On the Edge: The Battle For the Top 35 in Nextel Cup Points · Mike Neff · Monday July 10, 2006
The Windy City didn’t just blow an ill wind on Matt Kenseth Sunday afternoon; several teams battling for the Top 35 in owner points suffered as well. In fact, the chill through the back half of the garage area started on Friday as it always does, when several of the teams in the battle were sent home after failing to qualify for the race, including the No. 49 BAM Motorsports Dodge with Kevin LePage, as well as both Front Row Motorsports teams (the #34 and #61).
Unfortunately, making the event didn't help some of the other teams much, as teams on the bubble like the Wood Brothers No. 21 with Ken Schrader and the No. 14 MB2 Motorsports Chevrolet with Sterling Marlin finished well down in the running order. Meanwhile, there were some teams who ran well enough to improve their standings in the owner battle and give themselves some breathing room. J.J. Yeley, Bobby Labonte, and Dave Blaney were among those drivers who impressed, as well as outside looking in driver David Stremme, who continues to bring the 40 team ever closer to 35th spot.
As always, here’s a closer look at the Winners and Losers from the Top 35 battle this weekend:
Dave Blaney was the big winner of the day, moving his team up three positions to 31st in owner points. It ended up being an eventful day for Blaney, who went a lap down early but eventually received the Lucky Dog pass on lap 200, giving him an opportunity he clearly made the most of. Battling forward the rest of the event, Blaney took the checkered flag in 17th place, tying his best run of the season and giving the No. 22 Bill Davis Racing Team 112 much needed points.
After three finishes outside the Top 30, J.J. Yeley bounced back to score his second Top 10 and fifth Top 15 finish of the season. Yeley started 10th, and ran consistently in the Top 20 most of the day. He slipped to the back of the Top 20 a couple of times during the race, but rebounded to the Top 10 by lap 220 and stayed there the remainder of the event. The 134 points accumulated by the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team moved them up two positions in the standings to 28th.
Bobby Labonte started a strong sixth in the No. 43 Cheerios Dodge and stayed in the Top 10 for most of the race, eventually finishing 12th. It was the sixth top 15 finish for Labonte, and his 132 points, including the five point bonus for leading a lap, moved the team up two spots to 25th and out of the watch group for the battle for the Top 35.
Despite being replaced by Scott Pruett for the road course race at Infineon, David Stremme has quietly been putting together a string of solid finishes in the No. 40 Chip Ganassi Dodge after a season of struggles. A 21st at Chicagoland marked Stremme’s third straight result in the Top 25, and he has now helped bring the 40 team to within 78 points of that 35th and final “locked in” spot.
Finally, while not moving any positions in the points, other drivers having good days on Sunday were Robby Gordon and Jeremy Mayfield. They finished 19th and 24th, respectively, to keep their heads above water and their spots “locked in” for yet another week.
Kenny Schrader was the biggest loser of the day, having issues during the race’s midpoint and fallling four laps off the pace. He was never able to make any of the laps up, and with next to no attrition on the day, found himself relegated to a 42nd place finish. The 37 points accumulated for that run dropped the #21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford two spots to 34th in the owner points, dangerously close to being knocked out.
Tony Raines also had a difficult day that was culminated by a spin through the grass on the backstretch on lap 200. He ended the race three laps down to the leaders in 40th position, and the resulting 43 points dropped the #96 Hall of Fame Racing entry two spots to 27th in the standings.
Joe Nemechek was another driver whose fortunes were dealt an ill wind in Chicago. Nemechek dropped off of the lead lap before the race was 80 laps old, and finished the race two laps behind despite usually having a knack for getting around these types of tracks. The 64 points that the #01 MB2 Motorsports team scored for their 33rd place finish dropped them two spots in the owner's standings to 30th.
Lastly, Kyle Petty had another long day behind the wheel of his #45 Petty Enterprises Dodge. He started 33rd, but never really moved forward the rest of the day. His highest placement during the race was 27th, and he took the checkered flag in 28th place. Those 79 points dropped the #45 team one spot to 32nd in the owner standings, ever closer to being dropped out of a “locked in” spot if they’re not careful.
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||854||-587||-314|
The nomadic circus that is the Nextel Cup Series now heads to Loudon, New Hampshire, for the Lenox Industrial Tools 300. The flat track at Loudon lends itself more to driver skill than the “cookie cutter” track of Chicagoland, and with a low entry list, the competition will be fierce at the back of the pack to avoid what will only be a select few cars going home early. There is no doubt, though, that the teams that improve their positions next weekend will do it the old-fashioned wayâ€¦they'll earn it.
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