On The Edge: The Fight For the Top 35 in Nextel Cup Owner Points · Mike Neff · Sunday June 25, 2006
As the battle for the Top 35 continues to heat up, the road course race in Infineon made sure to cool off the worries of one of the teams fighting to keep their head above water. Taking advantage of a fuel mileage gamble, Terry Labonte was able to bring the #96 car home in third place, a huge boost for the Hall of Fame racing team that should put them safely “locked in” to the field for a long time to come. Kyle Petty also soldiered home to a solid finish that gave a large shot in the arm to his Petty Enterprises effort. Meanwhile, Robby Gordon, Dave Blaney, and Ken Schrader all suffered significant blows to their Top 35 efforts through either crashes or mechanical failures.
Let’s take a look at who has cause to smile and frown after Infineon:
Of course, Terry Labonte was the most notable winner in the twists and turns of the Dodge / Savemart 350. Labonte used a fuel conservation strategy to get to the front late in the race, and while he was passed by Jeff Gordon for the lead with 22 laps to go, Labonte ran a solid second for a long time afterwards and ultimately finished third. Labonte’s first Top 5 since 2003 and the best ever finish for Hall of Fame Racing, the result propelled the #96 team up three positions in the owner standings to 27th.
Kyle Petty had an eventful day at Infineon. Petty had to run off the course to avoid the first lap dustup that took out three cars and wounded several other cars. He was then caught up in a wreck on lap 106 that resulted in him spinning Joe Nemechek, who had checked up to avoid J.J. Yeley's spinning car. Despite all that, Petty was able to survive and come home 21st, garnering 100 points and moving up three positions in the owner standings. The #45 Petty Enterprises team is now in 31st place.
Jeremy Mayfield put in a lunch pail performance on Sunday. Mayfield stayed out of harm’s way until lap 101, when he was involved in a two car spin with Bobby Labonte. For the rest of the day, Mayfield simply stayed on the asphalt to come home in 22nd place. The 97 points earned moved the Evernham Motorsports team up one spot in the standings to 32nd.
Finally, while not moving up any spots in the owner standings, Michael Waltrip was able to bring his NAPA car home in 23rd place. The 94 points that Waltrip secured moved the #55 team within two points of 36th place in the standings, and within 99 points of the Top 35. With Daytona on the horizon, if the Bill Davis Racing / Michael Waltrip racing team can make the show there is a very good possibility that they can make another big dent in their deficit and get back in a position for a “locked in” spot in the field. Waltrip also completed all 110 laps Sunday, adding to his record of most laps completed at Infineon in a stock car.
Robby Gordon was the biggest loser among the prerace favorites. Gordon is always a threat on road courses, but his day was cut short by a broken tie rod. The mechanical failure put Gordon out of a race that had already seen him spin and be bumped out of the groove more than once. His long day ended with a 40th place finish, and the 43 points earned by the #7 team cost them two positions in the standings; they are now in 30th place.
Neither Ken Schrader nor Sterling Marlin didn't have much of a race to speak of in Sonoma. Schrader lost it on lap one and slid sideways in the middle of the track. Unfortunately, he was gathered up by the front end of Marlin, with the hard impact knocking both cars out of the race without completing a single lap of the event. After finishing 41st and 42nd, respectively, Schrader and Marlin are 34th and 35th in owner points.
The road course ringers also had their share of struggles at Infineon. Scott Pruett, P.J. Jones, and Ron Fellows, driving for the 40, 4, and 32 teams respectively, had high hopes for good finishes entering the day. They were also all handed a tremendous opportunity with Schrader and Marlin’s early crash…however, all three had their own set of on track and off track problems, and none came home higher than 30th, ensuring their teams would continue to be locked outside the Top 35 entering the race at Daytona.
Meanwhile, Dave Blaney was also involved in the initial accident on the first lap of the race. He continued on, but mechanical gremlins caught up with the 22 car as he dropped out of the race on lap 79 with a broken drive shaft. Blaney was scored in 39th position, and the meager 46 points that Blaney earned put the #22 Bill Davis Racing team in 33rd in the owner standings, two spots behind where they started the day. The DNF for Blaney also ended what was the best active Nextel Cup streak of 33 races running at the finish.
Finally, J.J. Yeley’s rookie season continues to deteriorate after a strong start, as he was involved in two separate incidents during the race. On lap 40, Yeley spun off the track, but sustained no damage. Then, on lap 104 he was spun by Dale Earnhardt, Jr., causing a four car incident that ended the days of Yeley, Dale Jarrett, and Bobby Labonte. At one time safely out of reach of the Top 35 battle, the 18 team has now slipped to 28th in owner points, just 250 ahead of 36th place PPI Motorsports.
Here’s a look at where the Top 35 in owner points stand after Infineon:
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|
|40||Beth Ann Morgenthau||49||798||-467||-278|
With one of two road course races this season completed, the Nextel Cup circuit now heads to Daytona. So much of the outcome of that race is in the hands of the teams and the body shops, as making the event is all about the car and not about driver skill. Once the race begins, however, the drivers are in charge of their own destiny and, more importantly, the destiny of the other competitors. The "Big One" is always lurking, and there is no telling who will be involved. One thing is for sure, though, the teams from 36th on back that put themselves in position to conquer the obstacles and make the field on speed will have done it the old fashioned wayâ€¦..they'll have earned it.
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