Homestead didn’t only mark the final race for the Chase to the Cup, it also was the final race for teams to work their way into the coveted the Top 35. With four drivers mathematically eligible to end up a dreaded 36th place in owner points, there was almost as much trepidation at the end of the Cup garage as there was at the front. Sterling Marlin‘s engine failure kept the suspense from carrying all of the way to the finish of the race, but until then… it was anybody’s race.
David Stremme only had to finish better than 43rd to be assured of a Top-35 spot, no matter what his competitors for the coveted 35th spot were able to do. Not only was Stremme assured of the spot when Kurt Busch dropped out on lap 9, but he ensured the security of his owner points position by coming home 11th. The No. 40 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates team was consistent all night and was running in the top 10 before the last flurry of cautions. While the team lost three spots over the last 20 laps, they still had a strong run and are heading into the offseason on a positive note.
Elliott Sadler came into Homestead 121 points ahead of 36th. The No. 19 Evernham Motorsports team had a strong run going early, with Sadler leading 17 laps. However, a blown engine dropped them from the race on lap 230 and ended their day in 36th position. Fortunately for Sadler, Marlin’s engine woes meant that the team is still locked in the Top 35 and sure to start next year’s first five races. Their final points ranking is 34th.
Kyle Petty had the weight of the entire Petty Enterprises organization on his shoulders heading into Homestead. Only 47 points ahead of Marlin in the standings, Petty could assure himself of finishing in the Top 35 in points by finishing seventh or better. While Petty wasn’t able to accomplish that feat, he was able to finish the race two laps down in 28th place. Since Marlin finished in 35th, after an engine gone awry, Petty was still able to finish 35th in owner points. On the strength of that finish, Petty will be guaranteed a starting position in the first five races of what promises to be a very competitive 2007 season.
Locked In for the First Five Races of 2007
|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||1,865||-1,063||-475|
It’s been a long season. While the top teams battled for the $1 million purse that comes with the Cup championship, the teams near 35th in owner points waged their own war to be guaranteed a starting spot on a weekly basis. The importance of finishing the year in the Top 35 was even more critical heading into next year with Toyota and all of their factory backing coming into the sport. For the teams who didn’t make it, their winter is going to be very long trying to figure out how to gain that extra speed to make it into the first five races of 2007.
One thing is for sure, the teams that do it successfully will do it the old-fashioned way… they’ll earn it.
About the author
What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.