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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Dominoes will start to fall now that Stewart move is official

The worst-kept secret in racing became official Wednesday, as Tony Stewart has been released from Joe Gibbs Racing, and will become part owner of Hass-CNC Racing. Rumor is Ryan Newman will be his teammate in 2009.

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.


Anonymous George Allen said...

Matt I wrote to you some weeks ago and complimented you on a good article. But today this "opinion" piece has some troubled waters, specifically:

"Logano had more talent than any driver I’ve seen in years. Home Depot is not a very good sponsor fit for him,...

I don't mean to be agressive here but who made you the focus group chief or the chief marketer of Home Depot? Why wouldn't Logano be a good fit for Home Depot? Demographics? Please...Give me a break. Sponsors go on cars to win and Gibbs' organization can do that. Logano is polished and a winner. The fact that he isn't old enough to buy a hammer at Home Depot has nothing to do with it. Corporate trends in Cup sponsorship and driver pairings can be frought with mine fields. Everyone is trying for the "trick" deal. This guy with that car and that one with this one. None of it makes any sense unless you win.

Lookit CAT and DuPont, strictly from a consumer point of view, don't make sense at all being in the sport. Do they actually benefit that much on a B2B scale by spending $15-$30 million a year on a race car? Maybe they do, I don't know the results. But saying that Logano wouldn't be a good fit is just a non-starter; doesn't make sense. Ernie Irvan took the Texaco-Havoline car after Davey's death and they made that work. Dale Jarrett after that. It's the team and winning that matter, not some pre-conceived notion of what will and won't. Ever noticed how much new junk is on the supermarket shelves these days and that most of that new junk actually fails in the marketplace? And that is AFTER a lot of pre-market work, focus groups, pre-conceived notions and yadda yadda.

There is no REAL reason why Logano would not be a good fit with Home Depot. That sponsorship or name recognition doesn't just hinge on Tony Stewart. How about the ultimate example, the Goodwrench sponsorship? Heyman Dale Sr. made that thing work like no other. Harvick a good fir or bad fit? How knew at the beginning. yes he is male and age appropriate by focus group standards, etc. yadda yadda. But he (and the team) had to pick up the pieces of a broken and tragic deal. Who knew if that was going to be a match? And it was a great match. I will leave you with one thought: would you like to be the coach who told Michael Jordon he wouldn't make it? Now that coach could have used that as a psyche booster or he could have been just flat wrong; either way he looks dumb for a long time...

July 11, 2008 at 6:04 AM 
Blogger Matt Myftiu said...

Hey George,
Thanks for the comment.

By no means do I think Home Depot would want to leave the car if Logano takes that ride.

But Gibbs may want to create a new look for that car with a new, more youth-oriented sponsor like GameStop to match the youth of Logano. If the change is made, it would likely be Gibbs' decsion that made it happen, not Home Depot's.

It's been a long time that Home Depot has been on that car, and perhaps a new look is the right move with the beginning of a new era. And in the end, this all won't matter and it'll come down to whoever gives Gibbs the most money.

July 11, 2008 at 11:23 AM 
Anonymous George Allen said...

You have a point Matt. Sorry to be combative. I think much of what I said has come from the proliferation of news media that covers the sport--not a bad thing--but that much of that is just plain bad or wrong. On top of that I do think that outside forces are forcing Cup racing into things that don't need to be. Like, for instance, the supposed Obama sponsorship at Pocono. Is that a fact? I know you didn't report it. Even mainstream media reported it as fact. Obama's people deny it. So what's the truth? Same goes with sponsorship bunk, for instance, UPS...If it is true that they turned down Jeff Burton to go with a younger brand -- and I don't know if that is true or not but what a bunk of malarky. Burton will be around 5 or more years or so and is a great spokesman. I don't need to defend him. But you look around right now--ain't nuthin, not even life--guaranteed. UPS, while unlikely, might not be in the sport for 5 years. What's wrong in taking an "older" driver and develop a message? What's wrong with taking a younger driver with an "older" sponsor? In reality nothing. And all this targeting isn't all that good. But hey, in the final analysis, I am conceding the point: Game Stop may indeed be the better sponsor of the two; I still won't give up on Home Depot can be just as attractive. And you know as we see in this brave new world of ours Game Stop might go away quickly as quickly as it came. Anyone think that we would lose Blockbuster and Media Gallery as quick as we did? Technology is changing at light speed and therefore tastes change just as quickly. But we are always gonna need that lawnmower from Home Depot (and I have no connect with them or any other entity in this conversation.)

July 12, 2008 at 8:25 AM 

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