Mears, Hornish, Sorenson among drivers on the hot seat in 2009
Blessed with a famous name, Casey Mears has long failed to deliver on the racetrack. Through his NASCAR career, he has failed to excel and now is his time to show he can hang with the big boys. He’s in RCR equipment, driving for a team whose drivers all made the Chase in 2008. If he hangs around mid-pack all season and doesn’t live up to the equipment he is being provided, Richard Childress may begin to second-guess his decision to hire Mears and open his eyes to any big-name free agents after the season ends.
Sam Hornish Jr.
First things first … Sam Hornish is a talented racecar driver. His IRL championships are proof of that. But NASCAR is a whole new ballgame, and so far Hornish has yet to figure out how to compete. The success of teammate Kurt Busch is proof that the Dodges can compete with the right driver, but Hornish has spent more time sideways than any other driver I can think of since he made the leap to Cup last year.
Roger Penske recognizes Hornish’s pure racing talent and is patient, but that patience could wear thin if Hornish continues to spin out every week and tumbles further down the standings and out of the top-35. Having to watch Hornish once again struggle to qualify for races would get old for the Captain, who at that point may realize that this Indycar star may never translate to NASCAR and belongs back doing what he knows best.
This new addition to the Richard Petty Motorsports team was once viewed as a star of tomorrow, but has fallen into mediocrity. Sorenson needs to put together some good runs as the year goes on or the team may be looking for a hot free agent to take his place on the team. Better yet, they could just let him go and put A.J. Allmendinger in his seat if full-season sponsorship doesn’t come through for the #44 car. The Dodge camp has become the weakest of all the car makes in Cup, and they need to get serious about building a stable of drivers that can contend for top-10s and wins. I don’t envision Sorenson will put up numbers this year that fit that description.
Jamie McMurray/David Ragan
As I’ve noted in the past, Jamie McMurray and David Ragan are basically fighting each other to keep their ride at Roush Racing. Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards are not going anywhere, and the four-team limit per owner takes effect in 2010. Unfortunately for McMurray, who has shown flashes of greatness this year, the younger Ragan has more upside to sponsors and probably a brighter future, so I don’t see McMurray surviving at Roush. He’ll likely be shipped over to Yates Racing, or he could be scooped up by a non-Ford team looking to adjust their lineup after 2009.
Forced out of his ride with Chip Ganassi a few years ago, Stremme went back to the Busch Series and has made his way back to Cup driving for Roger Penske in the #12 car. But if he doesn’t have a solid season, I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up right back in the lower series after 2009. There’s a young driver named Justin Allgaier who I’m sure Penske is just itching to bring up to Cup. And when he does come up, he’ll have to replace somebody.
Waltrip put himself on the hot seat before the season began, saying he’d quit driving and focus on running his team if he wasn’t competitive in 2009. He started strong, but has fallen back some. Depending on how things go and whether he keeps his word, Mikey’s driving days may be numbered.
There are several drivers who may soon lose their ride through no fault of their own. The dollars just aren’t there for the cars driven by Yates Racing’s Travis Kvapil, Earnhardt-Ganassi’s Aric Almirola, and Richard Petty Motorsports’ A.J. Allmendinger, among others.