At The Track

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 29, 2006

Almost everyone on bubble

By Jeff Findley

Special to The Selma Times-Journal

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This weekend without cup racing, the last before 16 straight races, could not have come at a better time for several teams, most specifically the No. 8 Bud team.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is in the midst of what could be a collapse of epic proportions.

For the first time in his career, Junior posted consecutive DNFs and last-place finishes in New Hampshire and Pocono, respectively. In the process, Junior dropped like a rock from third in the points standings to 11th in the standings. Those lost eight spots account for 220 points behind the leader.

Junior looked like a lock to make the Chase after posting a top-five in Chicago, but two weeks later, he is on the outside looking in. I say that he still makes the Chase, but the margin of error over the next six races is very slight. Junior has won at two of the next six tracks – Bristol and Richmond. The other four tracks are question marks.

Indy has never been kind, and with Watkins Glen looming, Junior has never been mistaken as being a road-course specialist. Junior has had mixed success at the other two remaining tracks, Michigan and California.

To not make the Chase two years in a row would be a very tough pill for this team to swallow, so Junior must post at least one win and a couple of top-fives in the next six races.

If this team does pull out a re-entry into the top-10, the question then becomes, who falls out or who else gets in? Only 188 points separate Jeff Burton in third position and Greg Biffle in 12th. The only safe positions appear to be Jimmie Johnson in the lead and Matt Kenseth in second place. After that, guys better be running all out in ensure their spots.

Of the current top-10 drivers, I think Denny Hamlin and Kasey Kahne are the biggest threats to fall out and not be eligible to compete for the cup. Hamlin because of inexperience and Kahne because of his inconsistency this season.

I think Junior and Biffle will get in while Hamlin and Kahne will fall out.

I must admit, Ol’ DW somewhat surprised me last Saturday in the Martinsville Busch race. Even though he came up way short of his predicted top-10 finish, he also did much better than my predicted 40th-place finish. DW finished 28th and on the lead lap.

Let’s hope that this was the last of his several “farewell races.”

Look’s like David Gilliland has parlayed his Busch series win in Kentucky into a full-time cup ride with Robert Yates Racing. Word is that Gilliland will take over the No. 38 M&Ms ride, replacing Elliott Sadler. Yates is also set to announce that Busch rookie Stephen Leicht will take over the No. 88 car, probably with CitiFinancial as the primary sponsor.

Speaking of Sadler, while it was almost a foregone conclusion that he would end up in the No. 19 Dodge of Evernham Motorsports, I am not so sure that will happen. According to Sadler, his phone was been lit up with car owners since making the official announcement that he was leaving Yates. It is a long shot, but don’t be surprised to see Sadler driving a Chevrolet next season.

Enjoy your Sunday afternoon without a race this week, but get ready because the next six weeks are going to be wild.