On the Edge: The Battle For the Top 35 in Nextel Cup Points · Mike Neff · Sunday July 23, 2006
The summer countryside around Pocono Raceway may have been silent and peaceful, but the big triangle track in the mountains once again found itself a hotbed for controversy. Not only were drivers penalized for rough driving during the race, but a car was actually disqualified during post-qualifying inspection and booted from the race. Chad Chaffin was the first car in years to actually be removed from the race after qualifying 38th and then failing post-qualification technical inspection, giving fellow underdog team Furniture Row Racing an opportunity to sneak into the starting field.
Meanwhile, Michael “Fatback” McSwain was back on the pit box for the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford, producing immediate results that kept driver Ken Schrader above water at the best possible time. Robby Gordon also had a great run to move up in the points, while Jeff Green and Kyle Petty both had bad days and lost positions.
Let's look at the Winners and Losers in this week’s Top 35 Watch:
Ken Schrader proved once again that Michael "Fatback" McSwain can consistently produce results. After slipping to 35th in points last week, the Wood Brothers made a switch and put McSwain on the pit box as Schrader's crew chief. The results were immediate, as Schrader was 15th in the race; he even led a lap. His 123 point day moved him up three spots in the owner's rankings into a tie for 32nd in points. Most importantly for Schrader, he’s well clear for the bubble…for now.
Robby Gordon was also one of the big winners at Pocono. Gordon overcame a late race flat tire to come home 13th, with his 124 point effort gained him two positions in the owner's standings to 27th.
After slipping last week with a bad run at New Hampshire, J.J. Yeley brought the #18 Joe Gibbs Interstate Batteries Chevy home in 11th place. That finish and the associated 130 points moved the team up one spot to 26th in the owner standings.
Finally, Sterling Marlin had a difficult day because of brake failure on the No. 14 MB2 Ginn Clubs and Resorts Chevrolet. Even though he had to struggle with a car that did not want to stop, he still soldiered home to a 30th place result, and the 73 points the team earned for that finish bumped them up a spot to a tie for 32nd in the owner's rankings.
Jeff Green struggled with an ill-handling race car all day at Pocono. The No. 66 Haas Automation/Best Buy car was only able to garner a 35th place result, and the 58 points associated with the finish dropped the team three spots in the owner standings to 29th.
Kyle Petty had the vicious wreck of the day on lap 67, cutting a right front tire and slamming into the first turn wall. The No. 45 team thrashed for all they were worth and were able to get the car back on the track. Their perseverance paid off as Petty was able to pass Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and come home in 42nd place. The 37 points earned for that result caused the No. 45 Petty Enterprises entry to drop two positions in owner points to 34th, now dangerously close to David Stremme’s team coming hard in the 36th spot.
Jeremy Mayfield had a long day at Pocono. The #19 Evernham Motorsports Dodge Dealers UAW Dodge was never competitive; they lost a lap during a long green flag run in the middle of the race and never recovered. The team eventually finished 37th in the race. They garnered 52 points for that finish and are now back to 35th in owner points, only 38 points out of 36th and the dreaded need to qualify on speed.
Chad Chaffin, meanwhile, was given the dubious honor of being the first car to be completely disqualified from an event in recent history for failing post-qualifying inspection. The team had posted the 38th fastest time in the session when it was discovered the car was too low for NASCAR’s liking. As a result, the team was removed from the race and Jimmy Spencer was allowed to start in their stead. This is an interesting precedent that NASCAR has set, so let's see what happens when one of the big name teams comes in too low in the near future. NASCAR will have a hard time explaining not throwing that team out of the race.
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||988||-619||-332|
The Nextel Cup circuit now moves on to their final week off during the season. For the teams and owners on the outside looking in, it is simply an extra week to sweat over the nuances of making their cars go fast on the flat 2.5 mile oval that is Indianapolis Motor Speedway. There is no doubt that Indy can be a bear of a track to get a handle on, and with one of the biggest entry lists of the year expected, getting into the race on speed will be harder than perhaps any other race left this year. The one thing that is for sure, the teams who figure it out and sneak in the Indy field will do it the old fashioned wayâ€¦they'll earn it.
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