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Martin, Newman and Logano flirting with Top 35

By admin | March 15, 2009

By Richard Allen


NASCAR allows teams to use their points from the previous season to guarantee themselves into the first five races of the next season. After a great deal of off season maneuvering, the Top 35 was set for 2009 and those teams were assured of starting the early races.

After this Sunday’s race in Bristol, the points scored in 2009 will be the measuring stick for guaranteed starting spots. With that said, there are some high profile teams who currently sit on a precarious bubble and thus run the risk of going to Martinsville one week after Bristol with no assurances of racing on Sunday.

And keep in mind, Bristol is one of those places where trouble can find a driver who seems to have everything under control.

Heading the list of bubble teams are those who field cars for Mark Martin, Joey Logano and Ryan Newman.

After the Kobalt Tools 500 in Atlanta Mark Martin’s #5 car fell to 35th in the owner point standings. He is only 9 points ahead of 36th.

Martin’s move to Hendrick Motorsports was accompanied with predictions of great results. However, the team has had blown engines and blown tires to ruin their early season so far.

Of course, even without the guarantee of the Top 35 it is likely that Martin would qualify on speed in Martinsville anyway. However, there would have to be at least some anxiousness going into the Friday qualifying session because any number of things can go wrong.

Ryan Newman’s #39 Stewart-Haas team has had no problem finding bad luck so far in 2009. Because of that, they sit 32nd in the owner standings, only 47 points ahead of 36th place.

Newman, however, is one of the great qualifiers in recent NASCAR history. He would likely make into any field with or without a guarantee. But, he almost certainly would rather not have to find out.

Of all those on the bubble, perhaps Joey Logano is in the greatest danger of possibly missing a race. Clearly, he has not been comfortable in a Sprint Cup car so far. He has had some form of difficulty in each race’s practice sessions.

Logano’s #20 car is 33rd in the owner standings, only 44 points ahead of 36th place. If he should find trouble in Bristol and drop outside the Top 35 there would be justified reason for concern inside the Joe Gibbs Racing garage.

While it will be interesting to watch the battle at the top of the Sprint Cup standings during and immediately after the Food City 500 in Bristol, the battle much further down the standings sheet will also be worth a look.

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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