When the Cup Series heads to Bristol this weekend, it marks the fifth race on the 2010 schedule. It will be the final race that the top 35 in the owners standings from 2009 will have a guaranteed starting spot. The following weekend at Martinsville, the 2010 owners points will decide who is in and who is out. Bristol will be crucial for those who are floating right around that 35th spot in the standings.
Those who are on the outside looking in right now include Kevin Conway, Boris Said, Robby Gordon, and Max Papis. A good run at Bristol for any of these drivers could mean the difference between racing and going home at Martinsville and beyond. For Said, Gordon, and Papis who all have limited sponsorship, the idea of not having a guaranteed starting spot could drastically affect the health of their race teams and their ability to continue competing.
The drivers who are in currently, but are dangerously close to being out, include Mike Bliss, Travis Kvapil, Brad Keselowski, David Gilliland, Sam Hornish, Bobby Labonte, Ryan Newman, and Marcos Ambrose. A bad finish at Bristol, combined with some good runs by the competition, could knock any of these drivers out of the top 35 and that vital guaranteed starting position.
Two drivers who stand to benefit following Bristol are Mike Bliss and Scott Speed. Speed is very solidly in the top 35 (currently 12th) after a difficult 2009 season left him having to race his way in to the first five of 2010. But his team has rose to the occasion this season, and their performance has improved markedly. Bliss currently sits in the final guaranteed spot in 35th, which, if he could keep it would be a huge boost to his Tommy Baldwin Racing team. This team continues to run severely underfunded, but a locked in spot in every race could help this team secure more sponsorship.
Bristol is always an exciting race anyway, filled with drama from start to finish. And this season’s spring stop in Thunder Valley will be no different. But if the usual story lines don’t grab you, take a look down the leaderboard a ways. You will definitely find a tension filled race for many teams./