On the Edge: The Battle For the Top 35 In Nextel Cup Owner Points · Mike Neff · Monday September 4, 2006
California Speedway gets a bad rap, similar to its sister track, Michigan International Speedway. On television, the racing isn't exactly stimulating because the cars aren't right next to each other. However, the racing is actually very captivating, as there are continuous battles for position all around the track due to the multiple grooves that give the drivers the option to race so many different lines.
The same type of fierce competitiveness the track usually provides for can easily be applied to the battle for the Top 35 in owner points. Teams towards the back end of the “locked in” spots have taken many different approaches to try and get to the ultimate goal – a guaranteed starting spot. Some have succeeded and made passes with ease, while others have simply run out of gas, like Reed Sorenson on Sunday night.
As the traffic cleared out early Monday morning, the race produced results with several different outcomes: some promising, some unfortunate. Here's a look at who moved up and who moved down this week:
One of the two big winners this week was Dale Jarrett. There has been some discussion recently about the motivation for the No. 88 Robert Yates Racing team since Jarrett has announced that he is leaving them after this season, as D.J. had not visited the Top 10 since Atlanta in March. Well, this week should prove the doubters wrong. Jarrett brought his UPS ride home in 10th place, his third Top 10 of the season which ended that 21-race drought. With that run following a Top 15 result at Bristol, things are now looking positive for the No. 88 team going forward. The 134 points the team garnered for the 10th place finish moved them up two spots to 24th in the standings and back out of our watch group for the Top 35.
The other big winner this week, while not posting that impressive of a finish, was Sterling Marlin. The No. 14 MB2 Motorsports team came home in 29th, getting lucky on a well-timed caution early that kept them on the lead lap, a yellow which clearly prevented an even worse finish with an ill-handling race car. However, the team’s 76 points, coupled with Kyle Petty's 35th place finish, allowed Marlin and the No. 14 group to move up to 35th in the standings and once again be guaranteed a starting spot beginning at Richmond this weekend.
J.J. Yeley started 19th in his No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet, and spent the first third of the race battling in the upper 20s. Then, pit strategy allowed the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team to move up to 13th on lap 100; once there, they stayed in the teens the rest of the race. Due to a late race splash and go in order to make the finish, the team wrapped up the day a steady 19th. The 106 points awarded for the team’s 19th place finish moved the team up one spot in the standings to 28th.
Last but not least, Elliott Sadler rebounded from an early altercation on pit road to post a 13th place finish Sunday night. Sadler was spun around on pit road when entering his pit stall for his first stop of the night, but recovered over time to post a strong number on the board as the checkered flag flew. The No. 19 Evernham Motorsports was even leading the race late in the going at one point thanks to a two tire pit stop. The 129 points awarded for both the finish and leading a lap moved the once-struggling No. 19 team up one spot in the standings to 33rd.
Kyle Petty was by far the biggest loser on the weekend. Petty had an ill-handling race car all night and finally finished the evening in 35th place, the same position in which he started. The No. 45 Petty Enterprises team simply struggled, never raising higher than 35th most of the night. The 58 points earned for that finish dropped the team one spot in the standings to the 36th place, and now Petty, notorious for not being the greatest qualifier, will now have to qualify on time to race at Richmond.
Robby Gordon didn’t have a great weekend. The No. 7 Chevrolet driven by the owner/driver was the only car to not finish the race at California. Due to the lack of attrition, their transmission failure on lap 193 resulted in a 43rd place finish, and the 34 points received for that dropped the team two positions in the standings to 26th in owner points, back into our watch group for the Top 35.
Tony Raines had a very long night at California. Similar to Kyle Petty, the No. 96 Hall of Fame Racing team was never out of the rear of the field all night. Raines' highest running position was 34th over 500 miles, and the team ended their misery finishing in 37th position. The 52 points garnered for the finish dropped the No. 96 team two spots in the owner standings to 29th.
Lastly, David Stremme drank the same Kool-Aid as Tony Raines and Kyle Petty this weekend. The No. 40 Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates team was mired in the 30s all night, and finally took the checkered flag in 36th position. The 55 points the team earned for that finish dropped them to 34th in the owner standings and closer to being knocked out of the Top 35 comfort zone once again.
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||1230||-734||-427|
The battle for 35th is getting more interesting by the week. 35th place Sterling Marlin is now only two points ahead of Kyle Petty in 36th, and those two teams could swap the position multiple times over the next few races, considering neither team is hitting on all cylinders this year.
Next week, the circuit heads to Richmond. The last race before the Chase could have held all sorts of pitfalls if there were multiple teams in contention. Due to the fact there is only one team outside of the Top 10 with a chance to move in, though, the anxiety levels might not be as high as they could have been. That’s a far cry from the constant adrenaline felt by the teams battling for 35th, as they know there are just 11 races left to secure a “locked in” spot for the first five events of 2007.
One thing is for sure, whoever amongst the “Outside Looking In” drivers can improve their lot in the standings in Virginia will have done it the old-fashioned wayâ€¦they'll have earned it.
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