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The battle brews

Eleven races remain before the field is set for the 2006 chase for the cup.

Save any catastrophic failures from the top six in the points standings, those drivers are a virtual lock to make the chase. Spots seven through ten are up in the air.

Jimmie Johnson continues to lead the points standings after a sixth place finish at Michigan. Matt Kenseth is 74 points behind Johnson and Kasey Kahne, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Mark Martin and Tony Stewart make up spots three through six.

Currently, Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Greg Biffle sit in spots seven through ten. These four guys better not slip up, else Jeff Gordon or Kyle Busch will jump into the mix. Gordon sits 11 points out of tenth place and Busch is only 12 points back.

As the summer wears on, drivers will jump in and fall out of the top ten until all drivers are set after the Richmond race. Hang on, it should be interesting.

Michael Waltrip last week announced sponsorship plans for second Toyota entry into cup racing next season. Primary sponsorship for the no. 00 car will be split between Dominos Pizza and Burger King. What was not announced, however, was the driver of this car. It very well could be Dale Jarrett, but many speculate that Waltrip is working on another deal for Jarrett, giving him three teams next season.

The deal appears not to include Jarrett’s current sponsor, UPS. It is likely that the Big Brown will move over the Roush stable to sponsor Greg Biffle’s no. 16 ride. So it appears that UPS will not follow Jarrett to Waltrip’s team. Either Jarrett will be pitching pizzas and whoppers next season, or Mikey has another plan up his sleeve.

Your race-day Sundays will begin a little later next season. As part of the upcoming television deals with FOX/FX and ABC/ESPN, no race will begin earlier than 2 p.m. and most starting later than that. The television networks have flexed their muscles once again with the France family. How much of strain will the later starting time put on a guy who has to get home and get back to work on Monday morning? I suspect there will be a lot of sick days used on Mondays, but, hey, what the networks want, the networks get.

The boys get the first of two chances this year to make right turns this week at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California in the Dodge/Save Mart 350. The road course in wine country is a vast departure to what these guys are accustomed to every week.

There are only four active drivers who have won at this track. Jeff Gordon leads with four career wins and Tony Stewart is the defending winner of this race and a two-time winner. The other winners at this track are Robby Gordon and Mark Martin.

You will see some unfamiliar names driving this race, the so-called road course ringers. PJ Jones, Boris Said, Tom Hubert, Ron Fellows, Scott Pruett and Brian Simo are among the specialists brought in just to run this race. These guys will make it interesting and run up front for a while, but a ringer has never won this race. Fellows and Said have the best shot at a strong top-five finish.

Jeff Gordon is the obvious pick to win this race, or would have been five years ago. This is not the same Gordon we have seen in the past. My pick to win this race and to get some people off his back is Jamie McMurray. It would be McMurray’s second career win and first in a Roush car.

Don’t miss the action beginning at 3:00 on FOX.