Race Weekend Central

Bubble Breakdown: Results at a Premium in Pocono Top-35 Battle

Though foggy conditions and clouds offered race fans a break from the stifling heat seen at Charlotte and Kansas, 500 miles at Pocono as always proved to be among the most grueling seen anywhere on the Cup schedule. A track where engine durability and power are both a premium ingredient for success, the track has seldom proved to be a refuge for the teams a step back in the pecking order, and this Sunday (June 12) was no exception.

Pit strategy was the only means for the teams fighting the owner points battle to secure any TV time even over a four-hour broadcast, and when the checkered flag flew a long 500 miles later, there was little movement in what are becoming entrenched positions in the struggle for the Top 35.


No. 51 – Landon Cassill (Phoenix Racing)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 31st (+30 points ahead of 35th)
Sunday’s Finish: 24th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 31st (+51 points ahead of 35th, gained 21 points)

Hendrick horsepower ended up translating into Cassill equaling his career-best finish in Sprint Cup competition, scoring only his second top-25 finish of 2011 in his first time going the distance at the Pocono Raceway. Cassill proved surprisingly stout even as the race took a long green flag look to it, consistently running inside the top 30. As the leaders began making their final pit stops inside of 30 laps to go, Cassill and the No. 51 team opted to stay out as long as possible, seeking a caution that never came.

Even though the late-race gamble didn’t pay off, Cassill still led four laps, a career-high in Cup racing for the Iowa-native and the most the Phoenix Racing team has led in any race in 2011. More importantly, the day yielded 21 points for the team that pushed them closer to catching David Gilliland‘s No. 34 team and cracking the top 30 in owner points.

Expect these stronger showings to continue both as Cassill gets more seat time in the Cup racecar and as 2012 rumblings start to take shape. Remember, with Kasey Kahne‘s plans now finalized at Hendrick Motorsports for next year, R&D will be needed more than ever. Oh, and just in case a certain veteran in the Hendrick camp refuses to retire, that No. 51 seat just might become more valuable.

No. 36 – Dave Blaney (Tommy Baldwin Racing)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 32nd (+30 points ahead of 35th)
Sunday’s Finish: 26th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 32nd (+48 points ahead of 35th, gained 18 points)

Nobody in the field of bubble drivers was a harder charger than Blaney this Sunday, who ended up gaining 14 positions from his 40th starting place in the field. After making quick work of a number of the start-and-parkers at the back of the field, Blaney and team saw their early-race adjustments make the No. 36 car go a long way to the tight side, forcing a bit of backtracking as the race neared the midway point.

Though driver Blaney was one of many drivers that reported experiencing transmission problems in the final quarter of the event (the return to shifting at Pocono proved to be extremely hard on current shifter packages), the 26th-place finish both allowed the Tommy Baldwin Racing team to hold serve in the owner points…and was Blaney’s best result at Pocono since 2008.

No. 13 – Casey Mears (Germain Racing)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 33rd (+25 points ahead of 35th)
Sunday’s Finish: 30th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 33rd (+39 points ahead of 35th, gained 14 points)

After an apparent start-and-park weekend at Kansas, Mears and the Germain Racing team were back to running the distance with primary sponsor GEICO as the Sprint Cup circus returned to the East Coast. Mears started the day fighting a tight condition in the center of the corners, a handling woe that upset the rear end of his Toyota Camry.

By lap 64, that was the least of the driver’s concern. Mears reported to his crew that the shifter in his machine broke, sticking the No. 13 in fourth gear. The broken arm forced the team to pit for repairs under green, trapping Mears multiple laps down. Crew chief Bootie Barker was able to get the team a wave around late in the going, but 30th place proved to be the extent of the team’s recovery this Sunday.

No. 32 – Mike Bliss (FAS Lane Racing)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 34th (+24 points ahead of 35th)
Sunday’s Finish: 31st
Current Owner Points Ranking: 34th (+37 points ahead of 35th, gained 13 points)

Bliss returned to the No. 32 car for the first of a two-race stint after giving up the seat to Patrick Carpentier a week ago, and on another note was making his first Cup start at the “tricky triangle” since 2005, a race where he finished in the top 10.

Unfortunately, given the budget and equipment of his new ride, a top-10 finish was never going to happen this Sunday. But Bliss again delivered exactly what Frankie Stoddard’s team needed; a clean run that kept the car in one piece and kept it in the Top 35 in owner points. Bliss will drive for the team at Michigan next weekend, as sponsor blu Cig returns for their first race since Charlotte.

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 6 points)

A lack of sponsor dollars for Robby Gordon’s No. 7 team resulted in another start-and-park weekend for the team closest to breaking into the bubble… and is the reason that when Bayne makes his return to Cup racing this coming weekend in the Irish Hills, he will be locked into the field.

Bayne oughta send Robby and his team a thank you note for locking him into the field at an intermediate oval. The No. 21 team has scored top-20 finishes in the last two races on similarly configured racetracks.


No. 7 – Scott Wimmer (Robby Gordon Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 36th (-9 behind 35th, locked into the field with No. 21 not entered)
Sunday’s Finish: 38th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 36th (-2 behind 35th, gained 6 points)

Owner Robby Gordon was again absent from the track, with Wimmer returning to the seat to complete 51 circuits before parking the No. 7 with “brake” problems. Wimmer did manage to lead lap 21 under caution, but pulled out of line to the apron immediately after taking the restart. With the Wood Brothers returning to action at MIS, the No. 7 team will be forced to time their way into the field.

No. 71 – Andy Lally (TRG Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 37th (-17 behind 35th in Owner Points)
Sunday’s Finish: 32nd
Current Owner Points Ranking: 37th (-5 behind 35th, gained 12 points)

The Pocono Raceway has always lent itself to drivers that have at least some form of competence at road racing, a trait that Lally capitalized on in qualifying, timing into the field 24th, his best career time-trial result on an oval.

The race itself did not prove to be a career day though. Lally ended up racing the track instead of the pack and was six laps down by the time the checkered flag flew on this Sunday in the Poconos. Of note, this was the first race in 2011 that TRG’s No. 71 car had no sign of sponsorship on its sheetmetal. One can’t help but wonder if the battle between TRG and RGM is fast becoming a race within itself, a race to see who can keep on track the longest with only limited funding available.

Sonoma oughta be interesting.

No. 38 – Sam Hornish Jr. (Front Row Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 38th (-22 behind 35th)
Sunday’s Finish: 35th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 38th (-13 behind 35th, gained 9 points)

Riding a career streak of four consecutive top-15 finishes at Pocono, it seemed the perfect track for Hornish to make his return to Cup racing, filling in for regular driver Travis Kvapil, who was busy racing trucks in Texas earlier this weekend.

Problem for Hornish, the same bad luck and mechanical woes that have plagued Kvapil and the No. 38 team for all of 2011 didn’t go to Texas with the team’s regular driver. Sunday started poorly for the former IndyCar regular, as a loose condition all over the track dropped Hornish from 26th to 32nd in the running order. But 40 laps in, a bad day turned disastrous, with Hornish forced to take his Ford to the garage with a broken oil line.

The team spent 60 laps in the garage making repairs, but did manage to return the car to the track to gain three more valuable points heading into Michigan. Hornish’s future in the Cup Series remains unclear.

No. 37 – Tony Raines (Max Q Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 39th (-58 behind 35th)
Sunday’s Finish: 36th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 39th (-50 behind 35th, gained 8 points)

Raines finally shook off his qualifying woes and broke into the Cup field for the first time in three weeks, timing in 38th, his best qualifying effort at Pocono since 2008.

The results for the No. 37 team were less than stellar. Raines was on and off the track for extended periods of time, completing 124 circuits before ending the day with brake problems in the 36th position. Raines hasn’t finished a Cup race in the top 30 since Martinsville.

2011 Bubble Chart After Charlotte

Pos Owner Car # Driver Points Points +/- of 35th Place
31 Phoenix Racing 51 Landon Cassill 224 +51
32 Tommy Baldwin Racing 36 Dave Blaney 221 +48
33 Germain Racing 13 Casey Mears 212 +39
34 FAS Lane Racing 32 Mike Bliss 210 +37
35 Wood Brothers 21 Trevor Bayne 173 0
36 Robby Gordon Motorsports 7 Scott Wimmer 171 -2
37 TRG Motorsports 71 Andy Lally 168 -5
38 Front Row Motorsports 38 Sam Hornish Jr 160 -13
39 Max Q Motorsports 37 Tony Raines 123 -50
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