Race Weekend Central

Bubble Breakdown: Big-Time Engine Deals Pay Off for Cassill, Others in Motor City

Playing in the backyard of NASCAR’s auto manufacturers, the name of the game at the Michigan International Speedway is horsepower horsepower horsepower, with decent gas mileage to boot. This weekend was a mixed back for the bubble crowd. Those with a solid engine program proved to prosper, while those who have been underpowered all year were just that again on Sunday (June 19). Though Trevor Bayne and the Wood Brothers Racing team made their return to the Cup stage this weekend, the Top 35 remains the same heading into Sonoma.


No. 51 – Landon Cassill (Phoenix Racing)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 31st (+51 points ahead of 35th)
Sunday’s Finish: 12th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 30th (+55 points ahead of 35th, gained 4 points)

Bayne may have been making his return to Cup racing at Michigan, but it was a Nationwide Series Rookie of the Year from years past that stole the show at Michigan. Cassill came out of nowhere to score a 12th-place finish, his first career top-15 result at the Cup level and by far a career-best finish. It was also the best result for Phoenix Racing’s Cup team since the season-opening Daytona 500 (Bill Elliott finished 12th in that race).

The former No. 09 has already seen improvement over the course of 2011 now that they’ve got Hendrick Motorsports support and tires fully paid for, but have really come to life in recent weeks as the young Cassill appears to be adapting to this Cup car. It’s none too soon for the team to be building an owner points cushion… because should they choose to leave Cassill in the car next weekend, it will be his first road race since the Nationwide event at Watkins Glen back in 2008, a race he finished outside the top 30 in.

Then again, last time the former No. 09 team put a road ringer in the car, Jan Magnussen scored a top 15 at Sonoma. And that may well be what’s coming for this camp. FOX Sports is reporting that Boris Said will be driving for the team on both the road courses.

No. 36 – Dave Blaney (Tommy Baldwin Racing)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 32nd (+48 points ahead of 35th)
Sunday’s Finish: 34th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 32nd (+30 points ahead of 35th, lost 18 points)

There’s just a smidge of irony that a racetrack in Michigan would show no sympathy to a driver well-known for being from the Buckeye state. Rivalries aside, there’s no doubt that the Michigan International Speedway proved a thorn in the side of the No. 36 team this Sunday.

Team owner Tommy Baldwin acknowledged back at Richmond that his team was playing catch-up on their intermediate oval packages, and that point was driven home this past weekend. Blaney struggled all day with a loose condition in his Chevrolet that no set of adjustments was able to correct. Blaney also relayed to the team that he was experiencing engine troubles as the race wound down, putting an already horsepower-strapped entry at a further disadvantage.

Next up, the road course of Sonoma. Blaney hasn’t scored a top 20 on a road course in a Cup car since 2005 and TBR as an organization has never finished better than 40th turning right and left. Think they’re looking forward to Daytona already?

No. 13 – Casey Mears (Germain Racing)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 33rd (+39 points ahead of 35th)
Sunday’s Finish: 38th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 34th (+18 points ahead of 35th, lost 21 points)

Sunday had all the makings of a start-and-park weekend for the No. 13 team, which is still seeking sponsor dollars to supplement the partial season deal they signed with GEICO in the offseason. Mears stayed out under a yellow flag on lap 29 to lead a lap and immediately dropped to pit road as the field went back to green, and by lap 55 took his Camry to the garage.

The team’s Twitter account had nothing to say of their race, with all Tweets relating to Tony Kanaan‘s IndyCar race at Milwaukee.

No. 32 – Mike Bliss (FAS Lane Racing)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 34th (+38 points ahead of 35th)
Sunday’s Finish: 32nd
Current Owner Points Ranking: 33rd (+22 points ahead of 35th, lost 16 points)

Bliss’s latest start in the No. 32 car was nothing remarkable to write home about (though it did allow the team to gain a spot in the owner points with Germain Racing failing to go the distance), but it was a special day for team owner Frankie Stoddard. And not just because sponsor blu Cigs returned to sponsor the team after debuting on the No. 32 at the Coca-Cola 600 last month.

The reason the sponsor returned to the team? Father’s day. “One thing that became very evident to all of us at blu Cigs [at Charlotte] was the special bond and relationship with team owner Frank Stoddard and his father Frank Sr.,” said company founder Jason Healy. “They work hand in hand at FAS Lane Racing and it was truly something special to see. This Father’s Day promotion is in honor of them.”

That under Stoddard’s leadership the former Latitude 43 team from a year ago has managed to contest every race and stay locked into the Cup field has been something special to see indeed. Now to see if they can duplicate the top-10 run Said posted with the team at Sonoma last year.

No. 21 – Trevor Bayne (Wood Brothers Racing)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 35th (on the bubble)
Sunday’s Finish: 16th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 35th (on the bubble, gained 16 points)


No. 7 – Robby Gordon (Robby Gordon Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 36th (-2 behind 35th)
Sunday’s Finish: 37th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 36th (-23 behind 35th, lost 21 points, locked into the field at Sonoma with No. 21 not entered)

For the first time since the Coca-Cola 600, the namesake of Robby Gordon Motorsports was behind the wheel of the team’s No. 7 car. However, the results were still the same. Gordon parked the No. 7 after completing only 80 laps with a “vibration,” marking the sixth consecutive race the team has failed to finish due to a mechanical ailment.

Gordon’s most notable moment of the day came on lap 26, when he brought out the yellow flag after scraping the turn 3 wall. Which begs the question… if the team’s going to start-and-park anyway, why not use the crash damage as an excuse instead of going to the oh-so-obvious vibration excuse?

No. 71 – Andy Lally (TRG Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 37th (-5 behind 35th in Owner Points)
Sunday’s Finish: 36th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 37th (-25 behind 35th, lost 20 points)

What was another day of stock car education for Lally turned ugly 42 laps short of the finish. Exiting turn 4, Lally was moving from the lower groove to the wall to carry momentum on corner exit. Problem is, Juan Pablo Montoya ran out of gas in the exact same groove on turn 4 that Lally needed to complete his corner exit, leading to a violent collision between the two that sent Montoya into the infield grass and Lally back into the garage with a smashed front end.

Lally unexpectedly was interviewed on TNT following the incident, some welcome TV time for the No. 71 bunch. Their hometown race at Sonoma is next weekend, and scoring a positive result is paramount; the Wood Brothers team will not be entered, and Lally’s road-racing prowess will finally get to be put on display.

No. 38 – Travis Kvapil (Front Row Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 38th (-13 behind 35th)
Sunday’s Finish: 31st
Current Owner Points Ranking: 38th (-28 behind 35th, lost 15 points)

The No. 38 team’s regular driver Kvapil returned to the seat this weekend, and with new colors on the car (The Fellowship of Christian Athletes), Kvapil did manage to avoid the misfortune that his plagued both his Cup and Truck campaigns in 2011.

Starting the race with a manageable loose condition, it took only 30 laps before the loose condition became far more pronounced for the team. Fighting loose was the story of the day, with the team throwing air pressure and chassis adjustments at it during every cycle of pit stops. Kvapil’s lap times improved as the afternoon wore on, but 31st was the best the team could do after spending the last 40 laps in fuel conservation mode.

No word yet on whether Front Row Motorsports will swap owner points for the weekend upcoming at Sonoma as they did in 2010; Kvapil swapped with David Gilliland one year ago to make sure the team’s car outside the Top 35 would race on the road course.

No. 37 – Tony Raines (Max Q Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 39th (-50 behind 35th)
Sunday’s Finish: DNQ
Current Owner Points Ranking: 39th (-78 behind 35th, lost 28 points)

Another weekend, another DNQ for the No. 37 team and Raines. Bet on a road ringer making an appearance in this car the coming weekend, assuming the team opts to make the trip out west at all.

2011 Bubble Chart After Michigan

Pos Owner Car # Driver Points Points +/- of 35th Place
31 Front Row Motorsports 34 David Gilliland 254 +53
32 Tommy Baldwin Racing 36 Dave Blaney 231 +30
33 FAS Lane Racing 32 Mike Bliss 223 +22
34 Germain Racing 13 Casey Mears 219 +18
35 Wood Brothers 21 Trevor Bayne 201 0
36 Robby Gordon Motorsports 7 Scott Wimmer 178 -23
37 TRG Motorsports 71 Andy Lally 176 -25
38 Front Row Motorsports 38 Travis Kvapil 173 -28
39 Max Q Motorsports 37 Tony Raines 123 -78
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