The fans, the TV coverage, the 10 lucky drivers participating… everyone’s focus over that last few races of the season is on the Chase for the Nextel Cup. Well… that’s not entirely true. There are a group of a dozen other teams and drivers, along with their loyal fans, who are focused on the battle to remain in the Top 35 in owner points. This week’s results near the bottom of the standings did everything they could to deliver those fans as much excitement as possible, with a final results sheet that looked almost as jumbled as the Chase itself. A total of 14 teams changed positions between 26th and 46th in the owner standings, showcasing how it’s not always the guys up front that make their move in the season’s latter stages. Now, as the NASCAR circuit winds down to its crucial finale, there is almost as much tension in the Top-35 battle as there is for the Nextel Cup. Millions of dollars are at stake for the teams that are locked into the Daytona 500… and millions of stressful experiences await those teams who will be forced to qualify for that race on speed.
With the action heating up, let’s take a look at the Top 35 Winners and Losers from Texas…
The number one winner on the weekend has to be Kyle Petty. It wasn’t always smooth sailing for the No. 45 Petty Enterprises team on Sunday; Petty ran outside the top 25 for the race’s first half, and it took several adjustments to get the car on the right track. Not only that, but the car blew its engine on the final turn of the last lap, causing the Wells Fargo Dodge to coast to the finish line. Turns out that didn’t matter; the team charged back enough to come home 11th at Texas, posting their third top-20 finish in a row. Petty scored 130 points as a result; couple that with Sterling Marlin‘s misfortune, and Petty’s No. 45 operation was able to pass the No. 14 and move up to 35th in the owner rankings. That means for the first time in two months, Kyle can breathe a sigh of relief this Friday; he no longer finds himself in the difficult position of having to qualify on speed.
After a rough outing at Atlanta, rookie David Stremme once again made it to the finish of a race, rewarding his team with a move up in the standings as a result. The No. 40 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates team kept their nose clean all day, even leading a lap during pit stops, and brought their car home in 24th position, one lap down. Stremme garnered 96 points for his finish and leading a lap, and moved up one spot to 33rd in the rankings. Stremme is now 107 points ahead of 36th with two races to go.
Finally, while he was already fairly safe from falling outside the Top 35, Jeff Green made it official in style by coming home with another impressive finish in his Haas Racing entry. The No. 66 team came home in 13th place at Texas, his second top-15 finish in three starts with new crew chief Harold Holly. Scoring 124 points for that run, the finish moved Green up one spot to 26th; 362 ahead of 36th place, this team can now officially breathe easy for 2007, provided they attempt to qualify at Phoenix.
Marlin was the big loser at Texas. While he only dropped one spot in the rankings, it was the most important one. Marlin’s No. 14 Waste Management Chevrolet ran poorly from the start, then got caught up in a big accident on lap 175 and sustained significant damage. That damage caused an extended stay in the garage area, ultimately causing the car to be parked after Marlin completed 208 laps. The 48 points earned for that finish (Marlin did lead a lap), combined with Petty’s good run, dropped Marlin one spot to 36th in the standings and on the outside of the coveted Top 35 in owner points.
Robby Gordon spun out on lap 182 and hit the wall in turn 2. The spin appeared to cause Gordon’s engine to spin backwards; that action appeared to damage the engine, which finally blew on lap 258. Gordon’s bad luck resulted in a 39th-place finish, and the 46 points awarded for that finish dropped Gordon three spots in the standings to 31st. Gordon is still 261 points ahead of 36th, but could technically fall out of the Top 35 over the last two races with more trouble like this.
Elliott Sadler‘s night began by starting second; unfortunately, that would be the only highlight. Penalized for pitting outside of his pit stall early on, the No. 19 Evernham Motorsports entry developed an oil leak soon thereafter. The team took the car behind the wall to fix the leak, but lost some 29 laps before everything was said and done, resulting in a 37th-place finish for both Sadler and the team. The 52 points achieved for that finish dropped Evernham’s No. 19 car one spot in the standings to 34th, just 69 ahead of 36th.
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||1779||-982||-451|
As the season winds down, the pressure builds on the teams trying to lock themselves into the Top 35. This week, that pressure takes a whole different turn as the series moves onto Phoenix. A tight, tricky 1-mile track that can test even the most seasoned driver, the track will certainly cause both crinkled sheet metal and ruffled feathers by the time the race ends next Sunday. One thing is for sure; the teams that move up and get closer to securing their Top-35 points position will end up doing it the old-fashioned way… they’ll earn it.