<
>

Does Fellows threaten bubble drivers?

8/14/2004

As if race day wasn't stressful enough for Nextel Cup bubble teams, Watkins Glen throws a wrinkle into the mix this weekend. The points leaders are racing for wins, the bubble teams are racing for points, and now there's the road-race specialist threat.

What are these hired guns racing for?

"I'm going there to win," said road racer Scott Pruett. "But I'd also like to get my name out there -- get noticed."

Of course, Pruett won't get that opportunity this time around, thanks to the weather. A wet track prevented qualifying, and so with the field being set by owners' points, Pruett and fellow one-off, road course specialists Boris Said and Klaus Graf all were left out.

Only one hired gun got into the field as NASCAR handed the 43rd spot to Canadian ace Ron Fellows.

So the "road racers" effect has been paired down to the "road racer" effect.

Still, some NASCAR regulars don't think the bubble guys would have been effected too much anyway by the road race aces.

"I suppose it's tougher because there's another group looking for something," Dale Jarrett allowed, "but I look at it like there's always 42 other cars looking for a pay day. Everybody's looking for a win or a top five or looking to make a strong run. Like that, this weekend won't be any different."

Drivers are hoping Fellows doesn't try any risky maneuvers, given that he doesn't have any points at stake, but Jeff Gordon points out that it isn't just specialists who have nothing to lose.

This year, under the new system there are already more than two dozen teams that know they won't be racing for a championship. Only the top 10 (as well as anyone within 400 points of the leader -- which won't add any drivers this year) can race for the title.

That leaves everyone else with nothing to lose but the race.

"I think you're disregarding that all of us go out there trying to win every weekend," four-time champ Jeff Gordon said. "Unless you are bound for the championship, everybody is putting their best effort forward. Maybe in the past at this point in the season it wasn't time to start taking too many risks.

"Now some guys are willing to take a little more risks, turn a little more rpm with their engines, do something that's not quite as proven but they think they can try it to make them faster, or riskier on their pit strategy, whether they have fuel mileage or don't have fuel mileage, things like that. Every weekend everybody is trying to win."

Jeremy Mayfield doesn't care about that. He's dealt with it for the past few weekends. But he cautions that nobody should count out the bubble teams. He knows better than anyone that the guys from eighth to 12th are ready to take as many risks as any other driver on the track.

"I'm ready to do just about everything," Mayfield said. "You don't want to take too much of a risk and blow up, but if you stay conservative you run out of time. We don't have a lot of time. Our season is over in [five races]. Either we keep going or we're done. So we have to race for wins."

It looks like that's the theme for everybody whom Mother Nature allowed to race this weekend.

Rupen Fofaria is a freelance writer living in Chicago and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at rfofaria@espnspecial.com.