The Frontstretch: Top 35 â€" Who's in, Who's Out by Mike Neff -- Monday February 20, 2006

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Top 35 â€" Who's in, Who's Out

Mike Neff · Monday February 20, 2006

 

The Daytona 500 is in the record books, as the first race of the 2006 season has run its course. As always, there were winners and losers during Speedweeks, so let’s take a look at those teams that took a step towards winning big in the long run, and those that took a step (or is that a step backwards) towards a long, painful year.

The Winners: The first BIG winner is obviously Kirk Shelmerdine. Kirk has been chasing a dream for years of actually making it full-time as a driver in the Cup series. His team has been underfunded, to say the least. After fulfilling his dream of qualifying for the Daytona 500, his 20th-place finish is enormous, not only for points, but for the financial resources it will provide for his team to try and make the next four races and ultimately run a full schedule.

Brent Sherman came across the line 22nd Sunday. That is another awesome story from the 500. BAM is another team with a small budget trying to make it in the big leagues. They have last year’s points to lock them into the first five races. After that, it will be a tough road. If Sherman can have some solid, consistent finishes, the team could quite possibly surprise everyone and race in all 36 races this year.

Our third winner is Terry Labonte. Hall of Fame racing hired the Iceman to run the first five races and the two road courses to try and ensure themselves a good start to the season. Finishing 17th in the Great American Race is exactly what the doctor ordered.

The Losers: Two drivers/teams head up the Losers category this week: Scott Riggs and Scott Wimmer, who both failed to qualify for this year’s 500. Both drivers are competing for established organizations and have stated they are going to compete for the entire season. Riggs is certainly the higher profile failure. Evernham Motorsports is Dodge’s flagship program. They knew the pitfalls of starting a third team in the modern era of NASCAR rules. They certainly fell into one this week.

Wimmer is a disappointment simply because of the history that his team, Morgan "" McClure Motorsports, has at Daytona. Seeing a former race winning organization fail to qualify for this storied race was a disappointment. MMM has obviously not been of that caliber for awhile now, and they knew it was going to be a tough job to get in, but you still hate to see them go home.

Chad Chaffin and Kenny Wallace round out the loser portion of our look. Both drivers are driving for small teams just hoping to compete every week. However, both teams have said they intend to run the entire schedule, so this is certainly a rough way to start out such a campaign.

*On the Bubble: This section of the column will always highlight the drivers who are currently 31st through 40th in Cup points. Assuming the race results are official on Tuesday with no dramatic changes (good luck, No. 48 team) here are the bubble drivers heading to California:

31) Denny Hamlin
32) Jeff Burton
33) Joe Nemecheck
34) Sterling Marlin
35) Bobby Labonte

Now, its only been one week, so things can change rapidly over the next month or so. Still, these fellas listed below better be careful not to have a repeat performance of their poor finish next week in California.

36) Jamie McMurray
37) Jeremy Mayfield
38) Kurt Busch
39) Kyle Petty
40) Hermie Sadler

Tough luck has put all 10 of these drivers in an unenviable position after the first week. Fortunately, they have four more weeks to get it right before they have to worry about going home on a weekend, except for Hermie Sadler, who did not finish in the Top 35 in 2005 Owner Points. Hermie still needs to do it the old fashioned way…by earning it.

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