Tracking The Top 35 In Nextel Cup Owner Points · Mike Lovecchio · Monday May 28, 2007
It was two weeks ago in this column that I wrote that Casey Mears could possibly be racing for his job at Hendrick Motorsports with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. now a free agent. After one week of mulling over my assumption and now watching the Coca-Cola 600, I'm here to admit my change of heart - Mears is here to stay. Forget the pit strategy that ultimately led to his win – this young man ran the race of his career all night long, and deserves just as much credit for that victory as crew chief Darian Grubb for his pit strategy.
Mears' slow start has been disappointing - especially considering the success of Hendrick's three other cars - but you have to remember that this is still his first season with a new team. It takes a lot of adjusting for a driver when you're surrounded by new personnel to find the comfort zone required for success. Mears had yet to find that zone, hovering around the Top 35 in owner points, but after a career-changing victory, don't be surprised to see the No. 25 carry that momentum throughout the rest of the season.
See how Mears stacks up in this week's Bubble Breakdown:
The late-race economy run that came in the closing laps benefited a number of teams on the brink of falling out of the Top 35. The bubble-boy over the past couple of weeks, Mears obviously gained the most with his first career victory, moving up six spots to 29th in the driver and owner points. But don’t forget about Kyle Petty and Ricky Rudd; each moved up significantly in the owner's standings with their first Top 10s of the season. For Petty, his third place run marked his first Top 5 finish since Dover in September, 1997.
Petty (No. 45 team) – Moved from 31st to 26th in owner points.
Rudd (No. 88 team) – Moved from 34th to 31st in owner points.
Brian Vickers – Finished 5th; moved from 41st to 39th in owner points.
Paul Menard was relatively within striking distance of cracking the Top 35 heading into the Coke 600. The No. 15 team had moved to within 100 points of Mears, but Mears' win coupled with Menard’s DNQ drops him significantly behind in the standings.
It was a pleasant surprise to see Toyota break through this week with its most successful race of the season. The Bill Davis entries of Dave Blaney and Jeremy Mayfield had been quick in Lowe's testing a couple of weeks ago, and I had expected both to perform well. What nobody expected was the strong performance by Brian Vickers and the manufacturer as a whole. After all but two Toyotas made the race, Vickers went on to lead much of the middle portion of the event, eventually recording the first Top 5 for Toyota with his fifth place finish. With Jarrett and Mayfield also enjoying solid runs until engine failures ruined their day, perhaps this may soon be the race we’ll look back on as the one where Toyota turned a corner.
Breaking Down the Bubble
|Pos||Owner||Car #||Driver||Points||Points +/- of 35th Place|
|31||Robert Yates Racing||88||Ricky Rudd||999||+43|
|32||Evernham Motorsports||9||Kasey Kahne||998||+42|
|33||Robby Gordon Racing||7||Robby Gordon||992||+36|
|34||Robert Yates Racing||38||David Gilliland||986||+30|
|35||Haas CNC Racing||70||Johnny Sauter||956||0|
|36||Bill Davis Racing||22||Dave Blaney||864||-92|
|37||Evernham Motorsports||10||Scott Riggs||848||-108|
|38||Dale Earnhardt, Inc.||15||Paul Menard||765||-191|
|39||Red Bull Racing||83||Brian Vickers||742||-214|
|40||Wood Brothers||21||Bill Elliott
NEW – From the mailbag
In response to Casey Mears' job being on the line with Dale Earnhardt Jr. a free agent.
Dr. Freud Writes:
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.
While I feel like a move to Hendrick would give Junior his best chance at a championship, I highly doubt the team will move any of its four drivers to make room for him. Bobby Ginn is building a premier racing team that would love to have a big name, young driver, as the face of the organization. Junior is a talented driver that will have success wherever he goes.
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