by Chris Leone, Special To NASCAR commentary and driver pictures, 2012 NASCAR schedule, video, Bench Racing With Steve and Charlie
I do weekly Fantasy Pick'Em columns here at OPR, as well as the occasional opinion and analysis piece. I also provide the IZOD IndyCar Series coverage. For more on that, head to my site, OpenWheelAmerica.com. My Twitter handle is @christopherlion.July 15, 2009 6:22 pm UTC 1 Comment
With no Sprint Cup race this weekend, some of us NASCAR fans are searching for something to talk about. The IndyCar Series is off, as well, leaving major-league racing fans only with Nationwide and Camping World Truck races at Gateway and Kentucky, respectively. It’s not a bad offering, but it’s certainly nothing compared to the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard next weekend.
Because I’ve got nothing to predict this week for One and Done, I figure that now is as good a time as ever to catch folks up on this year’s Silly Season, one of the more interesting in recent memory. Martin Truex is the first big fish to move, having announced his move to Michael Waltrip Racing a couple of weeks ago, but there are plenty more drivers and sponsors on the market with strong records and sound checkbooks.
Kevin Harvick is the biggest name on the market at the moment, as multiple reports this past week have suggested that he wants out at Richard Childress Racing. Harvick’s contract is up after next year, but sponsor Shell/Pennzoil’s ends after this one.
Harvick doesn’t want to move up his own team to Sprint Cup, though, and run as an owner-driver as Tony Stewart has (with great success) this year; rather, he wants to join Stewart’s operation, this year’s biggest surprise, and take Shell with him. Sponsorship wise, the deal makes sense, as Stewart-Haas’ engine and chassis provider Hendrick Motorsports already has a deal with Shell motor oil brand Quaker State.
It’s also possible, however, that Bass Pro Shops follows Truex out of Earnhardt Ganassi Racing to join Stewart-Haas, as the company is a longtime Stewart supporter. EGR believes that Bass Pro Shops will return to their No. 1 car, but with Aric Almirola the only driver candidate at the moment, they may look for more of a sure thing, such as Harvick or Ryan Newman.
Before the Harvick rumor broke, the most likely candidate for a third Stewart-Haas car was Brad Keselowski, due to his ties to Hendrick and Chevrolet. Now, however, it looks more and more like one of the following two scenarios will play out: either he’ll join Penske Racing and replace David Stremme in the No. 12 car, or he’ll join Team Red Bull (if it switches to Chevrolet), potentially in a third car for that team. (Current drivers Brian Vickers and Scott Speed appear set to return for 2010, with Vickers renewing his contract almost inevitable.)
As for other potential expansion teams, Joe Gibbs Racing may add a fourth car next year, sponsorship pending. They’re already running a fourth car in three late season races this year, potentially in preparation for a full-time gig in 2010. AJ Allmendinger has been rumored to join the team in the past, but the latest reports suggest that David Gilliland will get the ride for the three races this year and potentially next year.
One of the biggest questions remaining for 2010, however, lies not in expansion but contraction. One of Roush Fenway Racing’s current teams will be gone after this season as the team finally complies with NASCAR’s four-car limit. Drivers David Ragan and Jamie McMurray both finish up their contracts at the end of the year, and one will undoubtedly be the odd man out.
As Ragan and the No. 6 team have just started a major sponsorship deal with UPS, it looks like McMurray will leave the team. Roush’s plan, however, is to shift the odd man out and his team to Yates Racing, in order to try and strengthen that team. Current drivers Paul Menard and Bobby Labonte haven’t been running up to par with the performance of Gilliland and Travis Kvapil last year.
Yates will probably see its second overhaul in two years, combining the likely addition of a current Roush driver with the potential defection of Menard. He’s been rumored to be shopping around the family sponsorship. One intriguing option for Menard would be Robby Gordon Motorsports, which already has a long-standing deal with the Menards chain of hardware stores.
Another solid option for Menard would be to join his former EGR teammate Truex at Waltrip’s team, now running at only one level below the heavyweights. Current drivers David Reutimann and Marcos Ambrose (through a JTG Daugherty Racing partnership) are solid 10th-20th place drivers every week, and are even improving as the season goes on. Both should be back next year.
If that was confusing, and a handful to decipher… it should’ve been. NASCAR’s silly season gets sillier and sillier every year, and 2009 is no exception. Expect much of the confusion to end in the coming months, however, as drivers, teams, and sponsors begin signing contracts to strengthen their positions in Sprint Cup for next year and beyond.