By admin | July 13, 2008
By Richard Allen
The title of this article could be a bit confusing. A quick check of the finishing order for the LifeLock.com 400 at the Chicagoland Speedway shows Tony Stewart being credited with a 5th place finish.
Certainly, Stewart’s 5th place was important in that it kept him and his Joe Gibbs Racing team inside the Top 12 of the standings and in the hunt for the Chase for the Championship.
But every bit as important to Stewart was the car which finished in the 20th position. That driver was Scott Riggs of Haas/CNC Racing’s car #66.
With this past week’s announcement that Stewart had become a part owner in the newly renamed Stewart/Haas Racing team the performance of the #66 car suddenly became very important to the new owner.
Car #66 currently sits in the 36th position of the overall owner standings. The Top 35 in those standings are guaranteed a starting spot in the following race. And, the Top 35 in the final overall standings are guaranteed a starting spot in the first five races of the 2009 season, which includes the season opening Daytona 500. As far as Stewart is concerned it is vital for the #66 to make its way into the Top 35.
Stewart, as a past champion, would seemingly be guaranteed into any race. However, the driver he brings in to be his new teammate in all likelihood will not have the luxury of a past champion’s provisional.
When Stewart moves to his new team in 2009 he will likely take over as the driver of the current Haas/CNC car #70. That car is hopelessly outside the Top 35 and would need the assurance of Stewart’s past champion status to make those first five races.
The driver of the second Stewart/Haas car, whether it be Ryan Newman, Martin Truex or someone else, will need to have a Top 35 points position to fall back on in the event they have mechanical problems, a poor handling car or weather issues during qualifying.
So, Riggs 20th place finish was a big step forward for ‘Smoke’ and his new team. 20th may not sound impressive but consider who Riggs beat out by finishing where he did.
The #00 of Michael McDowell is currently 35th and only 13 points ahead of the #66.
He finished 43rd.
The #77 of Sam Hornish is 34th only 19 points ahead of the #66. He finished 34th in Chicago.
The #01 of Regan Smith is 33rd in the owner standings, 94 points ahead of the #66. He ended up 33rd Saturday night.
If Riggs can continue to finish in the Top 20-25 every week he will give Stewart, his new teammate and their sponsors what they desperately need, and that is assurance. That is, of course, if NASCAR does not change the Top 35 or past champion procedures, in which case all of this may be null and void.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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