The Frontstretch: On the Edge : The Fight for 35th in NEXTEL Cup Points by Mike Neff -- Sunday March 12, 2006

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

Mike Neff · Sunday March 12, 2006

 

The Top 35 battle is getting to a critical point. With only two races to go before the Cup cars start using this years point standings, the folks outside of the Top 35 really need to make something happen at Atlanta and Bristol. If their luck doesn’t turn around quickly, they are going to have to start making races on speed.

Similar to most gambling casinos around the track, there were certainly many winners and losers this week to be found within the speedway itself after Sunday’s event. Here are some of the bigger ones:

Winners
Greg Biffle: It is strange to consider Biffle a winner in the Top 35 race, but he was 39th in owner points coming into Las Vegas. His eighth place finish has now moved him well up into the standings and clearly out of danger with a car that contends up front every week.

Joe Nemechek: Front Row Joe came into the race ahead of 35th in points, but barely. His 13th place finish, though, gave him quite a bit more breathing room as we head towards Atlanta.

Jeff Green "" A good run for the Best Buy Chevy. Green came home 18th and was able to move up the #66 Chevy to 30th in owner points.

Terry Labonte "" The Ice Man keeps getting it done for the #96 team, and a brand new organization is getting exactly what they want from the previous champ as a result. Though not finishing near the front, Labonte is keeping his nose clean and finishing races, exactly what this team needed to stay above the cut line (currently 27th in owner points). Two more solid finishes, like today’s 25th place effort, should make things comfortable pointswise for Tony Raines when he takes over that car after Bristol.

Scott Riggs "" Having missed the Daytona 500, Riggs has clearly rebounded. His 28th place finish today helped move him ahead a couple more spots to 33rd in owner points as he continues climb out of the Top 35 battle.

Losers:
Drivers Who Didn’t Qualify: #95 Stanton Barrett, #00 Hermie Sadler, #37 Mike Skinner, #02 Brandon Ash, #89 Morgan Shepherd and #64 Randy LaJoie all failed to make Sunday’s field, along with the #74 of Derrike Cope, who withdrew when the team’s transporter broke down while heading towards the track. With a total of 2 starts between them out of a possible 21, it appears the chances of making the Top 35 this year are all but over for these teams.

Chad Chaffin "" Made his first race of the season, but scraped the wall and dropped out of the race early with engine problems, finishing 42nd. His 37 points didn’t even get the team up to the Top 45 in owner points, let alone the Top 35.

Kenny Wallace "" Trying to run the full season for Front Row Motorsports, Herman’s 38th place finish after running well off the pace most of the day did not help their fortunes.

Kevin Lepage "" The resurrection of the Hooters paint scheme did not work any magic for Lepage this week. Mechanical problems caused LePage to come home 37th and put a serious dent in his previously comfortable points position within the Top 35.

Sterling Marlin "" A new paint scheme did not help the cause with the Marlin/MB2 Motorsports team. An engine failure relegated Sterling to a 36th place finish, and dropped his team even further from the coveted 35th in owner points.

Travis Kvapil "" The Tide Ride continues to struggle. Kvapil was behind the wall early and struggled all day, ultimately finishing up 39th in the garage with electrical problems. Is Cal Wells going to be patient if the #32 starts missing races again? They’re well on their way to doing so…again.

On the bubble:

Pos. Owner/team Car # Points Points from 35th
30 Gene Haas 66 237 24
31 Doug Bawel 55 222 9
32 Chip Ganassi 41 219 6
33 James Rocco 10 216 3
34 Kyle Petty 45 215 2
35 BAM 49 213  

On the Outside Looking In:

Pos. Owner/team Car # Points Points from 35th
36 Felix Sabates 40 207 -6
37 Richard Petty 43 206 -7
38 Jeff Stec 61 203 -10
39 Nelson Bowers 14 183 -30
40 Cal Wells 32 164 -49
41 Larry McClure 4 138 -75
42 Nelson Bowers 136 111 -102
43 Kirk Shelmerdine 27 103 -110
44 Michael Anderson ‘00 99 -114
45 James Finch ‘09 91 -122

Living on last year’s success is about to come to an end for several teams, while dealing with last year’s failures is about to become a moot point for others. Time is running short, and for the teams on the outside looking in, they are going to have to get busy, or they’re going to have to make the races the old fashioned way…they’ll have to earn it.

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brad
03/13/2006 09:42 AM
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The biggest story in the “Non 35ers” is Robby Gordon! Now 14th in points and you didn’t mention him!.?..

Mike
03/13/2006 11:51 AM
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Sorry Brad. I didn’t mention Robby because he is so solidly in the points that he doesn’t have any danger of falling into the mix unless he fails to qualify in the next two weeks. His switch to DEI power has allowed him to show what he is capable of. I think he is going to be in the top 20 all year. Probably the top 15.

Nuggie
03/13/2006 01:44 PM
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I think the bubble goes a lot higher than 30th. There’s a 67 point spread from Nemechek down to Lepage. There’s lots of shuffling left to happen.

Mike
03/14/2006 06:39 AM
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Hey, Brad..I agree with you on that to some degree, but Mike is right here…no reason to mention Robby in the same breath as the others in the fight for the top 35..

If he keeps this up, it will be more along the lines of “Chase Contender”

and there are tracks coming up starting in May that he is VERY good at. Hell, last year he was top 5 at Michigan when his engine blew, Pocono was in the top 10 when Kaboom, the roadies…he’s good at Indy..basically the same stretch of race tracks that in 2003 vaulted him to 9th in the point standings somewhere a week or two before what is now the Chase cutoff…and with DEI engines..no more KABOOM!

On a side note..What will Napa and Toyota think when Waltrip is missing races?? and is Sterling Marlin REALLY that bad…isn’t that the same team with front row Joe and gets Hendrick motors?? Unreal

Mike
03/14/2006 06:46 AM
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yeah..Robby made his way up to tenth (not 9th) in 2003 after The Glen and was 10th after the next two races (Michigan & Bristol)..then with only 2 remaining before what would have been the chase cutoff had a terrible Darlington and Richmond…which he is considerably better at now..

 

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