The final blow to the competition for spots in the top 35 of NASCAR owners' points may have been struck last weekend at Kansas Speedway.
After Joe Falk took over Richard Childress Racing's No. 33 car at Martinsville, the team, which has been rotating drivers all season, went from the edge of a guaranteed starting spot to falling out. After a disappointing finish by Tony Raines at Texas, Landon Cassill and David Reutimann both leapfrogged the team, bouncing it from 34th to 36th in owners' points.
Then, last weekend at Kansas, Jeff Green failed to qualify for the race.
That sets them at an 11-point disadvantage coming into this weekend's race at Richmond, something that won't be easy to erode with most of these teams running towards the back of the pack. It'll be especially tough with Stephen Leicht (pictured) behind the wheel, as the youngster is making only his third Sprint Cup start. But, as with anything else, one surprisingly good weekend could do wonders to make this race interesting again.
Here are the last five in and the first five out of guaranteed starting spots at Richmond:
Team Points: 122 points, +32 ahead of 36th
This Week's Driver: Travis Kvapil
Outlook: Kvapil was the top finishing driver on this list at Kansas. He came home 25th, four laps down. One good run might take this team off this list entirely, as he's only one point out of 30th place and four points behind 29th.
Team Points: 120 points, +30 ahead of 36th
This Week's Driver: Reed Sorenson
Outlook: Sorenson has been a solid addition to Frank Stoddard's team, which has always rotated drivers from week to week. Since plucking Sorenson from Turn One Racing at Texas, Sorenson has scored finishes of 32nd and 28th, reestablishing him as a clean driver who can bring a car home without issue.
Team Points: 111 points, +21 ahead of 36th
This Week's Driver: Dave Blaney
Outlook: No, nobody expected the team that almost lucked into a Daytona 500 victory to be on top of the world forever. But what used to be Baldwin's flagship car appears to be taking a backseat to its teammate. Blaney has suffered DNFs in each of the past three races, and he hasn't finished inside the top 30 of a race since Las Vegas.
Team Points: 109 points, +19 ahead of 36th
This Week's Driver: David Reutimann
Outlook: It looks like Danica Patrick won't have to worry about qualifying on speed at Darlington after all. Reutimann now has about half a race's worth of points on 36th place, rendering Martinsville's controversial late-race stall relatively inconsequential when all is said and done.
Team Points: 101 points, +11 ahead of 36th
This Week's Driver: Landon Cassill
Outlook: Cassill is struggling to make much of a full-time gig with BK Racing, particularly in comparison to a decent year with Phoenix Racing last season. But Phoenix was an established team, while BK is still adjusting to new ownership. Thankfully, Cassill may not have to worry much about his guaranteed starting spot, as an 11 point lead over 36th place should be enough to sustain this team for a few weeks.
Team Points: 90 points, -11 behind 35th
This Week's Driver: Stephen Leicht
Outlook: Leicht finished 24th for Tommy Baldwin Racing in the fall Richmond race last year. That performance was enough to convince the Childress-owned team to bring him back. He drove in 14 Nationwide races for the organization from 2008-09, where he posted eight top-10s and only two DNFs.
Team Points: 73 points, -28 behind 35th
This Week's Driver: J.J. Yeley
Outlook: Jay Robinson and Troy Blakeney have managed to piece together enough funding to run Yeley to the checkers in almost every race this year. His best finish is still a 26th place at Phoenix, and they've never been close to finishing on the lead lap, but this is quickly becoming the little team that could as far as new Sprint Cup outfits go.
Team Points: 69 points, -32 behind 35th
This Week's Driver: David Stremme
Outlook: Stremme pulled it into the garage after 80 laps at Kansas after experiencing overheating issues. He had been on the precipice of a top 35 spot, a huge boon for an upstart team like Inception. But after failing to qualify at Texas, the team had to pull into the garage before the halfway point for the second time in the past four races.
Team Points: 60 points, -41 behind 35th
This Week's Driver: The team will not compete at Richmond.
Outlook: Last year's Daytona 500 winning team and driver only intend to compete in a limited schedule each year. But that doesn't make things any less frustrating for the Woods, who call Virginia home, or driver Trevor Bayne, whose Nationwide ride with Roush Fenway Racing has been shuttered due to a lack of sponsorship.
Team Points: 56 points, -45 behind 35th
This Week's Driver: Josh Wise
Outlook: Another weekend, another start and park gig for Wise. His ability to keep qualifying the car will serve him well though, as a shot in a car that actually runs full races shouldn't be too much to ask next season.