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Kahne and Martin Gear Up Too

Finishing second and third in the Fontana race means the two drivers have broken into the top 10 in NASCAR's new qualifying system.

September 06, 2004|Mike Kupper | Times Staff Writer

Elliott Sadler won the Pop Secret 500 Nextel Cup race Sunday night at California Speedway, but runner-up Kasey Kahne and third-place finisher Mark Martin were big winners too.

They jumped into the top 10 in the "Chase for the Championship," NASCAR's new qualifying system for the 10-race shootout that will yield the 2004 champion, who will collect $5 million. Jamie McMurray didn't quite make the top 10, but his fourth-place finish left him 11th but within striking distance.

The big losers? Bobby Labonte, who finished 20th in the race, and Kevin Harvick, who finished 28th. Both dropped out of the top 10.

Then there were Dale Jarrett and Jeremy Mayfield, who missed opportunities and remain on the outside, looking in from 13th and 14th places. Mayfield had a strong shot at cracking the top 10, picking up five bonus points as a race leader after starting the race second, but a poor first pit stop dropped him back in the pack, and he finished 16th.

So, with one qualifying race remaining, Saturday night at Richmond, Va., here's the situation:

* Chevrolet teammates Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon are in, along with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart, who also drive Chevies.

* Defending champion Matt Kenseth and Sadler, both Ford drivers, aren't in yet but need only to start Saturday night's race to be in.

* Ford driver Kurt Busch ranks seventh, ahead of Dodge drivers Ryan Newman and Kahne, and Ford driver Martin, who squeezed into 10th place.

* McMurray is 11th but only 449 points behind Johnson, the leader, and drivers within 400 points of the leader, even if they aren't in the top 10, will qualify for the shootout races.

But then, all drivers, not only those involved in the "chase" will continue to compete in the last 10 races, so if it all gets a little confusing, well ...

Someone asked Martin how he viewed the points race and he replied, perhaps the least bit perplexed, "I don't know."

Even the guys in the top 10 are really assured of nothing.

Johnson, the leader, has 3,482 points, 50 more than runner-up Jeff Gordon, 116 more than third-place Earnhardt.

But when the 10-race shootout begins Sept. 19 at Loudon, N.H., the points will have been adjusted. Johnson will start with 5,050, which sounds like a deal, considering his current total. But Gordon will be only five points behind, at 5,045, and Earnhardt will be just 10 back, at 5,040. Martin, assuming he holds onto his 10th place, will start only 45 points behind at 5005.

Traditional Nextel Cup scoring will prevail in the last 10 races, meaning each driver who leads a lap gets five bonus points, and the driver who leads the most laps gets five bonus points. The winner gets 180, second place 170, and it scales down so that 43rd place gets 34.

In other sports, teams that qualify for the playoffs have to compete only against other teams that have made the playoffs, and playoff-losing teams are eliminated along the way as well.

NASCAR, though, lets everybody in. So, even though Rusty Wallace can't win the championship, he still can drive his Penske Dodge in each of the 10 races, just as Robby Gordon can drive his Chevy and Ricky Rudd his Ford, all running for victories, purse money, standings position and point-fund money.

That sounds exciting, just as NASCAR intended, but the playoffs haven't begun yet and until they do ...

"We fell out of the top 10 and that's frustrating," Labonte said. "But we've still got one more race to try and get back in the chase. It's tough, but that's where we're at. We'll do our best to get back in at Richmond."

*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Sadler Stats

A quick look at some key statistics about Elliott Sadler:

*--* * Winnings... $3,862,868 * Points... 3,204 * Career wins ... 3 * 2004 wins...2 * 2004 starts...25

*--*

Nextel Cup Point Standings

*--* Driver Points Pts. Behind Wins 1. Jimmie Johnson 3,482 Leader 4 2. Jeff Gordon 3,432 -50 5 3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 3,366 -116 4 4. Tony Stewart 3,304 -178 2 5. Matt Kenseth 3,253 -229 2 6. Elliott Sadler 3,204 -278 2 7. Kurt Busch 3,183 -299 2 8. Ryan Newman 3,078 -404 1 9. Kasey Kahne 3,067 -415 0 10. Mark Martin 3,058 -424 1 11. Jamie McMurray 3,033 -449 0 12. Bobby Labonte 3,022 -460 0 13. Dale Jarrett 3,015 -467 0 14. Jeremy Mayfield 3,003 -479 0 15. Kevin Harvick 3,002 -480 0

*--*

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