Towards the end of every season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series the fight for thirty-fifth place is every bit as intense as the fight for the championship. Why so? Because at the season’s end the top thirty-five in the owner’s points table are guaranteed starts in the first five championship races of the following year starting with the prestigious Daytona 500. That’s the owner’s points table, remember, not the driver’s.

Let me explain the owner’s points. They are awarded to the owner of the car – or more specifically the car number. Take Richard Childress Racing (RCR) as an example. Last year the no.29 car driven by Kevin Harvick earned 6,581 points to finish third in the owner’s points table. The no.33 of Clint Bowyer finished tenth and Jeff Burton‘s no.31 twelfth with 6,155 and 6,033 points respectively. RCR is guaranteed starts for those three cars for Daytona through to Fontana on March 27th. After the fifth race the guaranteed spots are given to the top thirty-five owner’s up to the previous race for the remainder of the season.

This is Paul Menard, he'll be running a new fourth Richard Childress car in 2011.....

For the drivers of cars that are not in the top 35 points they have a few options to get into the race but the most common are that places 36 to 42 are for the fastest seven in qualifying and position 43 is for a previous series champion who is not one of the automatic 35 qualifiers. If more than one previous champion apply for the Past Champions Provisional it goes to the most recent champion. If no previous champion applies for a provisional then the eighth fastest qualifier gets in.

Are you with me so far?

Let’s go back to Richard Childress Racing and their recruitment of Paul Menard to the team. He is to drive car no.27 which keeps the little number sequence RCR have of consecutive odd numbers, 27 through to 33. But there was no no27 last year so there are no owner’s points for that car. Menard, of course, did race last year in the no.98 finishing in 23rd place in the owner’s points but, as I have said, those points stay with the 98 car.  So Paul Menard should have to qualify for at least each of the first five races this year.

But that is where the world of NASCAR owner’s points becomes strange and sometimes even murky.

The no.71 car with Kevin Buckler of TRG listed as owner finished in that vital 35th place last year. Richard Childress Racing are saying that Thomas Pumpelly who was part owner of the no.71 has “divested his partnership” of TRG and taken the no.71 owner’s points with him. He is now listed as “owner” of no.27 car thus giving Menard a guaranteed start in the first five races using the 71’s owner’s points. There is some logic to this horse trading because TRG ran cars and engines supplied by RCR last season.

....but will be guaranteed a Daytona 500 start with owner points from the TRG run no.71 from last season....

But this is where the whole subject of wheeler dealing points between teams in order to circumnavigate the rule of guaranteed starts gets really strange. Almost laughably so.

Kevin Buckler is determined for his car to compete in the Daytona 500. And to that end he has “acquired” the points for the no.98 which Richard Petty Motorsports ran in 2010 but, having reduced from a four car team to just two won’t be using the owner’s points for the no.98 in 2011. And the points for RPM’s other car they have opted not to run this year, the no.19, have been passed to the Woods Brothers team to be used by Trevor Bayne in the no.21 as he attempts selected races to build his experience.

.....which in turn is having to use the owner points from the no.98's 2010 campaign scored by, yep, Paul Menard

Confused?

Here’s a recap. The no.71 points are being used by the no.27. So for the no.71 to run they have acquired the points from the no.98. And for Bayne to have assured starts in the no.21 he will be using the no.19’s points.

Oh! Did I also mention that Steve Wallace will be running courtesy of the owner’s points accrued for Sam Hornish last year?

It’s true. But – Wallace intends the Daytona 500 to be a one-off drive. And if he with his guaranteed start doesn’t turn up for the second race of the series at Phoenix then last year’s 36th place finisher in the owner’s points which should be the no.38 car will gain an automatic entry.

You’ve done well if you have managed to get this far without frowning.

The idea of owner’s points and automatic qualification was to ensure the class runners could always make the field. For as long as the trading of them between teams is permitted the intention runs the risk of being diluted and that would be a shame.