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NASCAR finally opens Daytona: 34 Cup regulars are solid for the year...and 57 cars are expected for the twin 150s

By Mike Mulhern

   Okay, here's the scoop: according to budget figures crunched by some NASCAR gamblers, men trying to figure out if it really makes any business sense to start up a Sprint Cup team this season – with all those top-flight crewmen on the sidelines since getting pink slips in November – a barebones budget to run the full 2009 Cup tour is just under $1 million.
   And a team that last year just finished dead-last in every race would have grossed about $2.5 million.
   Now that $1 million is just to get to every track with a decent car and small crew. Certainly nothing competitive. Maybe just a run-and-park deal, maybe a little more.
  After all, last season there were, according to Ray Evernham, now a former team owner, at least six Cup teams that were working with budgets of $30 million or more.
  So somewhere between $1 million and $30 million, there is a NASCAR game plan that works.
  Most of those gamblers are right here (though how many make it out to Los Angeles and Las Vegas is unclear).
  The numbers are being closely watched this season --  When the NASCAR Cup garage opened today, there were 57 teams ready for Daytona 500 inspection, with 35 guaranteed starting spots based on NASCAR's top-35 rule.
   That means 22 men will be vying for the remaining eight spots in the 43-car field. Tony Stewart would get a spot too, if he needs it, based on NASCAR's past-champion's provisional. If Stewart gets in without needing that, the next past champion in line would be Terry Labonte, who is driving for the new Phil Parsons Toyota team. And the next past champion in line here is Bill Elliott, driving a limited schedule for the Woods.
   Labonte has race only occasionally the past few years; Parsons' full game plan for the 2009 season is still up in the air.
   The two fastest men in Sunday's pole runs will lock in on the front row for the Feb. 15th race; the rest of the lineup will be set Thursday, with the twin 150s, and with speeds from the rest of Sunday's qualifying runs.
   With team consolidations and mergers and buyouts and what all, and with 1,000 crew men on the unemployment rolls since the end of the 2008 season, there are only 34 major league full-time teams currently.
   However there are a number of new start-up operations and other players: those here include drivers Joe Nemechek, Regan Smith, Derrike Cope, Mike Garvey, Mike Wallace, Terry Labonte, Geoff Bodine, James Hylton, Norm Benning, Kelly Bires, Marcos Ambrose, Carl Long, AJ Allmendinger, Jeremy Mayfield, Tony Rains, Scott Riggs, John Andretti, Kirk Shelmerdine, Mike Skinner, Brad Keselowski, Boris Said and Aric Almirola.


Wouldn't Bobby Labonte be the second champ provisional?

He would be, if new owner

He would be, if new owner Doug Yates hadn't given the Labonte team the top-35 points from one of his other teams. Don't ask me why NASCAR has allowed these shenanigans. I think the top-35 rule has run its course. You either make the field on speed, or you go home. Period. But I'm not the boss of NASCAR.

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