NASCAR: Sprint Cup Top 35 Owners Points Battles Heading into Texas
No, Tommy Baldwin Racing's decision to keep David Reutimann on the track at Martinsville two weekends ago despite a seriously crippled car wasn't just about keeping the car that he and Patrick share in the top 35 of owners' points. It was a racing move to complete as many laps as possible, one that any driver and team would make in order to earn the best possible finishing position.
But it's still an interesting angle to the story to consider that this car—a car that's only running the full season in order to alleviate the pressure of qualifying for races—is now 36th in points, a single marker outside of the top 35, and the only car on the outside looking in that intends to run the full race each weekend.
Luckily for Reutimann and TBR, they have a month to get solidly back in the top 35 before Patrick returns to the car at Darlington in May. But they'll have to deal with Landon Cassill and BK Racing, who just reclaimed the 35th place spot, and a host of others. Here are the last five in and the first five out of guaranteed starting spots heading into this weekend's Sprint Cup race at Texas.
31. #38 Front Row Motorsports Ford
Team Points: 96, +20 ahead of 36th
This Week's Driver: David Gilliland
Outlook: Gilliland hopes to have significantly better luck at Texas this year than he did last year. In 2011, he finished 42nd in the spring due to an accident, and 32nd in the fall after finishing three laps down. Worse, the No. 38 car that Gilliland now drives actually failed to qualify for the spring Texas race last year.
32. #5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Team Points: 93, +17 ahead of 36th
This Week's Driver: Kasey Kahne
Outlook: A season that began with so much promise for Kahne has turned into an annus horribilis, and we're only through six races. Even though he's won two poles, he's failed to finish any better than 14th, and an engine failure at Martinsville proved disastrous to Kahne's spot in the standings. This team will try to turn it around once again at Texas, where he won from the pole in spring 2006.
33. #32 FAS Lane Racing Ford
Team Points: 92, +16 ahead of 36th
This Week's Driver: TBA
Outlook: Frank Stoddard's team will carry JaniKing backing for this weekend's race. The driver hasn't been announced yet, but don't be surprised if Terry Labonte wants to take the wheel at his home track. The Corpus Christi native, who won at Texas in 1999 and took the pole in 2000, hasn't had the opportunity to run at the track since 2006.
34. #33 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
Team Points: 80, +4 ahead of 36th
This Week's Driver: Hermie Sadler
Outlook: This team will now operate under the ownership of Joe Falk, whose best-known experience as a Sprint Cup owner came when he fielded the Spam car in the 1997 season. They'll run as a development team for RCR, with Elliott Sadler, Austin Dillon, and C.E. Falk among the drivers due to get seat time in this car. At Texas, Hermie Sadler will return to the seat after finishing 31st at Martinsville.
35. #83 BK Racing Toyota
Team Points: 77, +1 ahead of 36th
This Week's Driver: Landon Cassill
Outlook: Cassill's sole mission at Martinsville was to put this car back in the top 35, and with the help of David Reutimann's bad luck, he succeeded. In two starts at Texas for Phoenix Racing last year, he finished 28th in the spring and 26th in the fall; anything comparable should give this team some extra breathing room.
36. #10 Tommy Baldwin Racing Chevrolet
Team Points: 76, -1 behind 35th
This Week's Driver: David Reutimann
Outlook: Martinsville was an unmitigated nightmare for this team, after a part failure stranded Reutimann on track with three laps to go and completely altered the finish of the race. Worse, they fell out of the top 35, which is especially important to this team; as Danica Patrick runs her limited schedule in the car, its entire existence is in order to make sure she doesn't have to qualify on speed, and right now they have some serious work to do to make sure they meet that goal.
37. #30 Inception Motorsports Chevrolet
Team Points: 63, -14 behind 35th
This Week's Driver: David Stremme
Outlook: Stremme has quietly become one of the funniest drivers on Twitter since joining last month, jokingly coining the "#BlameReutimann" hashtag after the "blame Stremme" cries that littered his first Sprint Cup stint. But skillful navigation of social media doesn't guarantee a starting spot every weekend. That being said, Stremme has qualified for each of the first six races, attempted to run most of them all the way, and is giving his team a chance to establish itself as a top 35 car, perhaps even later this season.
38. #49 Robinson-Blakeney Motorsports Toyota
Team Points: 49, -28 behind 35th
This Week's Driver: J.J. Yeley
Outlook: Yeley has shown a respectable consistency in his return to full-time competition at the Sprint Cup level, as the new Robinson-Blakeney team hasn't really struggled to qualify for any races (the Daytona 500 and its different format being the lone exception). They've also done their best to run the full race every time they've shown up, which hopefully leads to more sponsorship investment and enough improvement to crack the top 35 someday.
39. #26 Front Row Motorsports Ford
Team Points: 46, -31 behind 35th
This Week's Driver: Josh Wise
Outlook: This year's likely Rookie of the Year by default, as Timmy Hill continues to struggle to make races, Wise has started and parked in each of his five starts thus far this season. That's not likely to change at Texas, despite two finishes of 14th or better at the track in the Nationwide Series, one of which came in the car that Wise shared with Danica Patrick last season.
40. #21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford
Team Points: 44, -33 behind 35th
This Week's Driver: Trevor Bayne
Outlook: Bayne is lucky in that he can make whichever race he enters in 2012 by virtue of winning last year's Daytona 500. Texas is a sentimental track for the young driver, having made his Sprint Cup debut here in late 2010. In each of his three Texas starts, he's finished in 17th place, and he won the November Nationwide race here last year.