The Frontstretch: On the Edge: The Fight For the Top 35 in Nextel Cup Owner Points by Mike Neff -- Sunday April 2, 2006

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Another fantastic weekend of short track racing at Martinsville has now come and gone. Fortunately, we didn’t have to hear too much about the bump and run. No one threw any safety equipment or accosted anyone on pit road. Everyone went home with some kind of tire marks or damaged sheet metal. Just another good old fashioned stock car race at the oldest speedway on the circuit.

The first weekend of utilizing the 2006 owner points didn’t have any large implications, but qualifying did result in the first missed race for a team that has competed in the first five races of the season. The dramatic swings in points positions are beginning to settle down now that we are up to the sixth race of the season, but the race to remain in the Top 35 remains incredibly competitive. Let’s take a look at how the points fell.

The Winners

This week’s big winner in the battle for the Top 35 was Scott Riggs. His team came into the week in the perilous 35th position in owner points, but Riggs 10th place finish in the race gave him a huge boost. His first Top 10 finish of the season, Riggs was able to move his team up five positions to 30th in points. The #10 group is now 53 points ahead of 36th place, and can breathe a little easier heading to Texas.

Sterling Marlin also made a strong move up in the points this week. A 14th place finish in the DirectTV 500 moved Marlin up three spots in the points to 33rd. He is now locked in for the race next week in Texas.

Despite going behind the wall for brake problems at one point, Scott Wimmer ended up with a solid points day in the race at Martinsville. While only finishing 28th in the race, Wimmer was able to move up two spots in owner points to 37th. The #4 team is now 77 points away from being “locked in” to the field.

The Losers

Robby Gordon was the big loser this week. Getting caught up in a second lap incident caused his engine to spin backwards when his car was turned around, and the resulting damage caused the engine to expire under the ensuing caution period. His 43rd place finish resulted in a seven position drop in the points to 27th. Gordon is still solidly within the Top 35, but the #7 team cannot afford another weekend like this one at Texas.

Meanwhile, Bobby Labonte was unable to continue the good luck the team experienced at Bristol. After starting the day off competitively, Labonte had to go to the garage for repairs to his rear end. Both Labonte and Kyle Petty had a similar problem during the race. Labonte was running at the end, but was 71 laps down and ended up 32nd. The finish dropped Bobby four positions, and he is now on the outside looking in at the Top 35 in 36th place. Fortunately, he does have the past champion’s provisional to fall back on.

Ken Schrader caused Little Debbie to lose her smile by the end of the day at Martinsville. Schrader started the day off running quite well. The #21 was in the Top 15 early in the race. Unfortunately, the oil temperature on the car was running high, and the engine began to smoke. The car was parked after 164 laps, sending Schrader to a 40th place finish. The #21 team dropped three spots in owner’s points to 32nd, now just 15 points ahead of 36th.

Travis Kvapil was a driver on the outside looking in unable to capitalize on making the race at Martinsville. Kvapil quckly smacked the wall on the 13th lap of the race. The team was able to repair the car, but it was not competitive, and Travis ended up 97 laps down in 34th. The #32 team is still in 41st position in points, 189 points out of 35th.

As for notable DNQs this weekend, Jimmy Spencer was not able to make the race on speed while subbing for Brent Sherman. It was a tough blow for the #49 team, who had hoped that putting the veteran into the seat on a track where he had run well in the past might help them out. The hope was that his experience might allow them the opportunity to race their way in on speed…but it didn’t happen. They didn’t lose any spots in owner points, but they are now 146 points out of 35th place. It could be a long, tough season for the #49 team and their rookie driver.

Also, after a solid start to the season Kevin Lepage also failed to qualify for the race at Martinsville. The miss cost the #61 team two spots in the standings, and they are now 104 points out of 35th position.

On the Bubble:

Pos Owner Car # Points Points from 35th Points behind next
25 Nelson Bowers 01 555 82 -22
26 Kyle Petty 45 539 66 -16
27 Robby Gordon 7 534 61 -5
28 Gene Haas 66 528 55 -6
29 Bill Saunders 96 528 55 0
30 James Rocco 10 520 47 -8
31 Bill Davis 22 513 40 -7
32 Glen Wood 21 482 9 -31
33 Nelson Bowers 14 482 9 0
34 Ray Evernham 19 480 7 -2
35 Doug Bawel 55 473 0 -7

On the Outside Looking In:

Pos Owner Car # Points Points from 35th Points behind next
36 Richard Petty 43 467 -6 -6
37 Larry McClure 4 396 -77 -71
38 Felix Sabates 40 375 -98 -21
39 Jeff Stec 61 369 -104 -6
40 Beth Ann Morgenthau 49 327 -146 -42
41 Cal Wells 32 284 -189 -43
42 Stanton Barrett 195 195 -278 -89
43 Michael Anderson 00 186 -287 -9
44 Brad Jenkins 34 174 -299 -12
45 Teresa Earnhardt 15 147 -326 -27

The technically challenging Martinsville Speedway is now in the rearview mirror, and we are now off to Texas, putting us back to downforce and racing that is more about the car than the driver. With qualifying now tilting back towards the hands of the crew chief, Scott Wimmer, David Stremme, Kevin Lepage, Brent Sherman, Travis Kvapil and others must hope their crews can fine tune their cars to be just fast enough. There is no doubt now how they’ll need to get in the race next week…they’ll have to earn it.

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