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The battle for the top 35 is close, but does it matter?

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With one race to go before the 2011 owner's points are used to guarantee starting positions in the Sprint Cup Series, the fight for that 35th and final position is very close. Just three points separate four teams fighting for that final spot.

Currently, the No. 13 car driven by Casey Mears is in the 35th spot with 52 points. Dave Blaney and the No. 36 are one point back in (appropriately) 36th, followed by Front Row Motorsports and Andy Lally with 50 and 49 points, respectively. (Remember, in the new points system, each position on the track is worth one more point than the previous position and drivers get a point for leading a lap.)

The battle for the final guaranteed spot can sometimes be more intriguing than the battle of for the top 10. While that battle is one of (driving) futility, does it really matter this season?

Forty-eight cars attempted the Daytona 500, but the car count for the 500 is always the highest of the season. Since then, only 44 cars have attempted the past three races, with Brian Keselowski and the No. 92 failing to qualify twice and Frank Stoddard's No. 32 going home at Bristol.

And there are just 43 cars on the preliminary entry list for California, as Keselowski's No. 92 isn't making the trip west. Since 43 cars qualify for the race, you can see how getting into the top 35 doesn't mean as much.

Plus, the Wood Brothers and Trevor Bayne are still only scheduled to compete in 18 races this season, dropping the car count another notch for half of the Cup season.

However, given this points structure, it's entirely possible that Bayne could stay in the top 35 all season despite running half the schedule, guaranteeing a spot in the Daytona 500 next year.

Why? Right now, the No. 21 has 85 owner's points, 34 more than Blaney. That's essentially 34 spots, a lot for a partial start-and-park team to have to make up.

Got all that? Good. It's probably irrelevant unless we have four or five new teams join in midseason. And if we don't? Well, it's entirely possible that we may see a short field sooner rather than later.

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