The Frontstretch: Career Run Gives Sauter Breathing Room In Top 35 Battle by Mike Lovecchio -- Sunday September 9, 2007

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Career Run Gives Sauter Breathing Room In Top 35 Battle

Bubble Breakdown : Tracking The Top 35 In Nextel Cup Owner Points · Mike Lovecchio · Sunday September 9, 2007


One week ago, Johnny Sauter was headed straight towards the edge of a cliff. After withstanding the pressure of being on the “bubble” with Haas CNC’s No. 70 for most of this season, Sauter set the pressure cooker on high by struggling to 30th in Fontana. That disappointing finish dropped the No. 70 into a tie for 34th in car owner points, just 52 ahead of the 35th and final locked in spot and in serious danger of falling out altogether. It was the closest Sauter had been in quite sometime to losing the team’s automatic exemption, and with seven consecutive runs outside the Top 20, it was clear that both he and his crew needed a spark.

Saturday night, the match was lit.

In the 26th and final “regular season” race at Richmond, it was Sauter, not the Chasers, who flew under the radar en route to a career-best run. Finishing in the Top 5 for the first time ever, his team now has some much needed breathing room over the final bubble position…and more importantly, Sauter has his confidence back after struggling for the better part of two months with his Chevrolet.

To see where the No. 70 now sits in the owner standings, as well as who currently remains in danger behind them, check out this week’s edition of the Bubble Breakdown to find out everything you need to know about what happened at Richmond:

Biggest Mover(s)

Forget being the biggest mover; the fact that Bill Elliott was simply able to hang onto 35th after several weeks of flip-flopping between he and Dave Blaney’s No. 22 Toyota was enormous for his whole team. Elliott rolled the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford off the grid 42nd after a poor qualifying run, and fell two laps down before the halfway mark. But just when things looked bleak, Lady Luck intervened; Elliott avoided a lap 293 crash that claimed his only competition for the final bubble position…Blaney himself, who was actually running on the lead lap at the time. While the No. 22 headed to the garage for repairs, Elliott stayed out of trouble, finishing 29th to open the gap from just 4 to 19 points in the battle for the final Top 35 slot.

What Elliott’s Saying:

“This was a tough night for us. It just seemed like the car didn’t want to cooperate with us at all until we got to the halfway point. All we can do is our best effort every week, and I know these guys are trying as hard as they can… and I am, too. We had a better second half of that event than the first.”

Elliott (No. 21) – Widens gap to 19 points from 35th to 36th.

Honorable Mention

Sauter (No. 70) – First Top 5 of season; moves from 34th to 33rd in owner points, now 150 ahead of the No. 22 team in 36th.

Biggest Loser

No team really lost enough ground to be considered the “Biggest Loser” this weekend, but for the sake of giving the award, we’ll give Blaney that honor, simply because he lost some more ground to Elliott than he should have. Statistically, the only driver to lose significant ground remotely close to the 35th position is Robby Gordon, who slammed the wall after cutting a tire. His 36th place finish dropped him an amazing 5 spots from 23rd to 28th in owner points.

Tracking Toyota

One week ago, David Reutimann was on pace for the best run of his young career, creeping inside the Top 10 before an accident put an end to his day. This week, Reutimann built on that momentum to lead the Toyota brigade with a career-best 13th place finish. Reutimann was the lone Camry who to crack the Top 20 Saturday night, although both Red Bull Racing entries were able to finish in the Top 25 for the second consecutive race. Behind them, both Dale Jarrett and Dave Blaney ran into trouble and finished outside the Top 30; even worse, Michael Waltrip didn’t make the race, ending a streak of seven straight events where the No. 55 had qualified.

Top 3 Finishing Toyotas

David Reutimann — Finished 13th
A.J. Allmendinger — Finished 23rd
Brian Vickers — Finished 24th

Breaking Down the Bubble

Pos Owner Car # Driver Points Points +/- of 35th Place (No. 13 is ineligible)
31 Haas CNC Racing 66 Jeff Green 2,169 +225
32 Robert Yates Racing 88 Kenny Wallace / Ricky Rudd 2,096 +152
33 Haas CNC Racing 70 Johnny Sauter 2,075 +131
34 Petty Enterprises 45 Kyle Petty 2,013 +69
35 Wood Brothers 21 Bill Elliott 1,944 0
36 Bill Davis Racing 22 Dave Blaney 1,925 -19
37 Evernham Motorsports 10 Scott Riggs 1,743 -201
38 Red Bull Racing 83 Brian Vickers 1,711 -233
39 Michael Waltrip Racing 00David Reutimann 1,564 -380
40 Michael Waltrip Racing 44 Dale Jarrett 1,292 -652
41 Morgan McClure Motorsports 4 Ward Burton 1,239 -705
42 Bill Davis Racing 36 Jeremy Mayfield 1,169 -775
43 Furniture Row Racing 78 Joe Nemechek 1,083 -861
44 Michael Waltrip Racing 55 Michael Waltrip 1,075 -869
45 BAM Racing 49 John Andretti 1,048 -896
46 Team Red Bull 84 A.J. Allmendinger 1,040 -904

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Did You Notice? … Breaking Down A Sprint Cup Season Eight Races In
Beyond the Cockpit: Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. on Growing Up Racing and Owner Loyalties
The Frontstretch Five: Flaws Exposed In the New Chase So Far
NASCAR Writer Power Rankings: Top 15 After Darlington
NASCAR Mailbox: Past Winners Aren’t Winning …. Yet
Open Wheel Wednesday: How Can IndyCar Stand Out?


©2000 - 2008 Mike Lovecchio and Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

Joe Maino
09/10/2007 01:54 PM

Thank you for the article concentrating on those competing for the top 35 spots. I’m glad to see coverage on that very important, but often ignored area. I root for a few drivers, but am also a Toyota fan and follow the top 35 every week, especially on qualifying day. I wish those televising the race would at least mention it from time to time. Thanks again,
Joe Maino

09/10/2007 05:20 PM

Mike, this is a great article and I was hoping you could analyze my suggestions about fixing the current top 35 rule. This top 35 competition is huge and definitely needs more coverage! The prize of being in the top 35 gives you a guaranteed seat in the Daytona 500 which has become the hardest race to get into the field. For Toyota in particular this is huge. The Daytona twin 150’s are a complete joke. Only 2 cars per race transfer to the Daytona 500. Nascar needs only to look to the local short-tracks to find a fair way to get into the final feature. You have to race your way in. Have the first 35 cars in points qualify and start in the 1st 35 positions. Have all the cars not in the top 35 qualify and race in a separate 30 to 50 lap semi feature depending on the track. This would be like the Nextel Open. In this semi-feature the serious cars with good race setups will prevail and transfer to the final feature race with the rest of the top 35. By doing this only the serious cars will transfer and the field fillers with qualifying setups good for only two laps would go home. The benefits of this would be that the all cars entering the race would get some exposure for their sponsors. A finishing order outside of the top 43 is also established where some drivers points and owners points can be awarded to everyone involved. Also some of the prize money a token amount can be given for these finishers. Some money should be given to these teams for just showing up and trying. Less money should be given for 30th to 43rd place which ranges from $80,000 to $200,000 or more depending on the race. This would be a great way to involve more teams and sponsors and expand the nascar community. It would also give another marketable race for the television audience and give some younger less experienced drivers some valuable track time.

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