The Sprint Cup Series returned to oval-track racing after spending a weekend at the Glen, but a return to turning left did little favors for the teams battling for the bubble. Michigan being a track already heavily dependent on horsepower and aero, 400 quick miles with few cautions and long green flag runs thoroughly stratified the field. When all was said and done, spots 31-39 didn’t move, the gap between 35th and 36th grew larger and the locked-in segment of the Sprint Cup field is appearing to be all but stationary for the remainder of the 2011 season.
AHEAD OF THE BUBBLE
No. 34 — David Gilliland (Front Row Motorsports)
Incoming Owner’s Points Ranking: 31st
Sunday’s Finish: 32nd
Current Owner’s Points Ranking: 31st (+99 ahead of 35th)
Coming off a disappointing weekend at Watkins Glen, Gilliland and the No. 34 team proved unable to turn around the team’s luck. Fighting a loose condition from the drop of the green flag, Gilliland was one of only two cars to go down a lap down during the green-flag run to the first yellow on lap 29.
The No. 34 team did manage to get back on the lead lap with a lucky dog on lap 53, but the loose condition wasn’t to be solved this Sunday (Aug. 21). Gilliland finished two laps down in 32nd at race’s end, losing more ground to the 30th-place No. 51 team in the process.
No. 36 — Dave Blaney (Tommy Baldwin Racing)
Incoming Owner’s Points Ranking: 32nd
Sunday’s Finish: 33rd
Current Owner’s Points Ranking: 32nd (+25 ahead of 35th)
A return to his primary driver seat in the No. 36 car didn’t prove to be a lucky charm for Blaney, who endured another rough weekend as TBR continued trying to develop an intermediate-track program. Throwing adjustment after adjustment at the car, Blaney and team were unable to make up any ground on a tight condition through the center of the corner. A pit-road penalty only made things worse until late, when the team miscalculated its fuel mileage and brought out the yellow limping down pit road. Blaney finished five laps down in 33rd.
No. 13 — Casey Mears (Germain Racing)
Incoming Owner’s Points Ranking: 33rd
Sunday’s Finish: 37th
Current Owner’s Points Ranking: 33rd (+20 ahead of 35th)
The GEICO money is starting to run a bit thinner for the Germain Racing camp, whose flagship No. 13 machine start-and-parked after completing 32 circuits (and leading one) on Sunday. Despite having finished as high as fourth at the Michigan International Speedway in his career, Mears start-and-parked both races this season at MIS; he’s now finished outside the Top 35 in three consecutive starts on the 2-mile oval.
No. 32 — Ken Schrader (FAS Lane Racing Inc.)
Incoming Owner’s Points Ranking: 34th
Sunday’s Finish: 35th
Current Owner’s Points Ranking: 34th (+16 points ahead of 35th)
Schrader’s return to Cup racing at Michigan for the first time since 2006 did yield some rare TV time for Frankie Stoddard’s No. 32 team when the team scored the lucky dog on lap 29, and Schrader made it count. It certainly wasn’t flashy, but Schrader lost only one lap the rest of the afternoon despite the extensive amounts of green-flag racing that took place Sunday afternoon. Schrader finished one lap down in 30th, the team’s best finish both in terms of finishing order and lap count since Daytona in July.
ON THE BUBBLE
No. 71 — Andy Lally (TRG Motorsports)
Incoming Owner’s Points Ranking: 35th
Sunday’s Finish: 29th
Current Owner’s Points Ranking: 35th (+35 points ahead of 36th)
After weathering the storm at Watkins Glen to pull further ahead of Robby Gordon and the No. 7 team, Lally and the No. 71 team moved even further into control of the final spot in the Top 35 with a 29th-place result Sunday, Lally’s fifth consecutive finish in the top 30 (prior to that stretch he had only three top-30 results across the rest of the season).
The race also marked significant improvement for Lally on a return visit, as he crashed out of this race back in June and finished 45 laps short of the finish. Seeing such improvement bodes well for both driver and team, as two treacherous short-track dates dot the next three weeks of the Cup schedule.
ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN AT MICHIGAN
No. 7 — Johnny Sauter (Robby Gordon Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 36th
Sunday’s Finish: DNQ
Current Owner Points Ranking: 36th (-35 points behind 35th)
With the team owner busy running a Nationwide Series entry in Montreal, Truck Series regular Sauter was tasked with getting the No. 7 car into the field and he didn’t get it done. RGM’s No. 7 missed the field for the first time since the fall Texas race of 2005, the same season that Gordon missed countless races and suffered common engine failures. [Author’s note: Thanks to our ever-observant readers for noting the No. 7 team did miss Pocono with PJ Jones behind the wheel last season.]
Barring significant adversity befalling the No. 71 car in the form of wrecks or early engine failures, it’s tough to see the No. 7 team locking back into the Cup field this season.
No. 38 — Travis Kvapil (Front Row Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 37th
Sunday’s Finish: 28th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 37th (-37 points behind 35th)
Kvapil returned to his primary seat after a weekend off in favor of Terry Labonte and his past champion’s provisional, and delivered his third top-30 result in his last four Cup starts. Kvapil had only four such results the first half of the season, indicating that while the Top 35 is still well out of reach for Front Row’s second team, improvement is starting to show. Still, the day proved to puzzle the No. 38 team, as Kvapil’s car went from tight to loose from run to run.
No. 21 — Trevor Bayne (Wood Brothers Racing)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 38th
Sunday’s Finish: 24th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 38th (-65 points behind 35th)
An unfortunate trend for Bayne continued, as for the second consecutive return visit to a Cup track, Bayne proved unable to equal his previous result. Though Bayne did turn in a lead-lap result again at MIS, his 24th-place finish was a significant step down from the 16th he posted in the spring.
When coupled with a rough and tumble weekend in Montreal that saw Bayne damaged trying to avoid Maryeve Dufault, it’s safe to say the third weekend in August was a letdown for Bayne, even in Ford’s backyard.
No. 37 — Tony Raines (Max Q Motorsports)
Incoming Owner Points Ranking: 39th
Sunday’s Result: 38th
Current Owner Points Ranking: 39th (-137 out of 35th)
Raines returned behind the wheel of the No. 37 this weekend with Scott Speed running the Nationwide race in Montreal, and had what has become the only successful weekend for Max Q Motorsports; make the field, park it early. Raines finished 38th.
2011 Bubble Chart After Michigan
|Pos||Owner||Car #||Driver||Points||Points +/- of 35th Place|
|31||Front Row Motorsports||34||David Gilliland||402||+99|
|32||Tommy Baldwin Racing||36||Dave Blaney||328||+25|
|33||Germain Racing||13||Casey Mears||323||+20|
|34||FAS Lane Racing||32||Ken Schrader||319||+16|
|35||TRG Motorsports||71||Andy Lally||303||On the Bubble|
|36||Robby Gordon Motorsports||7||Johnny Sauter||268||-35|
|37||Front Row Motorsports||38||Travis Kvapil||266||-37|
|38||Wood Brothers||21||Trevor Bayne||238||-65|
|39||Max Q Motorsports||37||Scott Speed||166||-137|
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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