Work in Sports
Bringing up the rear
For some, starting in the top-10 is very rare
By Ryan Smithson, CNNSI.com
It can't be much fun having to race from the back every week.
But yet, that is what several drivers do week-in and week-out. That's because they haven't qualified well all year, and they are forced to make up for it on Sunday by racing harder simply to stay on the lead lap.
Chad Little is an interesting case. The veteran lost his Roush Racing seat to rookie Kurt Busch after a long season in which he failed to qualify in the top 10 in 26 events.
To Little's credit, he was a respectable 19th in the points when he lost his job. Little will drive one final time for Roush this weekend at Talladega, and if it's a normal race for Little, he will be starting at the back.
Little used 12 provisonals this season (in 26 starts) before he lost his ride. Provisionals are given to the teams who fail to crack the top-36 in speed each weekend. Usually, seven are awarded, but if a former Winston Cup champion fails to make the field, then he is awarded the 43rd and final spot.
An interesting footnote - after Little failed to qualify in the top 10 all year, Busch stepped in at Dover and qualified - you guessed it - 10th.
Little's team can technically keep using provisionals because they are in the top-25 in owner's points. So is Terry Labonte, who has used a startling eight provisionals. Actually, it does not really matter if Labonte runs out of provisionals - he is a former champion.
Labonte's teammate, Jeff Gordon, has never used a provisional in his entire Winston Cup career. The three-time Winston Cup champion has come close - he started 36th at Talladega (the final spot on speed). Coincidentally, Gordon won that race, becoming the first driver ever to win a Talladega from a starting spot of worse than 27th.
This weekend at Charlotte was a good example that starting in the back is not necessarily a handicap. Steve Park and Jeff Burton each used provisionals and finished n the top 10. Dale Earnhardt started 37th - a season worst - and threatened to win before finishing 11th.
Burton is probably the best-known current Winston Cup driver when it comes to moving through the field. The Jack Roush driver has won just two poles in his career.
Burton has started 30th or worse six times this year, but amazingly, has not finished out of the top-20 in any of those races. He finished second at Darlington from the 35th starting spot - easily one of the most amazing accomplishments of the year considering that gaining track position with tire strategy is not an option.