The Frontstretch: Marlin Pulls Out of Danger, Schrader in Jeopardy of Having to Qualify On Speed by Mike Neff -- Sunday July 16, 2006

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Marlin Pulls Out of Danger, Schrader in Jeopardy of Having to Qualify On Speed

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
26 Gene Haas 66 1738 245 -37
27 Joe Gibbs 18 1736 243 -2
28 Bill Saunders 96 1721 228 -15
29 Robby Gordon 7 1709 216 -12
30 Bill Davis 22 1621 128 -88
31 Nelson Bowers ‘01 1614 121 -7
32 Kyle Petty 45 1571 78 -43
33 Nelson Bowers 14 1556 63 -15
34 Ray Evernham 19 1555 62 -1
35 Glen Wood 21 1506 13 -49

On the Outside Looking In:

Pos Owner Car # Points Points from 35th Points behind next position
36 Felix Sabates 40 1493 -13 -13
37 Cal Wells 32 1351 -155 -142
38 Doug Bawel 55 1343 -163 -8
39 Larry McClure 4 1271 -235 -72
40 Beth Ann Morgenthau 49 927 -579 -344
41 Jeff Stec 61 882 -624 -45
42 Barney Visser 178 735 -771 -147
43 Brad Jenkins 34 559 -947 -176
44 Stanton Barrett 195 514 -992 -45
45 Raynard McGlynn 74 318 -1188 -196

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 way….. they'll earn it.

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07/17/2006 02:34 PM

Here is a crazy goes against all-things-being-NASCAR but I’ll throw it out there anyway. How about, and stay with me for a minute on this about the fastest guys race every week? I know, I know..your thinking “What a crazy concept…why on earth would we want the fastest 43 cars racing when we can have the same 35 drivers, regardless of their qualifying speeds plus 7 guys actually racing to get in on speed”. Hey, I know, its a completely crazy idea that would never work..wouldn’t it just save a bit of time if we just had everyone below the 35 top spots qualify that way we can wrap up qualifying in about 20 minutes? When you really think about it the “Top 35” rule is basically to protect NASCARs interest to always have the main guys in the race. The only ones that really are affected by this rule are the smaller, underfunded teams or the teams that are running a limited schedule. Sure there are a couple of names there that make you wonder but when you look who they are driving for it makes sense as to why they are there. Odd thing though with this silly “Top 35” concept is how often under the old way of qualifying did any big name/big team driver get knocked out of a race due to low times? Can’t imagine all that much…

07/17/2006 03:25 PM

Here’s the problem with having the fastest 43 qualifiers in the race, what if the points leader wrecks on his first lap? Then the man leading the points would have to watch the race on Sunday, is that fair? I think the locked in number is way too high, it should be more like the top 25.

07/18/2006 12:42 PM

Trent, I’m not sure I see the problem as what your saying is that if the guy that is 36 in points wrecks on his first lap its o.k for him to go home just by virtue of his standing in the points while the points leader wrecks on his first lap as well still gets to race? Not all that fair when you think about it. What your rewarding with the “Top 35” program isn’t speed.(which it should when it comes to racing), but consistancy.

07/18/2006 10:03 PM

The thing about the top 35 is that NASCAR wants to reward the teams who are loyal to the sport and show up on a weekly basis. I agree that 35 is too big of a number. I would like to see 25 at the most. I actually think just 10 would be great. It would make the entire Chase concept even more prevalent than it already is. I don’t see a problem with getting in on speed but NASCAR sponsors put in too much money to have a team at risk of not making races on a weekly basis. Yes it feeds on itself and the teams that have less will have a tougher time luring sponsors, but those teams that are consistent and make the top 35 can use that as a selling point for potential sponsors.

07/18/2006 11:31 PM

Chris, let’s take a look at Dover from earlier this year. POINTS LEADER Jimmie Johnson spun out coming out of turn 4 on his first qualifying lap and had to use his provisional to get in the race. JJ eventually finished 6th that day. Are you telling me that it would be perfectly fine to send a driver with a 6th place car home? The man who was 35th in points at that time was Michael Waltrip, he qualified 32nd and finished 33rd. I think it would be a lot easier to cope with a 33rd place car going home as opposed to a 6th place car.

07/19/2006 01:28 PM

Trent, Qualifying is part of the racing package..just as a bad pit stop can ruin your day so can a bad qualifying run. To be fair it has to be across the matter who’s the points leader or who’s at the bottom of the chart. Sponsors pay to get their name on a 35th in point car just as they do to be on a top-10 in points car. The problem is that NASCAR has now made it so the majority of teams are safe throughout the season as far as getting in all the races and probably just for the reasons you site Mike, to make sure the sponsors are happy. The problem with that is of course the more NASCAR caters to the all-mighty-dollar the more racing becomes a shell of its former self. Using Trent’s example under ye’ old method the worst Jimmie would have done is taken a provisional to get into the race at Dover which is exactly what happened. Lets be realistic here, the chances of Jimmie not being in a race under any method is slim to none. They, like alot of teams are good at what they do and don’t really need the safety net of the “Top-35” rule. The teams that would be nervous about going away with the “Top-35” rule would be the guys from say 20 to 35. These are the teams most likely to be affected as they have shown by the points placement to not be consistant. This is why I don’t think it to be necessary to even have the top-10 be guaranteed a spot in the race as the chances of them not being in a race is pretty remote. With or without a program to give the top-10 a guaranteed spot those guys will be in the show.


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