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NASCAR Silly Season Predictions

by Dave Grayson
Thursday, August 06, 2009

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While we're all anxiously awaiting to see which of the NASCAR Sprint Cup team will rise to the top and comprise the 12 man line up for the 2009 Sprint Cup Chase For The Championship, it's also time to keep tabs on this year's silly season in order to track potential changes for next year.

The following is a general consensus of what could be in store for some of the Sprint Cup drivers in 2010. The operative words here are "what could happen." Remember that silly season projections are often based on garage rumors. Also bear in mind that a projected silly season profile can change within the blink of an eye.

If you don't see the car number of your favorite driver on this listing then assume the driver's status hasn't changed for next year.

#00 DAVID REUTIMANN. TOYOTA. MICHAEL WALTRIP RACING-(MWR)

Reutimann's contract was supposed to expire at the end of this season but MWR made quick work of picking up their one year option on this driver, whom Waltrip refers to as "the franchise". It's also widely believed that quick work will be made to establish a contract extension that will keep this talented young driver with the team. That's because the current contract runs out at the end of next year and Reutimann has already made the 2010 silly season super star list.

But in this age of harsh economics the status of sponsors has become a major factor in silly season reports. The element of uncertainty for MWR involves their primary sponsor, Aarons, whose contract expires at the end of this season. There has yet to be a formal announcement that says they're staying but, on the other hand, there's been no reports that says they're leaving.

#07 CASEY MEARS. CHEVROLET. RICHARD CHILDRESS RACING-(RCR)

Casey Mears is under contract with RCR until the end of the 2011 season. However, there may be a serious issue regarding sponsorship that could actually force RCR to shut this team down. The team's contract with Jack Daniels, their primary sponsor, is up for renewal and it's beginning to look like they won't be returning. Making things worse is the fact that there doesn't appear to be a potential sponsor replacement coming to the rescue anytime soon.

#09 BRAD KESELOWSKI, STERLING MARLIN AND MIKE BLISS. CHEVROLET/DODGE. PHOENIX RACING.

This team is running a trio of driver this year but Brad Keselowski is the only stand out here after presenting the team with their first, and only, Sprint Cup win last April at Talladega. Keselowski has emerged as a major player in the 2009 silly season because, due to equally impressive success in the Nationwide Series, he's proven that he deserves a full time shot at a ride in the Sprint Cup.

Keselowski is currently campaigning a full time Nationwide Series effort for JR Motorsports which is co owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr and Rick Hendrick. In a perfect world scenario Keselowski wants to remain professionally tied to super team owner Hendrick. But he now seems to be caught up in a catch 22 situation that involves both a NASCAR rule change and economics.

The young driver ran a limited schedule of Sprint Cup events in Hendrick's part time fifth team, the #25, but that's not going to be a full time option for next year due to NASCAR's mandate that limits ownership to four teams only. That mandate becomes effective next year.

Earlier this year there were some reported plans by Earnhardt and Hendrick to leave the Nationwide series and elevate JR Motorsports to a full time Sprint Cup operation with Keselowski behind the wheel. However, at this point in time, it appears that sponsorship considerations is going to prevent the making of that major move.

Over the past few months there was a lot of speculation that Keselowski might be the driver of the newly formed third Cup team fielded by Stewart Haas Racing. However on Wednesday Tony Stewart announced that the conditions were not right for his organization to launch that third team.

There are also reports that allege Keselowski has been contacted to drive a brand new third team for Red Bull racing who plan to switch from Toyotas to Chevrolets powered by Hendrick engines. So far there's been no development on that racing situation.

While still reported to be examining any and all options, this opportunity from Phoenix Racing may be the one that will allow Keselowski to gain additional Sprint Cup experience and exposure. The ride at the moment has solid sponsorship from Miccosukee Indian Gaming. It's also been speculated that Keselowski has no objection to returning to JR Motorsports for another full Nationwide Series season in 2010.

Meanwhile the Phoenix Racing Dodge team's future is unclear. Sterling Marlin's status with the team could become dependent on any decision Keselowski makes. Mike Bliss, this past Monday, was released as the driver of Phoenix Racing's Nationwide Series team so don't expect him to have any participation with the team's Cup ride next season.

#1 DRIVER TBA. CHEVROLET. EARNHARDT GANASSI RACING-(EGR)

This is the highly coveted ride that will become vacant after driver Martin Truex Jr leaves to join Michael Waltrip Racing next year.

Ironically the upcoming NASCAR mandate that limits ownership to four teams may provide the new driver for the EGR vacancy. Roush Fenway Racing will have to trim their operation from five to four teams and it's now known that Jaime McMurray is the departing driver.

McMurray is rumored to be the front runner to take over EGR's #1 Chevrolet. That also suggest that McMurray and team co owner Chip Ganassi have mended fences from the past. They were paired together a few years ago in a Cup team owned by Ganassi. There were reports of less than harmonious relations after McMurray asked for a contract release to join his current team at Roush Fenway Racing.

EGR is also reported to be considering placing Aric Almirola, their young development driver, in their #1 car. Almirola began this season driving EGR's #8. That operation lasted seven races before EGR shut the team down due to lack of sponsorship. Almirola has been doing some part time driving stints in the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series while waiting to see if EGR can find the sponsorship needed that will reinstate the #8 ride back to the Cup series. That doesn't appear to be likely at this point. It also appears that Almirola's chances of returning to the Cup level next year is directly dependent on what McMurray decides to do.

EGR will also have to deal with sponsorship issues for their #1 ride. The current primary sponsor, Bass Pro Shops, is under contract with the team through 2010 but there seems to be a question of how many of the 36 races they will sponsor next year. It was reported that Bass Pro Shops only committed to 23 races this season.

#5 MARK MARTIN. CHEVROLET. HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS-(HMS)

NASCAR's 50 year old icon is locked in to drive this car in 2010. But there appears to be sponsorship issues at this point in time. The garage rumors are saying that Carquest and Kellogg’s may not be with the team next year. These rumors also state that Shell-Pennzoil may be leaving the Richard Childress #29 team, driven by Kevin Harvick, to sponsor Martin. This is flatly being denied by Childress.

#7 ROBBY GORDON. TOYOTA. ROBBY GORDON MOTORSPORTS-(RGM)

Owner-driver Robby Gordon returns in 2010 with Toyota which is his fourth manufacturer affiliation since 2007. Jim Beam will return as one of the primary sponsors but current sponsor deals with Menards and Mapei are reported to be an area of concern. Plans for the team to become a two car operation also seem to be questionable at this point.

#9 KASEY KAHNE. DODGE. RICHARD PETTY MOTORSPORTS-(RPM)

Kasey Kahne and Budweiser are rock solid for a 2010 return. But it's the car manufacturer that's questionable. Due to economic restraints Dodge has been unable to meet its payment schedule to RPM. Rumors are rampant that Kahne may be driving a Toyota next year. Those rumors were fortified by a recent alliance forged between RPM and Braun Racing that involved five races in the Nationwide Series. RPM drivers, including Kahne, participated in this program while driving a Toyota.

It will be interesting to see if Kahne makes some moves in 2010 to build up his personal equity. His contract runs out at the end of next year and he's another name already on the 2010 silly season super star list.

#12 DAVID STREMME. DODGE. PENSKE RACING

It's no secret that the performance levels of this team are no where close to expectations and Stremme is rumored to be facing a release from this ride.

Regarding possible replacements Brad Keselowski's name has been mentioned but many believe that's not likely because he wants to maintain a close connection to Hendrick Motorsports.

But one very plausible replacement is Justin Allgaier who is currently driving Penske Racing's Nationwide Series car and impressing a lot of observers in the process.

The good news for Penske lies in the fact that Verizon Wireless will be returning as the team's primary sponsor although they again will not be allowed to place their name and logo on the hood of the car. This is due to a protection clause NASCAR has in the series sponsor contract with Sprint.

Meanwhile Penske officials continue to deny persistent rumors that they are contemplating a switch from Dodge to Toyota next year.

#17 MATT KENSETH. FORD. ROUSH FENWAY RACING-(RFR)

Matt Kenseth is locked into this ride through the 2011 season. But the same cannot be said for the team's sponsor profile. After ten years as a primary sponsor, DeWalt Tools announced they will not be returning next year. Crown Royal will be moving its sponsorship from RFR's soon to be defunct #26 team to the #17 Kenseth car. However that deal reportedly only covers 18 races. Whether or not the team's long time associate sponsors: R&L Carriers, Carhartt and USG will step up to cover the remaining 18 races is not clear.

#19 ELLIOT SADLER. DODGE. RICHARD PETTY MOTORSPORTS-(RPM)

Despite the fact that Sadler is signed through 2010, there are persistent rumors that states he may be moving to another team. That in turn, has fueled persistent rumors that RPM will be downsizing to three teams next year. If Sadler does stay with the team he may be switching from Dodge to Toyota.

#26 JAIME MC MURRAY. FORD. ROUSH FENWAY RACING-(RFR)

It's now official that this is the team will be leaving the fold in order for RFR to comply with NASCAR's upcoming four team mandate. RFR has two basic options for disposing of this team. The first is a transfer, and eventual sale, to Yates Racing where they've had a long time business and technical alliance. For that matter they could sell the team to another interested party. The second option is to simply shut it down and write it off on their taxes.

As previously mentioned Mc Murray seems to have two career options available to him. Take over the #1 Chevy for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing of follow the #26 team to Yates.

#29 KEVIN HARVICK. CHEVROLET. RICHARD CHILDRESS RACING-(RCR)

The silly season got really interesting for RCR when Harvick reportedly asked to be released from his contract a year early. It was at first widely believed that Harvick was interested in driving for the new third team being established by Stewart Haas Racing. However Tony Stewart announced on Wednesday that this project was on hold.

There are also rumors that state the team's primary sponsor, Shell-Pennzoil, was leaving and rumored to be joining Mark Martin and Hendrick Motorsports.

That prompted team owner, Richard Childress, to issue a formal statement that said both the driver and the sponsor are signed through the 2010 season and were expected to be in place next year to honor their agreements.

Watch all of this next year. Harvick is highly ranked on the 2010 silly season super star list and may be spending a portion of next season building up his personal equity.

#34 JOHN ANDRETTI. CHEVROLET. FRONT ROW MOTORSPORTS-(FRM)

This team operated under a technical alliance with Earnhardt Ganassi Racing this year but it's unclear if that alliance will be renewed for 2010. The team appears to be solid for finishing in the top 35 of NASCAR's owner's points which will get their 2010 season off to a good start. But the real concern here is sponsorship packages.

#36 DRIVER TBA. TOYOTA. TOMMY BALDWIN RACING-(TBR)

TBR began this season as a brand new start up team with driver Scott Riggs. But when financial woes began to plague the team Baldwin made the tough decision to run on a start and park basis until sponsorship money could be secured. It was reported that a livid Riggs refused to have anything to do with the start and park program and resigned. Drivers Mike Skinner and Patrick Carpentier have filled in but with very little effectiveness. The driver and sponsor status, as well as the overall future of the team, is extremely unclear at this point.

#41 JEREMY MAYFIELD. TOYOTA. MAYFIELD MOTORSPORTS

Just like the proverbial Thanksgiving turkey pull it out of the oven and stick a fork in it because it's done. The embattled Mayfield has sold his entire racing inventory to businessman-team owner John Carter. Undoubtedly he needs the money to pay mounting legal fees while trying to get reinstated as a driver. Let's face it, taking NASCAR to court ain't cheap.

#42 JUAN PABLO MONTOYA. CHEVROLET. EARNHARDT GANASSI RACING-(EGR)

The good new is: Montoya is signed to stay in this seat until the end of 2011. The bad news is: the primary sponsor, Target Stores, contract concludes at the end of this year and the renewal status is uncertain. However if the team makes the line up for this year's Sprint Cup Chase For The Championship, and it's very possible that they will, that should greatly aide the sponsorship picture for next year.

#43 REED SORENSON. DODGE. RICHARD PETTY MOTORSPORTS-(RPM)

The silly season rumors are flying that RPM may be down sizing to three, possibly even two, teams for next year. It that turns out to be true then Sorenson and company are believed to be the first causality. But if the team survives the cut they may be switching to Toyotas next year. This year the team had a lengthy list of associate sponsors who shared placing their logos of the hood of the number 43. There are no confirmed reports as of yet that says any of these sponsors are returning.

#44 A J ALLMENDINGER. DODGE. RICHARD PETTY MOTORSPORTS-(RPM)

Finally "the Dinger" has a bonafide contract that covers the remainder of this year and all of 2010. The heavily rumored RPM downsizing will likely alleviate some of the sponsor concerns that currently exists.

#55 MICHAEL WALTRIP. TOYOTA. MICHAEL WALTRIP RACING-(MWR)

After turning over his self owned ride to Martin Truex Jr beginning next year, Waltrip plans to campaign a second Napa Toyota in some selected races in 2010.

#66 DAVE BLANEY. TOYOTA. PRISM MOTORSPORTS

Ironically Michael Waltrip's state of semi retirement next year could turn out to be a blessing for this team. The silly season rumor says that Waltrip may drive in some races for the team with Napa Auto Parts backing the plan.

Driver Dave Blaney has been behind the wheel of this car all season long. It's not clear if Blaney plans to return to the ride in 2010.

#82 SCOTT SPEED. TOYOTA. RED BULL RACING-(RBR)

Despite a frustrating 2009 Sprint Cup debut, Speed is expected to return to this ride. The big question is: will he be driving a Toyota or a Chevrolet? Reportedly the team has been unhappy with the engines supplied to them by TRD-Toyota Racing Development. RBR is reported to be seriously looking to make the change to Chevy with power plants supplied by Hendrick Motorsports.

#83 BRIAN VICKERS. TOYOTA. RED BULL RACING-(RBR)

Both Vickers and RBR are saying their negotiations are complete and it's just a matter of having time to get together to sign a new contract. But these statements were made weeks ago. That led to rumors that said Vicker's name was attached to the proposed new third team at Stewart Hass Racing. However we all know now that new team has been placed on hold.

Vicker's name has also been attached to the proposed fourth team being considered by Joe Gibbs Racing. However sponsorship has yet to be officially secured for this team. The general consensus is Vickers will sign his new RBR contract and return to the #83 business as usual.

#88 DALE EARNHARDT JR. CHEVROLET. HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS-(HMS)

There are no changes, I repeat no changes, planned for this team in 2010 despite the incredible silly season cycles that follows this driver.

First off, he's not moving J R Motorsports, the Nationwide Series he co owns with Rick Hendrick, to the Cup level. It's believed he would like to make that move one day but current economic indicators just do not warrant it at the moment.

There doesn't appear a word of truth to the rumors that said Earnhardt was leaving his current HMS ride to drive for the new J R Motorsports Cup operation so Hendrick would have an opening on his super team to lure Danica Patrick to NASCAR.

Now there's the matter of some Internet reports that states Earnhardt is contemplating an early retirement from NASCAR Sprint Cup racing and will reduce his motorsports to some occasional bouts of fun in other series. This issue can be put to rest with the use of two letters from our alphabet: "B-S."

#96 BOBBY LABONTE. FORD. HALL OF FAME RACING-(HOF)

HOF's dismal future hit a bright spot late last year when they joined forces with Yates Racing and retained the services of driver Bobby Labonte. Unfortunately there hasn't been too many bright spots for the organization since that time.

The team has some serious questions to resolve for next year. First off it's not clear that the union of HOF and Yates will be renewed. Labonte has not decided if he wants to return to the team. It's the same situation for the team's primary sponsor: ASK Dot Com.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Traditionally there's a lot of information to digest that comes with NASCAR's annual silly season. But the process of trying to sort it all out is actually a lot of fun and has been known to ignite some lively conversations among the fans.

Silly season scenarios are often based on maybe it could, perhaps it should or we wish it would happen. But we all know that the way these stories can receive any confirmation is when someone signs their name on the dotted line of a contract and then makes an official announcement.

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