Now that the 2007 Nextel Cup season is finally underway, the battle for the Top 35 in car owner points is on. The Top 35 from last season remain locked in for four races, but several teams that aren’t already find themselves behind the 8-ball. Both Red Bull Racing entries are forced to look toward California after failing to make the Great American Race, while Michael Waltrip finished 30th on Sunday, only to find himself 27 points in the hole after a post-qualifying penalty cost him both 100 driver and car owner points.
Still Early for Championship Contenders
Anything can happen in the Daytona 500. As was the case on Sunday, several championship contenders ran into trouble and are now on the outside looking in on the Top 35. Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart appeared to have the dominant cars on the day, but when Stewart got loose coming out of turn 4 with 49 laps remaining, Busch got into the back of him, sending both cars hard into the wall.
Defending champ Jimmie Johnson ran into trouble just a few laps later when he lost control out of turn 2, sparking a multi-car incident that contained Jeff Green, David Reutimann, Tony Raines and 2006 Rookie of the Year Denny Hamlin. All drivers involved finished 28th or lower, with Johnson and Reutimann getting the worst of it; neither could continue and finished the day 39th and 40th.
Of course, before the race even began, the points standings got jumbled; penalties were the major story of Speedweeks, with Waltrip, Kasey Kahne and Matt Kenseth receiving the harshest rulings. Kahne’s seventh-place was finish was enough to put his head back above water, but Kenseth sits a dismal 41st in car owner points after a 50-point post-qualifying infraction. As for Waltrip, well… let’s just say -27 points isn’t going to cut it.
Fortunately for these drivers, they still have four races to rebound back into a position for a locked-in qualifying spot. Chances are they will… but a solid performance next week at California is a must to get their seasons back on track.
It was a rough debut for the Toyota campaign, with Dale Jarrett finishing a manufacturer-best 23rd. Waltrip and Dave Blaney had their share of problems, while Reutimann became quite friendly with the wall en route to that 40th-place finish.
Here is how the Toyota entries stack up after one race:
Dale Jarrett – No. 88 (Finish: 23rd; Points: 23rd)
Michael Waltrip – No. 55 (Finish: 30th; Points: 43rd)
Dave Blaney – No. 22 (Finish: 34th; Points: 32nd)
David Reutimann – No. 00 (Finish: 40th; Points: 38th)
Jeremy Mayfield – DNS (no points)
Brian Vickers – DNS (no points)
AJ Allmendinger – DNS (no points)
That means that if ’07 owner points were used starting next week, Toyota would have just one locked-in spot out of seven cars.
Who’s Hot, Who’s Not (Teams on the bubble)
Joe Nemechek – No. 13 (Finished ninth) – Nemechek raced his way into the 500 via the Gatorade Duels and went on to finish ninth. Ginn Racing looks strong as Nemechek tries to position himself comfortably inside the Top 35 for race six.
Johnny Sauter – No. 70 (Finished 16th) – Sauter qualified his way into the field and ran solidly in the top 10 before finishing a respectable 16th for this second team for Haas CNC Racing.
Reutimann – No. 00 (Finished 40th) – Didn’t run well in either the Duels or in the 500, and doesn’t appear to be as strong as fellow rookies David Ragan and Juan Pablo Montoya. At least he made the race, though.
Kyle Petty – No. 45 (Finished 42nd) – Locked in for the first five races because of 2006, but Sunday was not a good start to 2007. Both Petty cars ran at the back all day long, and Kyle went to the garage early after running over debris that shattered his tire.
Waltrip – No. 55 (Finished 30th) – You know you’re having a bad week when you make the 500 and wind up with less points than those who missed the race.
Vickers and Allmendinger – No. 83 and No. 84 – Neither made the race on Sunday. Scott Riggs recovered from such a scenario last season, but Vickers and Allmendinger are racing for a new organization which makes it tougher to recover. Simply put, those DNQs put them in position to qualify on speed for much more than just the first five races.
Check back next week, as the Top 35 will continue to straighten itself out after California. It’s still too early to predict who will be on the bubble after Bristol, but some teams have already dug themselves an early hole… that’s for sure.
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