The Frontstretch: Now That Junior's A Free Agent, Mears Is Racing For More Than Just The Top 35 by Mike Lovecchio -- Sunday May 13, 2007

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Now That Junior's A Free Agent, Mears Is Racing For More Than Just The Top 35

Tracking The Top 35 In Nextel Cup Owner Points · Mike Lovecchio · Sunday May 13, 2007


The media blitz that was the departure of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. from D.E.I. has sent shockwaves throughout Nextel Cup, causing a ripple effect that could eventually result in the release of a driver sitting squarely on the Top 35 bubble. When Junior mentioned that he would be interested in joining forces with one of the sport's elite Chevrolet organizations, rumors began to swirl that Richard Childress Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing, and Hendrick Motorsports were the frontrunners for his services. While RCR and JGR are the logical destinations with only three teams apiece, Hendrick is an intriguing possibility for a driver looking to win his first championship. The team already has four cars in its stable, but the marketing machine that is Dale Earnhardt, Jr. may be too good of an offer for Mr. Hendrick to pass up.

IF Hendrick decides to bring in the sport's most popular driver - Hendrick is probably Junior's third option - the logical odd man out would most certainly be Casey Mears. Mears' struggles this season have resulted in added pressure of fighting to keep his No. 25 team in the Top 35, putting his guaranteeing spot in serious jeopardy due to bad handling cars and bad racing luck. Now, Mears now faces added pressure of potentially racing to keep his job, pressure that will surely mount with each passing race his team flirts with the bubble. In his first race since the Junior press conference, Mears performed well, flirting with the Top 10… but his engine let go laps from the finish, making a strong run useless in the face of another DNF. Similar troubles for Dave Blaney coupled with Scott Riggs failure to make the race keeps Mears on the bubble this week, but the margin from 35th to 36th is now 75 points over Blaney heading into All-Star weekend.

Here’s this week’s Bubble Breakdown:

Biggest Mover(s):

Kasey Kahne is entering a stretch of tracks where he has had enjoyed a fair share of success during his short Cup career. That’s good, because he really needs the boost; while Darlington had served Kahne well in the past, much of his success this week is a result of troubles for those around him in the standings. Still, Kahne managed to fight his way back from two laps down to finish the race in the Top 20, and can build on that momentum as he heads to his favorite track - the 1.5 mile oval of Lowe’s Motor Speedway, a track where Kahne swept both races last year.

Kahne (No. 9 Team) : Moved from 32nd to 30th. (+2)

Honorable Mention:

Dave Blaney – For the second consecutive week, Blaney moves up in the standings, even with a blown engine. Despite a 32nd place finish, the No. 22 car is now 36th in owner points, just 75 behind Mears as their goal is back within reach. In fact, Blaney has moved up four spots in the owner standings over the last two races.

Biggest Loser:

After missing his first race of the season, Scott Riggs suffered the biggest disappointment of those around the bubble at Darlington. Riggs dropped just one spot but lost a crucial 51 points, falling 85 behind 35th heading to Charlotte in two weeks.
Riggs: From 36th to 37th spot. (-1)

Tracking Toyota:

The week started off strong for Toyota, with David Reutimann pacing the field in pre-qualifying practice. Four teams eventually made the field at Darlington, but the Lady In Black was rough on the Camrys during the race : Blaney brought home the highest finishing position, and that was a dismal 32nd place. Reutimann finished right behind him in 33rd, while each of the Red Bull cars were well outside the Top 35 after becoming involved in separate wrecks. It will be interesting to follow the Toyotas in Charlotte this weekend, as the Bill Davis Racing entries ran very strong in testing; we’ll have to see if practice really can make perfect after three months of nightmare performances by this car.

Breaking Down the Bubble

Pos Owner Car # Driver Points Points +/- of 36th Place
31 Petty Enterprises 45 Kyle Petty 900 +70
32 Robby Gordon Motorsports 7 Robby Gordon 895 +65
33 Haas CNC Racing 70 Johnny Sauter 874 +44
34 Robert Yates Racing 88 Ricky Rudd 848 +18
35 Hendrick Motorsports 25 Casey Mears 830 0
36 Bill Davis Racing 22 Dave Blaney 755 -75
37 Evernham Motorsports 10 Scott Riggs 745 -85
38 Dale Earnhardt, Inc. 15 Paul Menard 734 -96
39 Wood Brothers 21 Ken Schrader / Jon Wood 667 -163
40 Michael Waltrip Racing 44 Dale Jarrett 629 -201

Out Of Reach:
All of these full-time teams are 41st on back in owner points and well out of reach of the all-important Top 35…

41) No. 83 (Team Red Bull/Brian Vickers)
42) No. 78 (Furniture Row Racing/Kenny Wallace)
43) No. 00 (Michael Waltrip Racing/Michael Waltrip)
44) No. 4 (Morgan-McClure Motorsports/Ward Burton)
45) No. 49 (BAM Racing/Mike Bliss)
46) No. 36 (Bill Davis Racing/Jeremy Mayfield)
47) No. 84 (Team Red Bull/A.J. Allmendinger)
48) No. 37 (Front Row Motorsports/Kevin LePage)
49) No. 55 (Michael Waltrip Racing/Michael Waltrip)

NEW!!! - From the mailbag

In response to Dale Jarrett missing his first race in 424 starts last week:

Greg Writes:

Maybe if Jarrett would listen to those around him and communicate better with his team (and owner), then the UPS team might not be in the position they find themselves. If Jarrett is going to rescue himself and his team, he better get focused on his current job, stop thinking about the broadcast booth (has anyone noticed Mikey is not on as many TV shows as he once was?) and retirement and get his butt in the show. The only way Mikey and the boys are going to recover is if their cars are in the top 10 of qualifying EVERY WEEK.

Mike’s Take:

Toyota's struggles have been nothing short of disappointing this season, but not even they are as embarrassing as the humiliation out of the Michael Waltrip Racing camp. Coming into the 2007 season, Jarrett was pegged as the flagship driver for both Toyota and MWR. Not only has Jarrett not lived up to his expectations, but the top driver out of the Waltrip stable is a rookie! David Reutimann may have loads of potential, but I highly doubt that he has more talent than a former Cup series champion and three-time Daytona 500 champion. Both Jarrett and Waltrip are quickly tarnishing their legacies with each missed start - whatever the cause may be - and need to get their act together now.

Have a comment for Mike’s mailbag? Email him at

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Dr. Freud
05/15/2007 04:56 AM

Mark my words, Earnhardt Jr. is going to Hendrick. Jr. lost his dad, and probably NEVER had a close warm relationship with him, Dale Sr. just wasn’t that kind of person. Rick Hendrick lost his son. The fit on a deep meaningful level is sitting there. Any other move by Jr. to any other team, with the exception of Ginn (which seems to be a Hendrick satellite) would be doomed to failure.

05/15/2007 11:09 AM

I disagree for a couple of reasons:

1) Jeff Gordon is the top dog in the Hendrick stable. Jimmie Johnson may out perform Gordon at times, but Gordon is the one with the lifetime contract. Putting Junior on that team could upset that balance.
2) Anybody notice how the 25 car is the weak link in that organization? It’s probably been used as the R&D car for the 24, 48, and 5. Junior would be taking a gamble getting into that ride, as it would take time to turn that team around.
3) Not cool to speculate that somebody is “racing for their job” – any evidence to back this up?

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