The Frontstretch: On the Edge: The Fight For the Top 35 in Nextel Cup Owner Points by Mike Neff -- Sunday May 14, 2006

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The Lady in Black or the Track to Tough to Tame: whatever moniker you choose, Darlington lived up to the billing. No less than 25 cars left the track with a Darlington stripe Saturday night, and while there was only one serious wreck, the oldest speedway on the circuit once again proved extremely difficult for all of the contestants. For those hanging on the edge of the Top 35 in points, many fell victim to the challenges Saturday night racing at Darlington can present.

Let’s take a look at the winners and losers from the weekend:

Winners

The big winner in the battle for the Top 35 this week was Robby Gordon. The #7 team ran well for most of the evening, and Gordon’s 13th place finish moved him up four positions to 29th in the owner standings. While a top 15 finish was certainly a positive, Gordon felt like the team had a top 10 car and was actually disappointed with the finish.

Closer towards the bubble, Kyle Petty and Ken Schrader both moved up one position in the Top 35 with decent runs. Schrader came home 15th and Petty crossed the line in 18th, moving them up to 31st and 33rd in points, respectively.

A bit further ahead, Martin Truex rode a solid finish of 14th to advance three positions in the standings. His good finish moved him out of the battle for 35th and into 22nd in points.

Another driver who moved his way out of the battle for 35th, albeit barely, was Reed Sorenson. His strong 11th place finish gained him up two spots in the owner’s standings. Sorenson is tied with JJ Yeley and Jeff Green for 23rd in points, but slots in 24th based on tie breakers.

Finally, on the wrong side of the bubble, while Michael Waltrip didn’t advance any positions, he was able to gain 9 points on Jeremy Mayfield by virtue of finishing three spots ahead of him in Darlington, although both experienced problems (Mayfield had suspension issues while Waltrip’s engine went sour).

Losers

The biggest loser of the week was Scott Riggs. Riggs was simply bad all night, nursing an ill-handling car to 31st place. That result moved the #10 Evernham motorsports team down to 26th in points and back within range of the Top 35.

The other two drivers to lose big this week were Sterling Marlin and Dave Blaney. Marlin had to start at the rear of the field due to an engine change. The night never got any better, and the #14 finished three laps down in 28th. The finish dropped Marlin three positions to 34th in points. Meanwhile, Blaney was able to lead a lap, but the rest of the night didn’t go quite so swimmingly. Blaney’s Caterpillar car came home 27th, just ahead of Sterling Marlin and also three laps down. The five bonus points were not enough to keep the #22 team from falling three spots to 32nd in points.

On the Bubble:

Pos Owner Car # Points Points from 36th Points behind next position
25 Gene Haas 66 1053 237  
26 James Rocco 10 1044 228 -9
27 Bill Saunders 96 1019 203 -25
28 Richard Petty 43 1007 191 -12
29 Robby Gordon 7 991 175 -16
30 Nelson Bowers ‘01 988 172 -3
31 Glen Wood 21 982 166 -6
32 Bill Davis 22 962 146 -20
33 Kyle Petty 45 958 142 -4
34 Nelson Bowers 14 951 135 -7
35 Ray Evernham 19 880 64 -71

On the outside looking in:

Pos Owner Car # Points Points from 35th Points behind next position
36 Doug Bawel 55 816   -64
37 Larry McClure 4 772 -108 -44
38 Felix Sabates 40 764 -116 -8
39 Cal Wells 32 727 -153 -37
40 Jeff Stec 61 610 -270 -117
41 Beth Ann Morgenthau 49 557 -323 -53
42 Barney Visser 178 385 -495 -172
43 Stanton Barrett 195 374 -506 -11
44 Brad Jenkins 34 350 -530 -24
45 Michael Anderson ‘00 208 -672 -142

For most of the people in the garage area, the prospect of two weeks at home is a beautiful thing. A non-points race this week certainly changes the focus around the race shops, with the winner take all format taking off the pressure of running for a championship, or trying to qualify if you are on the outside looking in. However, for those teams that are on the outside, it also means two weeks to fret over how to turn things around. Add to that a new racing surface at Charlotte and a tire that most competitors are comparing to granite, and the sales of Pepcid in the Mooresville, NC area are going to go up significantly. One thing is for sure, the people who are able to overcome the obstacles and make a gain in the race for 35th will do it the old fashioned way"¦..they’ll earn it.

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