first half of the race, Sauter completed 101 circuits in a bright pink Speed Energy Dodge before parking it for good with a “brakes” issue (Sauter hasn’t been running at the finish of a Cup race since Loudon in the fall of 2008). With the No. 21 team skipping Pocono, the No. 7 team remains locked-in to the field next weekend. But with Lally and the No. 71 team only eight markers behind, their days in the Top 35 remain week-to-week unless sponsorship is to materialize.


No. 71 – Andy Lally (TRG Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 37th (-30 behind 35th in Owner Points)
Sunday’s Finish: 31st
Current Owner Points Ranking: 37th (-17 behind 35th, gained 13 points)

Another weekend of racing the track, not the pack, for Lally, who finished 31st, his second-best career finish on a 1.5-mile oval. The afternoon was far from spectacular, but of utility for TRG Motorsports’ No. 71 team, which sliced the gap to 35th in owner points nearly in half and qualified for the show after missing the 600 one weekend ago. Next up on the docket is Pocono, a track that has lent itself to favoring road-course savvy drivers in the past. That’s solid news for Lally, who’s a top-25 finish away from locking into the show at Michigan in two weeks. Assuming, of course, the No. 7 team still isn’t racing.

No. 38 – Travis Kvapil (Front Row Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 38th (-32 behind 35th)
Saturday’s Finish: 34th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 38th (-22 behind 35th, gained 10 points)

If nothing else, Kvapil and the No. 38 team have to be running out of ways to have bad luck on race day. Kvapil’s day was already off to a poor start when he scraped the wall only four laps after the green flag dropped, but went from bad to worse on lap 44 when the team discovered a disconnected front sway bar during their first green-flag pit stop. Kvapil limped the car around until the first caution of the afternoon on lap 67, where the Long John Silver’s crew went behind the wall to make repairs.

Kvapil returned to the track and finished 243 of the laps run, finishing 34th. The result equaled the worst of Kvapil’s career at the Kansas Speedway in all of NASCAR’s top-three series.

No. 37 – Tony Raines (Max Q Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 39th (-58 behind 35th)
Saturday’s Finish: DNQ
Current Owner Points Ranking: 39th (-58 behind 35th)

Back to back DNQs for the No. 37 team have left them mired nearly 60 markers behind the No. 21 team. The result was a double-whammy for the operation, which had secured sponsorship from Black Cat Fireworks for the race weekend only to miss the show. The horsepower tracks just keep coming the next few weeks, which does not bode well for a team that missed the field consecutively at Charlotte and Kansas. The future of this team is fast becoming cloudy.

2011 Bubble Chart After Charlotte

Pos Owner Car # Driver Points Points +/- of 35th Place
T-31 Phoenix Racing 51 Landon Cassill 203 +30
T-31 Tommy Baldwin Racing 36 Dave Blaney 203 +30
33 Germain Racing 13 Casey Mears 198 +25
34 FAS Lane Racing 32 Patrick Carpentier 197 +24
35 Wood Brothers 21 Trevor Bayne 173 0
36 Robby Gordon Motorsports 7 Johnny Sauter 164 -9
37 TRG Motorsports 71 Andy Lally 156 -17
38 Front Row Motorsports 38 Travis Kvapil 151 -22
39 Max Q Motorsports 37 Tony Raines 115 -58

About the author

Richmond, Virginia native. Wake Forest University class of 2008. Affiliated with Frontstretch since 2008, as of today the site's first dirt racing commentator. Emphasis on commentary. Big race fan, bigger First Amendment advocate.

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