On the Edge: The Fight For the Top 35 in Nextel Cup Owner Points · Mike Neff · Sunday April 23, 2006
A night in the Phoenix desert provided quite a few interesting storylines within the teams battling for the Top 35 in owner points. There were several instances of the old chrome horn invoked, and tempers were flaring under red flag conditions. Best of all, there was a long green flag run to end the race that brought fuel mileage into question for the first time in a long time and jumbled up the final running order.
With that said, here’s a look at this week’s winners and losers for the teams battling for those final spots in the coveted Top 35:
Bobby Labonte was the big winner this week. Although the #43 team started 21st, they adjusted the car early and were solidly in the Top 15 for most of the race. Their eighth place finish was their second top 10 in a row, third in the last four races, and moved them up six positions in the points to 25th, almost climbing out of our watch as they move 148 points ahead of 36th.
Sterling Marlin, meanwhile, posted his best finish of the season, ending up in 12th place and moving up to 31st in owner points with his MB2 Motorsports Team. Starting in 16th, the Waste Management team was able to run in the Top 15 for most of the race, a first for the team this year. Running for an organization that has Hendrick horsepower and a strong plate program, the #14 team is looking forward to Talladega next weekend and another finish that will move them further up the points ladder.
Tony Raines has hit the ground running for Hall of Fame racing. After being giftwrapped a Top 35 points position by Terry Labonte, Raines has run solidly in his first three races. Finishes of 21st, 24th and 17th are just what this startup organization needs, ad Raines is keeping his nose clean and racing within his limits. His 17th place finish this week moved the #96 team up two positions in the point standings to 27th.
Kenny Wallace made his third race of the year for the Furniture Row Racing team, and made the most of it, bringing home his best result of the year with a 25th. While still buried in 43rd position in the points, 382 out of the Top 35, it was still a positive weekend for the team.
Finally, while having an uninspiring 26th place run, troubles of other drivers lifted Jeremy Mayfield back into the Top 35, albeit 35th in the standings, 40 ahead of the 36th.
Michael Waltrip was the biggest loser this weekend by far. For this first time in several races, he had a decent car, but was tapped from behind by Kyle Petty and wrecked coming out of Turn 4. The damage relegated Waltrip to 42nd in the final rundown, and he dropped to 36th in owner points, 40 out of the Top 35 and forced to qualify on speed at Talladega. Having needed a “provisional” to make the field the last 2 races, with just the 43rd best time at Daytona 500 qualifying to his credit, next week could be a nightmare for the 55 team.
Scott Riggs was another loser, bringing out the third caution flag of the race with a crash exiting Turn 2. The car suffered significant nose damage, damage that only got further aggravated during a second crash that brought out the seventh caution flag of the race. While he was still running at the finish, Riggs came home 38th, dropping the team to 28th in points and back on the Top 35 watch.
Joe Nemechek’s run of bad racing luck continued during the Subway Fresh 500, getting caught up in a multi-car crash on lap 99. To the #01 team’s credit, they were able to repair the front end damage and Nemechek was able to rejoin the race on lap 123, allowing him to run at the finish for the 40th consecutive race. Despite that small victory, though, the 35th place finish dropped the Army team four spots in the points standings to 30th, just 112 out of 36th.
Finally, Robby Gordon had a bad flashback to the 2005 season. For the second time in three races, he suffered an engine failure on lap 116, dropping him to 41st. While the switch to DEI power has certainly helped with Gordon’s effort this year, the failure cost the #7 team four spots in the standings where they are now 32nd in points, 82 ahead of 36th.
On the Bubble:
|Pos||Owner||Car #||Points||Points from 36th||Points behind next position|
On the Outside Looking In:
|Pos||Owner||Car #||Points||Points from 35th||Points behind next position|
|41||Beth Ann Morgenthau||49||425||-210||-33|
While some of the older veterans (Labonte, Schrader and Marlin) are starting to look like they may be hitting their stride with their new teams, some of the new combinations (Waltrip, Stremme, and Wimmer) are still struggling to have the solid runs needed to move up into the comfort zone of the point standings. With the wildcard that is Talladega on the horizon, there will no doubt be some sleepless nights for some in the coming week. With qualifying completely in the hands of the fab and engine shops, there will be one thing for certain for all of the teams on the outside looking in. To make the race, they’ll have to do it the old fashioned way"¦..they’ll have to earn it.
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