The Frontstretch: Mayfield, Wimmer, Stremme Have Tough Jobs Still Ahead of Them After Texas by Mike Neff -- Sunday April 9, 2006

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Mayfield, Wimmer, Stremme Have Tough Jobs Still Ahead of Them After Texas

On the Edge : The Fight for the Top 35 in Nextel Cup Owner Points · Mike Neff · Sunday April 9, 2006


If the Texas tango at the front of the pack on Sunday wasn’t exciting enough, the battle for the Top 35 toward the back of the pack has gotten more intense than ever before. While Kasey Kahne, Tony Stewart, and Matt Kenseth battled up front, Bobby Labonte, Sterling Marlin, Michael Waltrip, and Jeremy Mayfield were among those trading paint behind the frontrunners, trying to avoid ending the day with their teams outside that Top 35 in owner points. This week was especially critical, as those drivers finding themselves driving for teams 36th on back would now have to sweat it out for two weeks, knowing they would have to qualify on speed when the series returns to action in Phoenix on April 22nd.

So, who found themselves breathing easy this Monday morning and who’s ready to have themselves a panic attack? Let’s check out the winners and losers in NASCAR’s “locked in” qualifying system after this week:

The Winners

Bobby Labonte was the big gainer in the race for the Top 35. Labonte started 10th and finished 10th, giving the 43 team their 2nd Top 10 finish in the last 3 races. That strong showing moved the #43 team up six spots in owner points to 30th, with a somewhat-comfortable 51 point lead over 36th.

The remaining winners Sunday were only able to improve their points position by one spot:

Ken Schrader moved from 32nd to 31st with his solid 16th place finish, pulling away to 47 points ahead of 36th place.

Jeff Green was able to leap frog one spot to 27th by virtue of his 18th place finish on the lead lap. Now 92 points and nine drivers ahead of 36th, his team can breathe easy for the time being.

Michael Waltrip also improved his lot in the standings from 35th to 34th by winding up 26th, three laps down. However, it was the fifth finish outside the Top 20 in seven races for the new team, and Waltrip was only able to remain 8 points ahead of that dreaded 36th spot.

Travis Kvapil moved to 40th in points by finishing 27th, three laps down. The finish was the best for the team since the Daytona 500, and gave the 32 team faint hope of getting back in the hunt for the Top 35; Kvapil’s team is now 185 points back of 35th.

The Losers

His team once solidly in the Top 25 in points, Kyle Petty was the biggest loser statistically at Texas, finishing 39th, out of the race with another engine failure for the #45 team. Petty dropped seven spots to 33rd in points, and now find themselves only 35 points ahead of 36th place.

Sterling Marlin, meanwhile, had an eventful day, off the pace for much of the race with an ill-handling car. To make matters worse, Marlin was accused of taking out Ryan Newman in a late-race crash that knocked the 12 car out of the race. He finished 30th on the day, six laps down, and the finish dropped Sterling two spots to 35th in the points. He is still locked into a starting position for at least one more race, but finds himself just 5 points ahead of that 36th spot.

Jeremy Mayfield, meanwhile, continues to struggle in 2006, and may have ended the race as the biggest loser of all. After making the Chase completely under the radar the last two seasons, little has gone right for Mayfield this year, as another terrible day with an ill-handling race car resulted in a 31st place finish, six laps off the pace. The ending position dropped the #19 team two spots in the standings to 36th, and they must now qualify in on time for the next race at Phoenix in two weeks. Sound easy? Not quite…it’s a race track Mayfield nearly needed a provisional for back in November, when the team qualified 39th while a part of the Chase. With about 50 entries expected for this year’s spring event, this Evernham team could be in big trouble.

Behind Mayfield, David Stremme, Kevin LePage, and Scott Wimmer made little headway in their quest to sneak back into the Top 35…all 3 drivers and their full-time teams still remain far outside of it, and their team must still qualify on speed at Phoenix.

Meanwhile, a team already far outside the Top 35, the 49 car, returned rookie Brent Sherman to the driver’s seat this week over veteran Jimmy Spencer, but it made no difference, as the team found themselves on the DNQ list for the second straight race.

On the Bubble:

Pos Owner Car # Points Points from 36th Points behind next position
25 Joe Gibbs 18 652 102 -5
26 Nelson Bowers 01 649 99 -3
27 Gene Haas 66 642 92 -7
28 Robby Gordon 7 637 87 -5
29 Bill Saunders 96 619 69 -18
30 Richard Petty 43 601 51 -18
31 Glen Wood 21 597 47 -4
32 Bill Davis 22 589 39 -8
33 Kyle Petty 45 585 35 -4
34 Doug Bawel 55 558 8 -27
35 Nelson Bowers 14 555 5 -3

On the outside looking in:

Pos Owner Car # Points Points from 36th Points behind next position
36 Ray Evernham 19 550   -5
37 Larry McClure 4 475 -75 -75
38 Felix Sabates 40 475 -75 0
39 Jeff Stec 61 436 -114 -39
40 Cal Wells 32 366 -184 -70
41 Beth Ann Morgenthau 49 358 -192 -8
42 Stanton Barrett 195 214 -336 -144
43 Brad Jenkins 34 196 -354 -18
44 Michael Anderson 00 186 -364 -10
45 Barney Visser 178 165 -385 -21

The Cup series now has a week off, so the teams on the outside looking in will have seven days to fret over what they have to do to make their cars fast enough to qualify. As we head to Phoenix, a track that tends to put a premium on driver ability, Mayfield, Scott Wimmer, David Stremme, Kevin Lepage, Travis Kvapil, and Brent Sherman will have to get in the old fashioned way"¦they’ll have to earn it.

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