Five teams and drivers worked their way into the Top 35 after the first five races of 2008 to displace those struggling organizations. Who were they, and which cars are now on the outside looking in? Let’s take a look as we switch from the 2007 to 2008 owner points while looking back on Bristol.
The Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta may have made history at the front of the field — with Toyota claiming the first victory for a foreign-born manufacturer since 1954 — but it also featured a number of drivers trying to prevent history of a different sort at the rear. With just one race remaining before 2008 owner points are used to “lock in” provisional spots, those on the dreaded bubble were trying hard to avoid any sort of Atlanta pitfall which would leave them on the wrong side of the cutline. With Bristol up ahead, the unpredictability of a half-mile short track makes it the highest-stress event on the circuit for a team that has to snag a good finish; so for most teams Sunday, the goal was to put the bubble out of reach of even the worst Bristol disaster.
Right-front tires and unstable grip were the talk of the town Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, variables which led to increasing instability as the Top-35 standings continue to fluctuate early in 2008. The mix of a new track configuration, a new car, and wind gusts up to 40 mph all led to an unpredictable race Sunday. But the mystery reached a whole new level when Goodyears started popping like popcorn — right-front tires blowing out and questionable tire grip accounted for the elimination of several drivers.
Early results are in, and there are some “locked-in” teams that will find themselves digging out of a hole in the next four races to work on keeping their status. Not only that, but teams outside the Top 35 started working hard to change that disadvantage for race six of this season — when the current owner points for 2008 will be used and allow them to sneak back into the race lineup. So, without further ado let’s check out our Top 35 results for this week — we’ll start with some of those cars “locked-in” but a little nervous about how it’s going to go this next month or two.
Last week in this column, I talked about the teams on the outside of the Top 35 looking in. This week, I’m going to touch on some of the teams that wound up just inside the Top 35 last year. If past performance is any indication, they’re the ones most in jeopardy of being on the bubble this season; and with the competition closer than ever, I’ll rate the chances I think they’ll have at still being locked in by race six — or if they’re headed towards some frantic Friday afternoons instead.
The 50th Daytona 500. It’s an upcoming milestone for everyone — teams and fans alike — but I’m going to go out on a limb and say some are so busy preparing for the first five races of the year that this 50th anniversary thing is a little detail that may be lost to them. Instead, many are focused on making the magical 35th position in points: owner points, that is. For the new fans out there, owner points are what individual teams get from their respective driver’s performance. When NASCAR talks about granting qualifying exemptions for the Top-35 teams, that means the car and not the driver makes the differentiation. For example, 2007 Chase Cinderella Clint Bowyer would be forced to qualify on speed for the last race at Homestead if he attempted to move from the No. 07 Jack Daniel’s Chevrolet — a car he helped maneuver to third in the owner standings — to the No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota that never earned an exemption all season long.