The Frontstretch: On the Edge: The Fight for 35th in Nextel Cup Points by Mike Neff -- Sunday March 5, 2006

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On the Edge: The Fight for 35th in Nextel Cup Points

Mike Neff · Sunday March 5, 2006


With the Cup series being off this week, we’ll take a closer look at the folks from 30th through 48th with two events completed. After Las Vegas, there will only be two more races until the 2006 owner points are utilized for locking in positions. The teams on this list have got to step it up over the next couple of races, or just making it into the show will become a stressful proposition.

30 #61 KEVIN LEPAGE 151 2
31 #96 TERRY LABONTE 148 2
32 #01 JOE NEMECHEK, III 146 2
33 #40 DAVID STREMME 143 2
34 #10 SCOTT RIGGS 137 1
35 #45 KYLE PETTY 134 2
36 #66 JEFF GREEN 128 2
37 #18 BOBBY LABONTE 128 2
38 #14 STERLING MARLIN 128 2
39 #16 GREG BIFFLE 122 2
40 #32 TRAVIS KVAPIL 118 1
41 #36 BILL ELLIOTT 111 1
43 #09 MIKE WALLACE 91 1
44 #4 SCOTT WIMMER 71 1
44 #00 HERMIE SADLER 71 1
46 #78 KENNY WALLACE 68 1
47 #51 MIKE GARVEY 49 1

The only teams on the list who can really feel comfortable are Hall of Fame racing with Terry Labonte and Roush Racing with Greg Biffle. Labonte has the past champion’s provisional to rely on for the next three weeks. As long as they can get a couple of solid runs under their belt, they’ll have a cushion when Tony Raines takes over the seat. Biffle has simply had some bad luck over the first couple of races. He was obviously the dominant car in California. With Vegas and Atlanta up next, he should easily move up out of this dog fight.

The teams that currently have to be stressing out are Kevin Lepage, Scott Riggs, Travis Kvapil, and Kenny Wallace. All four of those teams are planning on running the full schedule, but do not have Top 35 points from last year. They have to qualify into the show on time, and then race well enough to move up in the standings. It is imperative for their hopes for the year that they get it together over the next three weeks.

The two organizations that have to be feeling the heat are MB2 Motorsports and Petty Enterprises. Both of those groups had high hopes coming into this year, but neither of them have started off as they hoped. Petty thought things were going to be much improved this year with the addition of so many quality people over the offseason. There is no doubt that everyone thinks they will improve, but it takes time for new personalities to mesh and turn around an organization that has been behind for a while. If they can’t do it quickly, they are going to have to start worrying about making races on speed. MB2, meanwhile, has simply been bitten by the same bad luck bug that has plagued Biffle. Joe Nemechek has run over debris early in both races so far this year, and Sterling Marlin was involved in a Daytona accident that ruined a likely Top 10 finish. If their racing luck can pick up, both teams will hopefully be able to claw their way up back into the Top 25 and get away from the hornet’s nest around the 35th position.

The other team to remember as we move ahead through the next few events is Robby Gordon’s. Although the No. 7 team has done well in the first two races, they are still on the outside looking in on the Top 35 from last year. That means that they still have to qualify on speed for the next three races…but the switch to DEI motors has done wonders for the team. Since making the switch before Phoenix last fall, Gordon’s average finish has been 15th. Provided Gordon can make the races over the next three weeks, he should have quite a bit of breathing room once the 2006 points are used to start setting the fields.

Some of these teams towards the bottom of the pack may have welcomed the week off, but odds are most of them wanted to get right back to the track and work on making things better. Here’s hoping they won’t have to get lucky in Vegas, and they can just get up back into the Top 35 the old-fashioned way"¦by earning it.

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03/06/2006 09:31 AM

Mikey, me boy! Remember, it is OWNER’S points that decide the top 35..NOT DRIVER’s. Scott Riggs #10 team is currently 34th in Owner’s points, with 35-40 stacking up like this






#32 (-16 from 35th)

As long as Riggs makes the next 3 races, he will be top 35. Thus, that’s Robby Gordon (he could miss one of the next 3 and probably still be top 35), Terry Labonte/Tony Raines, and Scott Riggs taking guaranteed spots away from 3 established teams from last year. And if LePage and Kvapil make the next 3 races..they very well could be top 35, too. That would make FIVE teams from last year that would need to race their way in. Obviously, the #49 car and #66 car are on the hot seat, but those other 3 teams cold be from large multi car teams that Nascar NEVER envisioned missing races when they implemented this horrible rule. You think they just may make changes when Kyle Petty and Sterling Marlin are missing races?? lol

The chase is the big story every year, but the fight for Top 35 is going to be VERY entertaining all year long!

03/06/2006 11:23 PM

I apologize Mike. Apparently I copied the wrong table off of the owner’s point screen when I was pulling the points for this week. Needless to say, you are correct. Thanks for paying attention. I appreciate it.

03/07/2006 07:03 AM

Oh no apologies needed. But this top 35 thing is EVEN closer than a lot of people realize. It is going to be a HUGE source of contention when big teams potentially stare in the face of missing races. As a Robby fan, when no one batted an eyelash last year when he suffered upon the new implementation of this rule (after he finished 23rd in Driver points in ‘04), I have no sympathy whatsoever for anyone who falls under this axe. Actually, I am going to quietly enjoy it…

03/07/2006 07:26 AM

There were plenty of times when Robby should have been sent home last year, and was, and I was fine with that. However, when someone like Schrader or Marlin was SLOWER than him in quals but made the race anyway, that’s when I got angry.

That said, our guy has had his fair share of bad luck, disappointment and struggles in the past. I’m not going to wish that on anyone else just because I’m sure it’ll find a way to come back and bite Robby on his butt! ;-)

It will be interesting to see what happens, though, if someone like Biffle misses the cut. Wonder how fast NASCAR would change the rules for him!

03/07/2006 10:30 AM

You’ve got that right CD. It is going to be very interesting if Riggs or Marlin misses a few races. But if someone from Roush or Hendrick were to miss a race, I think the uproar would be tremendous.

03/07/2006 07:36 PM

Well Bobby Labonte shouldn’t be to worried right now being the recent past champion, but Bobby and Kyle better pick it up


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