Dominoes will start to fall now that Stewart move is official
Now Silly Season can really get under way, and this year a ton of drivers will announce they are on the move to a new team.
First off, there’s the 20 car. It’s very likely 18-year-old Joey Logano will take over Stewart’s ride. He could benefit greatly from a year in the Nationwide series. But nowadays, owners are pretty impatient if you show any sign of talent, and Logano had more talent than any driver I’ve seen in years. Home Depot is not a very good sponsor fit for him, and he’ll likely bring Gamestop up to Cup next year. Gibbs may even start a fourth team next year, so perhaps Home Depot will move over there.
With Newman likely leaving Penske, his #12 ride will be available. One rumor has Michael McDowell leaving Michael Waltrip Racing for this ride, as MWR may scale down to two cars next year due to poor results and possible sponsorship trouble.
Martin Truex Jr.’s #1 ride should become available, as he’ll probably leave DEI for one of the many rides opening up.
The fourth Richard Childress Racing car has yet to be filled, and a decision on that will likely come soon. I think Bobby Labonte really missed the boat by passing up this ride to stay at the team formerly owned by the Pettys. Whoever gets this ride (most likely Truex or Casey Mears) has a good shot at some success next season.
Even Kyle Petty is rumored to be out of the #45 car next season. While likely not true, he really should just retire on his own for the good of the team. He’s a decent announcer and should try to do that more often. His days of being a successful driver are over. Let a young driver get in there and try to do something.
Juan Pablo Montoya says he’s staying at Ganassi, but do you really think he’d turn down a ride in a fourth Gibbs car if he got that offer? I don’t. He’s a winner and wants to go where the winners are, and that trumps loyalty. He can’t be happy running around in 25th place in inferior equipment all the time.
Other drivers not mentioned that may be in danger of losing their rides are Reed Sorenson and J.J. Yeley. Jamie McMurray will certainly be dumped by Roush at the end of 2009 when the four-car rule kicks in, but Roush might as well get it out of the way a year early. That team is pretty terrible most weeks.
Scott Riggs and whoever’s driving the 70 car lately (I lose track) are obviously out of rides with the Stewart announcement. Riggs may have to go back to Nationwide, as he’s gone from a driver with much potential to an also-ran in just a few years. Also, the 01 team at DEI probably won’t even finish out the year due to lack of sponsorship.
My biggest question is where Mears will end up. If he doesn’t get the Childress ride, I see him at either Penske or DEI. Either way, it will be a step down from Hendrick, and he’s probably the biggest loser in the shuffling.
Beyond all the driver switching, many sponsorships will change, and there will likely be more unsponsored cars next year than there are this season, as the economy is forcing even profitable companies to scale back their spending.
Another ripple effect of the economy is that several NASCAR teams are rumored to be considering mergers. One rumor is Chip Ganassi’s team may merge with Waltrip’s to form a 4-car team. Other rumored mergers are Red Bull Racing w/ Ganassi, and Bill Davis Racing w/ Red Bull. None of these are likely, but the fact they may even be in the discussion phase says a lot about how hard the economy has hit NASCAR.
I would offer predictions about how the final roster will end up, but that’s like throwing darts at a board at this point, with seemingly half of the drivers in play. Let’s just say it might be hard to spot your favorite driver for the first few races next year, as you adjust to the new lineup.
My favorite rumor of the week is that Formula 1 champion Jacques Villeneuve may be talking to Robby Gordon about coming to drive for Gordon in Cup next season. This would all hinge of the open-wheel super duo coming up with sponsorship for a second car. With Robby struggling on his own with a blank car, I doubt this will happen, but I would be very happy to see it. Villeneuve would be a good addition to NASCAR, and a lot might have been different this year if he had made the Daytona 500.