The Frontstretch: Race for the Top 35 Tightens Up Heading to Michigan by Mike Lovecchio -- Sunday June 10, 2007

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Race for the Top 35 Tightens Up Heading to Michigan

Bubble Breakdown : Tracking The Top 35 In Nextel Cup Owner Points · Mike Lovecchio · Sunday June 10, 2007

 

The Nextel Cup Series can't seem to run away from the rain this year. For the fourth time in six weeks, showers put a damper on things, shortening Sunday’s Pocono 500 to just over 250 miles. Anticipating the rain, several teams took gambles on pit road, shuffling up the leaderboard over a hectic last segment of the race. Jeff Gordon eventually took the win as the skies opened, widening his points lead with each raindrop. But while the rest of the championship contenders saw their road to the top get harder, the battle at the bottom tightened up significantly, as Scott Riggs took advantage of a poor day by Johnny Sauter to close his team’s gap in the Top 35 race.

See just how tight that difference is between 35th and 36th, why Toyota had reason to frown, as well as how Ginn Racing had both a good and bad day in this week’s edition of the Bubble Breakdown:

Biggest Mover(s)

A 15th place finish for Joe Nemechek was enough to shoot the veteran driver up an astonishing six spots in the standings. Nemechek's solid run, coupled with poor days by teammate Sterling Marlin and virtually every other driver anywhere near the bubble, allows the No. 13 Ginn Racing team to breathe easier heading to Michigan. Now 165 points ahead of 35th place, Nemechek was the lone driver whose team was between 30th and 40th to move his car up more than one spot in the standings.

Joe Nemechek (No. 13 Team) – Moved from 32nd to 26th in car owner points.

Honorable Mention:

Scott Riggs – Riggs didn't move up in the standings, but his 18th place finish moved him from 86 points to just 20 behind 35th place Johnny Sauter, who finished 40th.

Biggest Loser(s)

While the No. 13 Ginn Racing team separated itself from the other teams, the No. 14 Ginn car came back to the pack. Marlin’s car struggled for the majority of the race, and while he eventually finished on the lead lap, that didn’t much matter; a rain-shortened event and a crumpled fender from on-track contact left him a distant 31st. Despite the No. 14 dropping four spots in the standings, however, Marlin is still just one point behind his teammate, as well as comfortably ahead of Sauter…for now.

Marlin (No. 14) – Moved from 24th to 28th in car owner points.

Honorable Mention:

Jeff Green (No. 66) – Finished 32nd; team lost 3 spots (now 31st).
Robby Gordon (No. 7) – Finished 41st; team lost 2 spots (now 32nd).

Tracking Toyota

Pocono was one of the poorest performances of the season for a Toyota program that seemed to have turned the corner in recent weeks. The top running Camry was once again Brian Vickers, but all he could manage this time was a dismal 35th at a track where he usually excels. Vickers' teammate A.J. Allmendinger did no better, finishing 39th, while the lone Michael Waltrip Racing entry, David Reutimann came to the line in 38th. Rounding out the Toyota entries this week, Dave Blaney crashed on Lap 56 and finished dead last, a momentum killer for a team badly in need of a boost. Blaney's poor finish dropped his No. 22 team a season high 142 points behind 35th in the standings.

Breaking Down the Bubble

Pos Owner Car # Driver Points Points +/- of 35th Place
31 Haas CNC Racing 66 Jeff Green 1,208 +137
32 Robby Gordon Motorsports 7 Robby Gordon 1,166 +95
33 Robert Yates Racing 88 Ricky Rudd 1,127 +56
34 Robert Yates Racing 38 David Gilliland 1,123 +52
35 Haas CNC Racing 70 Johnny Sauter 1,071 0
36 Evernham Motorsports 10 Scott Riggs 1,051 -20
37 Bill Davis Racing 22 Dave Blaney 929 -142
38 Team Red Bull 83 Brian Vickers 906 -165
39 Dale Earnhardt, Inc. 15 Paul Menard 872 -199
40 Wood Brothers 21 Bill Elliott
Ken Schrader
Jon Wood
831 -240
41 Michael Waltrip Racing 44 Dale Jarrett 728 -343
42 Furniture Row Racing 78 Kenny Wallace 694 -377
43 James Finch / Morgan-McClure Motorsports 4 Ward Burton 688 -383
44 Michael Waltrip Racing 00 David Reutimann 653 -418
45 Bill Davis Racing 36 Jeremy Mayfield 567 -504
46 Team Red Bull 84 A.J. Allmendinger 521 -550
47 BAM Racing 49 Mike Bliss 518 -553
48 Michael Waltrip Racing 55 Michael Waltrip 349 -722
49 Front Row Motorsports 37 Kevin LePage / John Andretti 347 -724

My thoughts on the Top 35 heading to Michigan

Look for there to be a new driver in the Top 35 after next week. Scott Riggs has been running strong as of late and if he can make the show in the Irish Hills, I expect him to make up the 20 points he is currently behind Sauter. The Evernham cars traditionally run strong at two-mile tracks, meaning Riggs should be given a Top 20 car to work with.

In the meantime, Toyota teams need a strong performance to make up for a poor weekend at Pocono. Vickers has been the strongest Toyota for three straight weeks now and should expect to make the show next week. Still, everyone else is in question, as no Toyotas are locked into the field. Dave Blaney is the closest to the bubble, 142 points behind; other teams such as Jeremy Mayfield’s, Michael Waltrip’s, and Dale Jarrett’s are so far behind they have hardly any chance to catch back up. As a shining example of the Camry’s problems, all three mentioned above failed to qualify at Pocono last Friday.

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