On The Bubble : Who's In And Who's Out Of The Top 35 · Mike Lovecchio · Monday March 12, 2007
With the Texas two-step towards the 2007 standings now just three races away, the battle for the Top 35 in owner points is heating up. A newly constructed Las Vegas Motor Speedway was the first of two wild cards in the first five races (Bristol being the other), and no driver was happier to see the reconfigured track than Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Coming into the event 40th in driver points, Junior finished his first race of the 2007 season Sunday, running strong at a track that has been his Achilles’ Heel in past years to wind up with an eleventh place finish. In the meantime, two drivers whose Top 35 hopes took a surprising hit this weekend were Kasey Kahne, who crashed inside of 20 laps from the finish, and Brian Vickers, who failed to make the race one week after a Top 10 finish at California.
Those two aren’t the only ones in trouble, though; let’s take a closer look how the teams on the “NASCAR bubble” fared this week:
Saying that Earnhardt needed a good finish this weekend is an understatement. A late race crash at Daytona followed by engine woes at California kept Junior outside of the Top 35 heading into what was notoriously one of his least favorite tracks; the No. 8 team hadn’t finished better than 27th at Vegas since 2003. Lucky for Junior, the reconfiguration played right in his favor; he was a Top 5 contender until a late race blunder of pitting when the pit lane was closed dropped him to 15th with a handful of laps remaining. Despite the mistake, Junior battled back to an eleventh place finish, enough to jump him 12 spots in the standings and solidly into the Top 35 entering Atlanta.
David Ragan got off to a hot start this season, jumping ahead of preseason favorite Juan Pablo Montoya in the rookie standings. Ragan’s early run of success has included surviving a last lap crash at Daytona to finish in the Top 5, as well as battling back from an early race spin at California to snag a 16th place finish.
Unfortunately, this Sunday the driver of the No. 6 AAA Ford left his lucky Rabbit’s Foot at home. Ragan's luck took a turn for the worse when he backed his Ford into the wall on Lap 2; the 21-year-old wound up 37th in the final rundown. Ragan still sits 19th in the owners standings following the wreck, but three spins in three races is never good, and his inconsistency may be an issue heading into Atlanta and Bristol.
Awful. That's the only word to describe Toyota's performance thus far in its debut campaign. After three races, Dale Jarrett has made use of his champion’s provisional each time; out of seven full-time teams, he’s the lone Toyota in the Top 35 in owner points. Unfortunately for the foreign manufacturer, Jarrett has also been the slowest of the bunch, week in and week out.
This week was easily the worst of Toyota’s three races in Nextel Cup; just two Camrys made the starting field of 43, Jarrett and Dave Blaney, while A.J. Allmendinger, Brian Vickers, Jeremy Mayfield, David Reutimann, and Michael Waltrip all got sent home.
Who's Hot, Who's Not (Teams on the Bubble)
DEI – No. 1 and No. 8 – Both Truex Jr. and Earnhardt, Jr. hit the jackpot while in Vegas. Neither were in the Top 35 heading into the weekend, but now they sit 27th and 28th in points respectively after solid finishes.
Kasey Kahne – No. 9 (Finished 35th) – Kahne DNF'd for the second week in a row, wrecking at Vegas to drop the No. 9 team out of the Top 35 (they’re 36th). His lone Top 10 was marred by a 50 point infraction at Daytona, so this team is reeling with only two races left to turn the tide.
Casey Mears – No. 25 (Finished 40th) – After three races, Mears sits a disappointing 34th in points. That's not exactly the production he and Hendrick were expecting to see in his first year with the team; in Mears’ defense, the No. 25 car became a mere victim of Robby Gordon’s driving aggression on Sunday.
Note – Beginning next week, the On The Bubble column will also include the standings of the drivers located 31st through 40th in owner points as the Chase for the Top 35 closes in on Bristol.
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