The Frontstretch: Pruett Pushes Ganassi Further Up Top 35 Ladder by Mike Neff -- Sunday August 13, 2006

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Pruett Pushes Ganassi Further Up Top 35 Ladder

On the Edge: The Battle For the Top 35 In Nextel Cup Owner Points · Mike Neff · Sunday August 13, 2006


Road course racing can be as much of a wild card as any other type of track on the circuit, more than even the restrictor plate venues. The twists and turns of the course, the mechanical reliability of the cars, and pit strategy are all guaranteed to come into play, making or breaking a team's day.

At Watkins Glen, it was Chip Ganassi’s No. 40 team with road course ringer Scott Pruett that made sure those breaks helped them more than any other team on the bubble, cementing their place within the Top 35 for weeks to come. Meanwhile, MB2 Motorsports found that the only break that went their way came in the form of messed up parts and pieces for drivers Sterling Marlin and Joe Nemechek.

Here’s a more detailed look at the winners and losers within the Top 35 battle Sunday :

The big winner of the day was Scott Pruett. Despite David Stremme bringing the team back to 35th in owner points and a “locked in” spot in the standings, Ganassi Racing made the choice to put road course ringer Pruett in the seat once again for Watkins Glen. This time, Pruett was able to stay out of trouble during the race, unlike Sonoma, and brought the No. 40 car home in a solid sixth place. The 150 points the team earned for the day was enough to move them up three positions in the standings to 32nd, meaning that in the last two weeks, the No. 40 has now moved from 36th to 32nd in points. Impressive.

Robby Gordon was the other big winner at Watkins Glen in the battle for 35th. Always known as a great road racer, Gordon lived up to his reputation and brought the No. 7 car home in fourth place. That finish comes with 160 points, and moved the No. 7 Robby Gordon Motorsports team up two positions in the standings to 26th and out of harm’s way.

As has been the case all too often this season, Sterling Marlin lost the most in the Top 35 battle this week. Marlin was caught up in a multi-car wreck on lap 63 of the race, and the crash resulted in a 39th place finish for the #14 MB2 Motorsports team. Earning just 46 points, the team dropped two positions in the standings, and they are now on the bubble in 35th place.

Terry Labonte had a horrible day at the Glen, breaking a rear end on lap 3. The team spent the time to repair the car and get Texas Terry back on the track, but Labonte finished the race nine laps down. The 52 points awarded for the 37th place finish dropped the No. 96 Hall of Fame Racing entry one spot in the standings to 27th.

Afer a last lap wreck shattered a solid finish, J.J. Yeley finished the day in 33rd, one lap down, dropping the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Team one slot to 28th in the owner standings. Yeley has only run a handful of road races; he kept his nose clean all day, but was unable to finish strong when push came to shove.

Ken Schrader was another driver who logged the miles at the Glen and just ended up near the back of the pack. The #21 Wood Brothers team finished the race in 34th place, one lap down. The 61 points that are awarded for that finish caused the team to slip one spot in the standings to 33rd.

Lastly, Bill Elliott took over the 19 car for struggling Jeremy Mayfield this week on an interim basis, but did nothing to convince owner Ray Evernham he should rip that label off anytime soon. Elliott ended up in the sand trap at one point during the event, and never seemed to get the handle right on the car; he finished a disappointing 27th, and the team remained outside the Top 35 in owner points.

On The Bubble:

Pos Owner Car # Points Points from 36th Points behind next position
26 Robby Gordon 7 2051 322 -5
27 Bill Saunders 96 2003 274 -48
28 Joe Gibbs 18 1991 262 -12
29 Gene Haas 66 1963 234 -28
30 Robert Ginn ‘01 1859 130 -104
31 Bill Davis 22 1855 126 -4
32 Felix Sabates 40 1828 99 -27
33 Glen Wood 21 1811 82 -17
34 Kyle Petty 45 1768 39 -43
35 Robert Ginn 14 1745 16 -23

On The Outside Looking In:

Pos Owner Car # Points Points from 35th Points behind next position
36 Ray Evernham 19 1729 -16 -16
37 Cal Wells 32 1588 -157 -141
38 Larry McClure 4 1516 -229 -72
39 Doug Bawel 55 1474 -271 -42
40 Beth Ann Morgenthau 49 1041 -704 -433
41 Jeff Stec 61 987 -758 -54
42 Barney Visser 178 890 -855 -97
43 Brad Jenkins 34 670 -1075 -220
44 Stanton Barrett 195 514 -1231 -156
45 Teresa Earnhardt 15 406 -1339 -108

The road courses for 2006 are now in the rearview mirror. With 14 races left on the schedule, and just 4 races left until the Chase, a lot of changes can still occur. There is still a restrictor plate race left, along with three short track races, and those events can all have a major impact on the battle for 35th. Up next is Michigan. The super wide, high speed oval allows drivers a ton of different racing lines, which can give them the opportunity to make an ill-handling race car at least tolerable. There are plenty of factors that will come into play at Michigan, giving both underfunded teams and multi-car juggernauts equal challenges heading into the facility. No matter what team they’re associated with, though, for teams to move up in the standings and back into the Top 35, they'll have to do it the old fashioned way…they'll have to earn it.

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