On the Edge: The Fight For the Top 35 in Nextel Cup Owner Points · Mike Neff · Sunday July 16, 2006
Summer in New Hampshire is a time of year when many tourists flock to the area. The weather is generally nice, the climate is temperate, and NASCAR racing can be heard far across the grassy hills. The tight confines and multiple grooves of the New Hampshire International Speedway result in close quarters, bent fenders, and crumpled emotions on the track. For the teams competing for the Top 35 in Cup owner points, the competition was intense, and the strategy calls were stressful. It may not show in the stats sheet, but the jockeying for position among these men was at times more intense than the racing up front. Even though there wasn't much movement from 25th through 45th in owner points, the races between each position are tightening up, especially the one for that 35th and final spot in the “locked in” portion of the standings.
Here were the Top 35 Winners and Losers from New Hampshire:
With his No. 14 MB2 Motorsports Chevrolet entering Sunday 35th in owner points, Sterling Marlin was the big winner in Loudon. Marlin ran decently throughout the race and finished in 16th place, giving the team 115 points and moving them up two spots from the dreaded 35th position up to 33rd. Marlin has been soldiering through a difficult season, to say the least, so this finish will certainly give some much needed confidence to the team.
J.J. Yeley also had a very good run at New Hampshire. He started 20th and steadily raced towards the front, ultimately finishing 12th. The 127 points garnered by the #18 Joe Gibbs race team moved them up one spot in the points to 27th and only two points behind 26th place.
Right behind Yeley in 13th place was Dave Blaney, another member of the Top 35 watch group that had a great race this week. Blaney rubbed a few fenders along the way, but ran in the Top 10 for a portion of the race and earned his final spot in the finishing order. The result gave the team 124 points and moved them up one spot to 30th in the owner standings.
Although he didn't move up any positions in the standings, David Stremme also had an outstanding day at Loudon. After posting the 4th fastest time in Happy Hour practice, Stremme backed up his time by bringing the No. 40 Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates car home in 11th place in the race, a career high for Stremme in Nextel Cup. With some misfortune ahead of him in the standings, Stremme's team is now only 13 points behind the desired 35th and “locked in” position in the standings, the best position his team has been in since March.
The big loser of the weekend was Ken Schrader. Although Schrader was running at the finish, he was involved in a couple of incidents during the day, completing the race four laps down in 34th place. Schrader's difficulties dropped him one spot in the standings to the dangerous 35th and final “locked in” position. More troublesome is that Stremme's good run means Schrader is only 13 points ahead of the 36th place points contender.
Joe Nemechek was another big loser on the weekend. After putting together a Top 10 run, he was involved in a wreck with Brian Vickers on lap 201 and crashed into the turn four wall. The resulting damage put him out of the race and caused the #01 MB2 Motorsports Army car to come home in 41st. The 40 points earned for that finish dropped them one position to 31st in owner points.
Finally, Jeremy Mayfield had another good day go bad at the end as he ran out of fuel during the “overtime” period of the race. He was able to get the car going again, but was two laps down by the checkered flag and ended up in 29th spot. The 76 points earned for that effort dropped the No. 19 Evernham Motorsports entry one spot to 34th in owner points; they now find themselves only 49 points 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|
|40||Beth Ann Morgenthau||49||927||-579||-344|
As the summer moves along, the temperatures will only get hotter along with the Nextel Cup competition. Next week, the teams head to Pocono, where they will find a completely different race track compared to the one they raced on in June thanks to the scorching summer temperatures that always seem to be present on the second trip to the big triangle. With only 141 points separating 30th through 36th, pressure is certainly picking up in the Top 35 points race; with a big entry list at Indy looming in three weeks, those 36th on back do not want to face the pressure of qualifying for the Brickyard 400. Heading to the heat hidden within the Pennsylvania Mountains, it will be the teams that stand strong in the hot weather which will be the ones that prosper. No matter what, teams that are able to make gains before we take a week off will do it the old fashioned wayâ€¦.. they'll earn it.
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