Talladega was sporting a brand new racing surface Sunday as the Cup circuit returned to the longest track on the schedule. The new and improved asphalt track was smoother and faster than it had ever been, but the dangerous pitfalls of the sport’s longest, fastest superspeedway still remained for those battling within the Top 35 in owner points. With the threat of the “Big One” around every corner combining with smaller restrictor plates to ensure speeds stayed under the “danger zone” of 200 mph, teams on the bubble were thrown so many curveballs they must have felt they were in the baseball playoffs.
Still, those numerous rule and track changes, obstacles which specialize in dooming teams already struggling to stay afloat, actually provided an opportunity to a number of operations who took advantage of the weekend to move up in the standings. So, which teams brought their car back to the hauler in one piece, and which took them straight to the junkyard? Read ahead to find out this week’s Winners and Losers in the battle to secure a weekly qualifying spot:
After a rough month driving the Haas CNC No. 66 Chevrolet, Jeff Green and his special Windows Live One Care-sponsored car was able to capitalize on the usual Talladega mayhem by staying out of the two big crashes in Sunday’s race. Because of that, Green rode up to an unofficial seventh-place finish, the best run of the season for the team and Green’s first top-10 finish since Martinsville in 2004. The 146 points earned for that performance moved the team up one spot to 30th in the standings.
Michael Waltrip may have had a season he’d like to forget, but Sunday could be a turning point to get things back on the right track. Capable of running with the lead pack, Waltrip kept his nose clean and his car in the right drafting lines, eventually ending the day in the 14th spot. Easily his best finish of the year, Waltrip’s team is creeping into the Top-35 battle again despite missing races, as the No. 55 bunch is now just 221 behind 35th-place Sterling Marlin and the No. 14 MB2 Motorsports group.
Finally, Tony Raines didn’t have the best restrictor-plate car out there Sunday in the No. 96 DLP Racing/Hall of Fame Chevrolet. In fact, at times it leaved much to be desired… but Raines was able to channel his energy into a solid finish on the track. With a 20th-place run, Raines and company moved over 330 points ahead of 36th place for that final transfer spot, all but solidifying the newly formed team’s place in the Daytona 500 next year.
JJ Yeley had a day he’d rather forget at Talladega. Rear-ended by Ken Schrader in the first big wreck, the bump caused significant damage to the tail end of his car. Just trying to ride and recover after that, Yeley was instead caught up in the second big wreck of the day not long afterwards, receiving significant damage when David Stremme hit his car and put him into the wall in turn 2. That finally sent Yeley to the garage area for the day, putting the No. 18 team in 32nd spot in the running order. The 67 points garnered for their finish dropped them one spot in the rankings to 29th; ironically, the team that passed Yeley was, in fact, the No. 21 Wood Brothers group with Schrader at the helm.
Marlin and Joe Nemechek have had a year that both would like to forget. Both involved in the multi-car wreck on Sunday, their 40th- and 18th-place finishes were clear indicators that neither car proved a factor in the closing stages of the event. While both remained in the Top 35 in owner points, Marlin is now just 68 points ahead of 36th-place Kyle Petty, who also found himself with a stain this weekend and in need of borrowing some clothing. Meanwhile, Nemechek remained 33rd in points, 244 ahead of 36th-place Petty.
Currently outside the Top 35, Travis Kvapil and Cal Wells’s No. 32 operation had been working so hard to gain ground on its rivals. Unfortunately, you can’t do anything until you secure a starting spot for Sunday, and Kvapil couldn’t get one of those, either. Kvapil remained calm after his DNQ, but saw the writing on the wall long before that. The question, then, simply becomes whether whoever uses it will be willing to take it and bring it back.
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||1532||-824||-382|
With the biggest wildcard left on the NASCAR schedule in the rearview mirror, the series now heads to Charlotte; but based on recent results, that track’s no ace in the hole, either. Last year’s fall race was simply a crash-fest, thanks to tire issues on the levigated pavement, and the Coca-Cola 600 this spring used a tire that would have made Fred Flintstone proud. No one knows what is in store for the series this time around; but whatever the case may be, the only night race in the Chase will certainly throw quite a few variables at the teams struggling to climb their way into the Top 35. One thing is for sure, the ones who climb the Charlotte mountain of unknowns and succeed will simply do it the old-fashioned way… they’ll earn it.