On the Edge : The Battle For the Top 35 In Nextel Cup Owner Points · Mike Neff · Monday August 21, 2006
Michigan International Speedway was full of pitfalls for the Cup teams this weekend, pitfalls that couldn’t be avoided for several teams on the bubble for not only the Chase, but the Top 35 in owner points. With a race record 10 caution flags, it was a bit of a wild race, and the results were proof of that; all but one of the teams in 26th through 36th moved up or down in the owner standings following the event.
In a week full of winners and losers in the middle of the pack, let's see who gained and lost the most at Michigan:
Elliott Sadler and the No. 19 Evernham Motorsports team were the big winners of the weekend. After falling out of the Top 35 last week, the No. 19 team with new driver Sadler put their car on the outside of the front row, easily ensuring they made the field on time. Sadler then had a rollercoaster of a race, fading as far back as 33rd after the start, rebounding to fifth, falling back to 21st, and ultimately taking advantage of a two tire pit call to come home in 10th place. Not only was it the team’s best finish of the year, but the corresponding 134 points moved the No. 19 up two positions in the standings to 34th, accomplishing Sadler’s season-long goal of moving the team back into “locked in” status after just one race.
Ken Schrader continues to reap the rewards of having Michael “Fatback” McSwain on his pit box. The No. 21 Wood Brothers car was not competitive at the drop of the green, but a pit call to stay out during a series of caution flags moved the team up into the Top 5 just past the race’s midpoint. The team continued to work on the car, eventually improving the handling, and Schrader was able to bring it home in 18th place. The 109 points awarded for that finish moved the team up one spot in the standings to 32nd in owner points.
Michael Waltrip put in a very workman like effort during the GFS Marketplace 400. While he never ran near the front, he didn't run near the back either. The No. 55 Bill Davis Racing team was in the 20s all day, finally coming home in 23rd position, equaling the third-best finish the team’s had all year. The 94 points garnered for that result moved Waltrip up one spot to 38th in owner points.
Jeff Green and Dave Blaney were also able to move up one position in the standings. Neither of them had a spectacular day, but both kept their noses clean and were able to finish the race; Green finished 27th, and Blaney came home in 24th. The points the teams earned moved them up to 28th and 30th respectively in owner points.
The big loser for the weekend was Sterling Marlin. After starting the weekend off with a great qualifying effort that slotted him 10th on the grid, the handling on Marlin’s car was just horrible all day long. The team finally figured something out with 40 laps to go, but they were already a lap down at that point and could not recover. The No. 14 Ginn Motorsports team ended up 29th on the day, and the 76 points earned for that finish, coupled with Elliott Sadler's good run and Kyle Petty's race of survival, put Marlin’s team 36th in the owner standings. Marlin now has to qualify on time for the first time in four months when the series gets to Bristol next week.
Dale Jarrett was another big loser in the battle for the Top 35 this weekend. The No. 88 Robert Yates entry had a mechanical failure in the rear end, which resulted in them being black flagged and dropping out of the race on lap 166. The run was Jarrett’s 19th straight race without a Top 10 finish; what’s worse, the DNF and 55 points awarded for a 36th place finish dropped the UPS team to 26th in the owner standings and into our watch group.
J.J. Yeley’s weekend at Michigan was more like a nightmare. After crashing his primary car in practice, Yeley then demolished his Busch car on Saturday, then saw a decent run in the Cup race turn sour in the final laps of the event. Yeley was running in the Top 15 on lap 161 when he got loose and hit the wall in turn three. The damage to the car ended up knocking the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team out of the race and relegating them to a 37th place finish, leaving Yeley with three wrecked race cars on the weekend. The 52 points earned for that finish dropped the team one spot in the rankings to 29th.
Kyle Petty had a very poor showing for the GFS Marketplace 400. As has been the case at many tracks recently, his car was simply bad all day. Kyle only got above 30th place once during the event, staying out to get five bonus points for leading a lap when everyone else pitted during a caution. The No. 45 Petty Enterprises team settled for a 31st place finish, and the 70 points earned for that, along with the five bonus points for leading a lap, dropped the team one spot in the standings to the final “locked in” spot, the dreaded 35th place bubble.
Joe Nemechek and David Stremme also slipped in the standings this week with disappointing showings. Nemechek finished 26th and Stremme ended up 28th, and those results dropped each driver one spot to 31st and 33rd respectively in owner points. Also, it should be noted Scott Wimmer lost a place in the owner standings for his No. 4 Morgan-McClure team by failing to qualify for the event. Now 39th in the owner points, climbing back into the Top 35 has become all but an impossibility for them this season.
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||1081||-762||-466|
Next weekend, the series heads to the bullring in Bristol, Tennessee, for the annual Saturday night race. The track that has famously been compared to racing fighter jets in a gymnasium will certainly have the potential to mix up the standings. Teams can often be taken out through no fault of their own at the concrete half-mile, so the key to next weekend for the teams in the battle for the Top 35 will be to stay out of trouble. One thing is for sure, whichever teams move up in the standings next week will definitely do it the old fashioned way….they'll earn it (and avoid a lot of wrecks!).
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