The battle for the top 35 is hardly a battle at all

The much-discussed deal between Tommy Baldwin Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing to keep the No. 10 car in the top 35 in points this season to guarantee a spot in the 2012 Daytona 500 is going swimmingly. The No. 10 is 33rd in the owner's points standings, 80 points ahead of 36th place, despite the lack of a top-20 finish through the first 17 races of the season.

Why such a large gap? Well, it's pretty simple.

Eight cars started and parked at Kentucky on Saturday night. Given that the full starting field for a Sprint Cup race is 43, you can do the easy math and realize that yeah, just simply outlasting the start and parkers on Saturday was a guaranteed 35th-place finish at the minimum. Heck, when Tony Stewart had EFI problems on Lap 27 and slowed and went to the garage, he only fell to 41st. And last week at Sonoma? Joe Nemechek parked his car after one lap.

No, this isn't a crucifixion of the start-and-park practice. Given the current payouts in NASCAR, it make financial sense for sponsor-less teams on a shoestring budget to save money on tires and engines and call it a day shortly after the green flag on a regular basis. Very few, if any, drivers actually want to run five laps and quit. (It can be argued that some teams have made starting and parking a profitable practice. But, that's for a different day.)

Plus, car counts are down, so starting and parking isn't as dangerous as it once was. Forty-five cars were entered at Kentucky; 44 cars are entered for Saturday's race at Daytona. Outside of the Daytona 500, which featured 49 entries, the highest car count has been 47.

Tommy Baldwin Racing's other car, the No. 36, primarily driven by Dave Blaney, is holding the previously treacherous 35th spot. (The 36 is the car that would have won the Daytona 500 if the race had been called because of the jet dryer fire.) Its margin over the 36th place No. 33 car is a comfortable 65 points. How comfortable? Well, the No. 33 has earned 67 points in its last nine races. Yeah, unless something drastically changes, it's safe to say the top 35 for 2012 is set.

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