The Owner Points Shuffle

It’s not as catchy as The Stones’ Harlem Shuffle or as cool as the Ickey Woods Shuffle or the Super Bowl Shuffle, but for Sprint Cup teams on the edge of the owners points cliff all of the downsizing and reorganization is helping other teams shuffle to safety for 2009. In the final standings Chip Ganassi had two cars inside the top 35 and DEI had 4 spots locked up. Thanks to their merger and NASCAR’s rule limiting teams to 4* cars (*Rule exempt for Roush/Fenway/Yates Racing) the new conglomerate will have to give up two of their six spots. Even without the rule, it’s not like DEI-Ganassi can afford to run four full-time teams let alone 5 or 6. As a result JTG-Daugherty Racing and Gillett-Evernham Motorsports will get guaranteed starting spots in the top 35 for the first five races of 2009. Although not always a sure sign of sponsorship, a race team that can approach prospective sponsors with the guarantee that tehy will be in the Daytona 500 is a pretty good selling point. Teams can also budget for at least the first five races with the knowledge that they will come away with at least some prize money for making the race.

For JTG and driver Marcos Ambrose this is especially good news. The team only moved to the Cup level in August of this year and thanks to a few decent runs, a manufacturer switch (from Ford to Toyota) and some fancy points swapping they have set the table for steady improvement next year.

The #10 car of GEM is no stranger to the top 35. In 2006 the car began with zero owners point and missed the Daytona 500. Scott Riggs managed to run well enough during the season to rebound and enter the top 35 by the end of the season. As diligently as Riggs drove in ’06, he undid all of the progress in 2007, slipping out of the top 35 by race 11. The #10 car hasn’t been solidly back in the top 35 since. Now on the team’s third different driver in as many years, Reed Sorenson will try to rebound from a horrendous season to keep the car locked in.

As other teams continue to lay off personnel and team sponsorship dollars go to NASCAR’s teat dry up, there could be more changes from inside the top 35. The 2009 roster is far from set. Of course, by February there might only be 43 teams willing to run races. Then the top 35 would be essentially moot anyway. At least for a few teams, they are safe to begin work on 2009 plans instead of sweating out the winter.