By admin | November 13, 2008
By Richard Allen
Jimmie Johnson needs only to finish 36th to clinch his third consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup title. For those seeking dramatic racing for a points championship, this season will most likely not provide that. However, there are other races within the standings worth keeping an eye on this Sunday in Homestead.
There are twelve drivers who qualify for the Chase for the Championship. So, simply finishing in the Top 10 may seem like a pretty sour consolation prize for those who will not take home the Sprint Cup. However, it does have its significance.
Sponsors, owners and crew members want to finish inside the Top 10. It is those teams who get to attend the season ending banquet in New York and be recognized at the head table. For sponsors who pour as much as $20 million and more into team budgets, this recognition is very important.
Positions 8th - 12th are only separated by 32 points going into this race. Matt Kenseth, in 8th, could easily find himself dropped back to 12th with a poor run while Tony Stewart in 12th could make his way as high as 8th with a good run. To two former champions this may not seem like such a big deal but to their sponsors, owners and manufacturers it is.
Also, consider that Kyle Busch, in 11th, could find himself outside the Top 10 and not on the banquet’s invitation list even though he won eight races in 2008.
Aside from the battle for the Top 10 an even more important battle will be waged further back in the standings. This battle could be for the life and death of the teams involved.
There are several teams who will enter this race either trying to remain inside the Top 35 of the owner standings, or trying to get there.
Robby Gordon’s team currently sits in the 34th spot of the owner standings. He is 47 points ahead of the 36th place Team Red Bull car #84. The #47 car, driven by Marcos Ambrose and owned by Brad Daugherty among others, is 35th, just 17 points in front of #84.
A poor run by either of these three could make the difference between making and not making next year’s Daytona 500. The Top 35 in the owner standings are guaranteed into the first five races of the next season.
Team Red Bull has gone so far as to switch the car numbers of veteran driver Brian Vickers, who normally pilots #83, with rookie Scott Speed, the usual driver of #84.
The ability to assure a potential sponsor a car will be in the Daytona 500 could make the difference in actually landing that sponsor or not. Thus, the Top 35 can indeed make the difference between life and death for these teams.
Barring a complete disaster, Jimmie Johnson is going to win the championship. However, that does not mean there will not be drama within the point standings.
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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