Top 35 spots guaranteed to start

Updated: March 22, 2009, 8:31 PM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Mark Martin won't have to qualify on speed next week at Martinsville. Neither will Joey Logano, although a blown engine late in Sunday's race at Bristol Motor Speedway made him a candidate. Ryan Newman is off the proverbial bubble as well.

Drivers with cars in the top 35 in owner points at the end of 2008 have been guaranteed a spot in the first five Sprint Cup races of this season.

NASCAR turns to this year's standings now.

More important than Jeff Gordon leading the points is that Martin, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, had a solid sixth-place finish to move from 35th to 31st.

Newman moved up five spots to 27th after a seventh-place finish.

Logano, the 18-year-old phenom from Joe Gibbs Racing, slipped a spot to 34th.

Those on the outside looking in include Red Bull Racing's Scott Speed and Aric Almirola of Earnhardt Ganassi Racing (t36th), Paul Menard of Yates Racing (38), and Travis Kvapil of Yates (39) whose team will suspend operations due to a lack of sponsorship.

Positions 30 through 35 are Robby Gordon, Martin, Sam Hornish Jr., John Andretti, Logano and David Gilliland.

JGR owner Joe Gibb, said it was "extremely important'' for Logano to be guaranteed a spot.

"He's had two wrecks; other people caused them,'' Gibbs said. "Then we blow a motor. It's been disheartening. But I think we're locked in a battle. It's a tough deal. We stepped out there for Home Depot and him. We're going to continue to keep swinging.''

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.

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ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter