NASCAR Silly season ramblings
June is the middle of the season for most racing series, but seems to mark the beginning of silly season for NASCAR, with a scramble for sponsors and driver/crew chief combinations taking unexpected turns every week. Here are a few drivers and teams we have had news and speculation come through the spy are few things for you to think about from things we have been hearing…
What's up with Gordon and DuPont? Jeff was apparently more than a bit miffed that Shell took its sponsorship to Roger Penske. After a hot start to the year, he has hit some bumps. He has not really been competitive lately, and Gordon keeps laying out questions about how DuPont, his long-time sponsor, may fit into the team's equation next season.
Why is he suddenly making so many mistakes? Is it just some bad luck finally catching up after all those years of such great luck?
What number car, what team, what sponsor will Mark have next season? He's got a deal with Hendrick through the end of 2011, and Martin says he's solid with the Alan Gustafson team. But at his age, any race could be his last or his best. The unexpected addition of Kasey Kahne to Hendrick's 2011 lineup has led to a logjam, as NASCAR says an owner can only have four Sprint Cup teams (which is why Jack Roush had to cut Jamie McMurray at the end of last season), and Kahne gives Hendrick five. Who is going to go, and where? Would he go over to Childress or Stewart’s team to make room for Kahne, especially since Kahne will be in his ride in 2012 anyway?
We all know he runs a Hendrick satellite operation (with Hendrick engines and engineering), might expand to three teams, adding Kahne, with Ryan Newman. But Stewart and his men haven't been performing all that well so far this season (after such a great start to 2009), and Stewart says he's been perplexed by that. And the idea of expanding, well, it simply doesn't look that likely now. Hendrick says Kahne will be in Martin's current ride in 2012, but says nothing of 2011.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Clearly the weak link in the Hendrick operation, Earnhardt is a franchise all to himself, though it's unclear if he is currently still the most popular driving in NASCAR. He has won only three times in the last five-plus years, and is the only driver in the Hendrick stable that hasn’t put a first place trophy in the display case at the Hendrick shop. Despite all kinds of changes, shuffling and more than anyone’s share of whining, he seems no closer to winning this season than last year. Coming up on an ripe age of 36, he has said he's got no interest in – or sponsorship for – moving to his own JR Motorsports company and bringing that up to Cup. If he is indeed still the most popular driver in the sport, it sound quite odd that no sponsors would be on stand-by waiting to get onboard the money plane. No doubt Hendrick engines and engineering would be available for him, just as for Stewart and Newman, which makes it even more tasty. Then there's the curious Richard Childress option. Could there be an Earnhardt in black car once again? Could Hendrick and Childress work such a deal? Surely Chevrolet might be willing to help. After all Childress has the room to add cars, and little speculation lately about Childress working hard to expand back to four....just as soon as he can replace the sponsor he lost to Penske and his giant fleet of oil-drinking trucks. Some would think that Earnhardt might feel a little more at home in Childress' rowdier atmosphere anyway. Last season was one of Earnhardt's worst since joining the Cup series.
Will Budweiser leave the Petty/Gillett team too? George himself hasn't been seen much lately in the NASCAR garage, and Foster Gillett, who runs the team for his father, hasn't had much to say either, except that he's trying to keep Budweiser.
He has been looking pretty good for the Petty-Gillett team lately, though teammate Elliott Sadler has continued to run inconsistently. This obviously is upgrading AJ's stock in the paddock a bit and he reportedly has a team or two knocking on his motor home door, such as maybe a Jack Roush or Richard Childress.
The fourth man in the Petty-Gillett Ford camp, has been looking pretty solid lately, with crew chief Slugger Labbe. They opened strong, faded for a few weeks, and are now coming back, as seen at Charlotte. So there doesn’t seem to be any reason for him to go anywhere, but one can never tell when the driver is a ride buyer. It’s a totally different dynamic than running a normal racing team after all. The team owner just needs to keep the customer happy so he keeps writing a check.
Gibbs' Fourth Car
Is time to start thinking again about that fourth Cup team? Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin are on a streak, and Joey Logano is having a breakout season. Sponsorship, of course, is always the sticking point; especially these lean days. Interestingly though, Interstate Batteries, the company that helped launch Gibbs back in 1992, just signed "a long-term extension."
Sponsors to keep an eye on: Budweiser, UPS and Mobil/Exxon.
All things to ponder as we head into the Silly Season. Excerpts from mikemulhern.net