The big news this week has been about Red Bull and how they are looking to depart the Sprint Cup Series at season’s end. In addition, points leader Carl Edwards has yet to sign a contract extension at Roush Fenway Racing, which started rumors last week that he was looking to join Joe Gibbs Racing in 2012. Ah yes, silly season has begun. I am no insider, nor do I have my “sources,” but it sure is fun speculating on how situations like the aforementioned will turn out. With that said, here is a look at some of the drivers that could be affected by these recent rumors.
Honestly, it’s hard to imagine Edwards leaving RFR for another organization. He appears to have maintained a great relationship with Jack Roush and Ford during his eight-year tenure with the team. It would be even more puzzling to see Edwards, who is clearly the number one driver at RFR, bolt for JGR and line up with that team’s two erratic, yet talented drivers in Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch.
Then again, did anyone ever expect Dale Earnhardt Jr. to leave Dale Earnhardt Inc. or Tony Stewart to leave JGR? Anything is possible. The difference here is Edwards is arguably having his best season, leading the points since race seven on the foundation of a very strong level of consistency. When Earnhardt and Stewart left their respective teams, it was obvious they were not happy with where they were at. The entire Roush organization is having a revival year, as all four of its teams have been much improved from the previous two seasons.
If Edwards is going to stay though, why hasn’t he signed a contract extension? It would make sense to go ahead and get it done now before it becomes a major distraction in the Chase. This was the exact same thing we saw with Kevin Harvick last year, who also was leading the points in the midst of rumors he was leaving Richard Childress Racing at season’s end. However, Harvick only waited until May to get his deal done.
If Edwards does leave, it would certainly hurt Roush, but it might also solve his dilemma of getting Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Trevor Bayne into Cup. In all likelihood, Edwards is just taking his time (as he has said already), seeing what other offers are out there, but expect to see him stay in the No. 99 car.
Let’s say Edwards does leave and signs with JGR. The next domino to fall would be Joey Logano. The question is does Gibbs start a fourth car for him or send him packing? It has long been rumored that JGR would like to add a fourth car to their stable, but as we all know, it is hard enough to find funding for one car these days, let alone four. Edwards’s current sponsor Aflac would likely come over, so that would give Gibbs more options. Logano, despite disappointing results in his two-plus seasons on the Cup circuit, is one of the more marketable drivers in the series, so naturally that increases the odds of driving for a fourth car.
The big question would be with Home Depot. They seem to be patient with Logano, but with their biggest competitor in Lowe’s winning the last five championships, you have to figure they want someone who can bring back the title to the Gibbs stable. Edwards could do that right away, whereas Logano still needs some time to develop. If Home Depot and Aflac were to team up with Edwards, it would really hurt Logano’s chances of racing in Cup next year.
Everyone knew Mark Martin would be out at Hendrick Motorsports at season’s end to make room for Kasey Kahne. The general consensus was that he would move over to Red Bull in 2012, essentially swapping rides with Kahne. Martin and Red Bull though just sounded like a worse combination than he and his current sponsor GoDaddy. With word coming out this week that Red Bull is seeking outside investors, we likely don’t have to worry about Martin drinking energy drinks next year.
However, Martin’s options have also been restricted because of this. Jay Frye, who is Vice President at RBR is hopeful investors will be found and he can still run a team next year. Why is that significant? They have a history at Ginn Racing, where Frye lured Martin to drive the No. 01 Army car back in 2007.
If a deal can’t be done there, Stewart-Haas racing would be the next likely choice. It’s a satellite team for HMS and car owner Stewart has said in the past he would like to expand his operation if he could. With a respected veteran driver in Martin available, it could make it easier for Stewart to find a sponsor to put him in a third car.
Even before the announcement of RBR looking to leave NASCAR, there was no guarantee that Brian Vickers would be back with the team in 2012. Now it looks all but certain that the 2003 Nationwide Series champion will be looking for a ride next season. In his eight plus seasons of Sprint Cup competition, Vickers hasn’t done much; he only has two wins to his credit, with the highlight of making the Chase in 2009.
With that said, Vickers may become this year’s Elliott Sadler, who was the victim of downsizing at Richard Petty Motorsports last year. Sadler was able to find a good ride in the Nationwide Series this season, where he is currently sitting second in points in a Kevin Harvick-owned car. This may be the best option for Vickers as well; he has a history with Dollar General with Todd Braun before they were bought out by Steve Turner. A return to the Nationwide series seems to be not only the best choice, but the only choice.
I include Cole Whitt because he looks to be the real deal. For those of you who don’t know, Whitt has been a Red Bull development driver, finishing fourth in the K&N Pro Series East standings last year at the young age of 19. This season, he is running full time in the Camping World Truck Series, where he is just 20 points behind leader Johnny Sauter. We have seen Red Bull development driver experiments fail in the past with Scott Speed and AJ Allmendinger (he didn’t start showing results until after he left for Richard Petty Motorsports).
The difference with Whitt is he has stock car experience as opposed to the open wheel background that Speed and Allmendinger brought in. It looked like he was on the fast track to the Cup Series, but with Red Bull out of the picture, possibly as soon as next year, there are now obvious question marks in his future. He is still young, so there is no rush for him to get to Cup anytime soon.
Whitt just needs to finish this year out strong and slowly work his way up the ranks. A top car owner will notice and try to pick him up before too long. As a matter of fact, Red Bull’s departure may be a good thing for him, as he probably would have been brought up too soon (just look at Logano).
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