Well folks, we've reached that point in the season where NASCAR Sprint Cup teams will be using 2010 owner's points for situations such as top-35 qualifying and rainouts. For the first five races of any season, NASCAR uses the owner's points standings from the previous season, making the fate of teams dependent on how they performed last year.
Now, however, they have to rely on how well they've performed this year. The money some teams put down to buy the owner's points for defunct teams is no longer valid. Starting this weekend at Martinsville, those who can't make the cut... might not make the cut.
So, let's look at some report cards, starting with the go-or-go-home teams. I'm not going to look at the start and parkers, just the teams on the bubble that run the full races.
Germain Racing No. 13 - Max Papis, Driver
Germain Racing has an alliance with Michael Waltrip Racing, and the entire MWR crew and their aligned teams have been performing better. Driver Max Papis is developing a better relationship with crew chief Bootie Barker, and has steadily improved as a stock car driver.
But they're not there yet.
They don't run well in practice, and they're normally far off the pace in the race. However, when it come's time to qualify... Mad Max can get up on the wheel and put the car in the show. If not for that spin-out on his attempt at Bristol last week, he would have qualified for all five races this year.
Let's get one thing straight, though: Germain Racing is not Michael Waltrip Racing. Yes, MWR is doing great, but those performance increases have not translated into better performance for Germain Racing. I would have given them a D, but Max's love for NASCAR and true desire to try to make himself a top-knotch stock car driver bump him up to a C-.
Tommy Baldwin Racing No. 36 - Mike Bliss, Driver
Hey, they're making races, which is leaps and bounds better than they were last year! They have partial-season sponsorship from Wave Energy Drink, better cars, better engines, and a better crew.
Are they contenders? Not yet, but they're not making fools out of themselves either. This was a start-and-park model that worked out perfectly - they showed they had what it took to get it done, and now that they have sponsorship, are doing just that. They're making the races and running respectably.
If anyone knows how to make Tommy Baldwin Racing a top team, it's Tommy Baldwin. With time, patience, and money... they'll get there.
Lattitude 43 Motorsports No. 26 - Boris Said, Driver
I honestly don't know what this team is doing. The only reason they're higher than TBR and Germain is because they've qualified for all the races, and even then only because they were able to buy the owner's points from the Roush no. 26 that NASCAR forced them to shut down.
This team tried to run all of Daytona Speedweeks with a single engine, and owner Bob Jenkins hasn't shown me a great deal of commitment. Now that he's out of the top-35 and forced to qualify on time every weekend (something that wouldn't have been able to do these first five races if they hadn't been in the top-35), we'll see how committed he is. Is he willing to provide the investment necessary to make fast cars, or was he just trying to collect the money and go home?
What confuses me even more is Boris Said. For years, he's said he wants to run NASCAR full-time and try to establish himself as a good oval-track driver rather than just a road-course ace.
So... he chooses this team to try to prove himself? Bad career move.
Keyed Up Motorsports No. 90 - Casey Mears, Driver
This is another team with whom I initially doubted the owner's commitment. In the Gatorade Duels at Daytona, it came down basically to Mike Bliss versus Casey Mears for the transfer spot into the Daytona 500. I was rooting for Mike Bliss because I knew they were committed long term and had a future ahead of them. As much as I like Casey Mears and his crew chief Doug Richert, I wasn't sure about his owner's long-term commitment.
And it showed by their failure to qualify for their first four races.
That is, until the past few weeks. They've begun using Earnhardt-Childress Engines, moved to a new shop, and gotten better cars. At Bristol, they finally qualified for the race, and raced the whole race.
It's these small improvements that bump their grade up to that D-. Their owner shows commitment, and hopefully they can make some more races now that the No. 26 is no longer locked in. However, you can't ignore the first four races for which they didn't qualify.
Robby Gordon Motorsports No. 7 - Robby Gordon, Driver
This is a team that's fallen off the map. RGM formed an alliance to provide cars and technical support for BAM Racing and their fully-sponsored effort by Warner Music Nashville. However, in the races for which Gordon does not have sponsorship, the BAM Racing car essentially becomes Robby Gordon's no. 7.
They were in the top-35 for most of the year last year, but simply haven't shown the chops this year. Even when not plagued by bad luck, they just haven't been fast. Their season-best 22nd at Bristol was largely due to other's bad luck.
RGM was never great in the first place, but this year has just been hard to watch. I don't know what they're missing, but everyone seems to have gotten faster except them.
Well, that's it for the go-or-go-home teams. Check back on Saturday for the report cards of the super teams.
Also, keep checking back this weekend as we go through a bit of a gear change at The Racing Tool. We'll debut our new look later this weekend.
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