Pictures coming clear

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 22, 2006

The picture is becoming clearer for drivers and teams going into the 2007 season. Robert Yates Racing announced this week that Elliott Sadler has been released from the final year of his contract and is free to look at other opportunities.

That other opportunity for Sadler is moving to Evernham Motorsports as driver of the no.19 Dodge Dealers ride, currently occupied by Jeremy Mayfield. In turn, Mayfield looks to be headed to Michael Waltrip Motorsports to drive the no. 00 Domino’s Pizza/Burger King Toyota.

Mayfield accelerated his exit from Evernham a few weeks ago when he questioned team owner Ray Evernham’s dedication to the team. You could see the wheels turning and Mayfield was looking for an exit route.

Yates is now presented with the task of filling the seats of both his cars. On the positive side of the coin, it looks like M&Ms will remain with Yates as primary sponsor of the no. 38 car.

There had been whispers that M&Ms was considering following Sadler to the no. 19 team. Stephen Leicht, the 19-year-old Busch series driver for Yates, looks to be in line to take over one of the open rides.

Ward Burton’s name continues to be connected to the other, most likely the no. 88 car. Yates still needs sponsorship for that car after UPS bolted with Dale Jarrett to Waltrip’s team.

Burton supposedly comes to the table with a new sponsor in his back pocket and that would make him attractive to any team.

Speaking of Waltrip, Ol DW will return to the track Saturday in Martinsville in the Busch race.

Unless you have been under a rock and not seen the 2,337 commercials with Mikey and Darrell Waltrip, you know that DW is finally returning the track for one final race.

While that fact is no surprise, DW’s prediction that he will run the top-ten, if not win the race, blows me away.

Don’t get me wrong, Darrell Waltrip is one the best drivers ever and three-time champion, but he hasn’t won a race of any kind in over 15 years. I don’t know why he thinks he can come back now, at 59 years old, and compete in the Busch series.

If Waltrip finishes in the top 40 Saturday, he should consider himself lucky.

Some big named drivers inside the top-ten in points took it on the chin last week in New Hampshire.

Dale Jr. blew an engine and suffered through his second DNF of the season while finishing last. He fell from third in the standings to seventh, but more importantly is only 86 points inside the top-ten, down from 175 points inside the top-ten the week before. I don’t think Junior has much to worry about in making the chase, but he doesn’t have room for much error.

Tony Stewart left New Hampshire with a similar hit in points. He dropped four spots to land outside of the top-ten in 11th position, but only 11 points from Greg Biffle in tenth place.

Only seven races remain before the field is set for the chase, so some drivers are starting to panic.

Big names like Carl Edwards, Kurt Busch, and Jamie McMurray better hope the stars align to make the field. Other top-notch drivers have no chance to make the cut, including Ryan Newman and Elliott Sadler.

The series returns to Pocono for the second time in six weeks Sunday.

Denny Hamlin put on an awesome performance back in June here while earning his first win. He will be strong again.

Points leader Jimmie Johnson has not visited victory lane since May 1 at Talladega, a stretch of ten races. Ten races without a victory is an eternity for Johnson. That streak will end Sunday, my pick to win the race is Johnson, earning his third career win at this track.

Make sure to tune in at 2:00 on TNT and enjoy the race.