On Tuesday morning, Michael Waltrip Racing held a press conference at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Uptown Charlotte, N.C., to announce that Brian Vickers would, indeed, be the full-time driver of the No. 55 Sprint Cup Series entry full-time next year. The announcement made official speculation that has been floating around at least since Vickers drove the No. 55 to victory lane at New Hampshire Motor Speedway last month.
A few weeks ago, Stewart-Haas Racing put to rest the rumors that Kevin Harvick would be heading to that organization upon his departure from longtime racing home, Richard Childress Racing, at season’s end by making that move official.
The aforementioned two “Silly Season” announcements leave a few question marks in the air in regard to where certain drivers will be next season. What will happen to Mark Martin? What about Ryan Newman?
Martin was displaced, somewhat, from the No. 55. He hasn’t been a full-time driver the last couple of years, but he is sharing the No. 55 with Vickers and car owner Michael Waltrip this year. Will he still be running a partial schedule in 2014? If so, with whom?
Where will Ryan Newman end up? His career is far from over, despite losing his ride in favor of Harvick at SHR.
There here are a couple of other names to consider — Kurt Busch and Austin Dillon. Busch headed into 2013 with a one season deal with Furniture Row Racing. Will that deal be renewed another year, or will Busch leave in search of “greener pasture?”
Dillon currently competes regularly in the Nationwide Series for grandfather Richard Childress’ team. But rumor has it “Pop Pop” wants to move his oldest grandson up into a Sprint Cup car full-time next year. Dillon is already running a limited Sprint Cup schedule, running primarily with Phoenix Racing and with new team Circle Sport, which was formerly a part of Richard Childress Racing. This weekend, he’ll be the fill-in driver for the injured Tony Stewart, behind the wheel of the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing entry.
Those things, and those things only, considered, here’s what I would speculate: Busch to run a second year for Funiture Row…. Newman to move over to RCR…. Martin to remain at MWR and share a fourth part-time entry with Waltrip…. Dillon to either run a third year of Nationwide or possibly move up to Sprint Cup with Childress making a deal with Circle Sport or Phoenix Racing to put Dillon in one of those cars full-time.
But there is a monkey wrench, of sorts, to throw into this “Silly Season” equation — a sale of Phoenix Racing. Last month, longtime team owner James Finch announced that he had finally sold his race team after what seemed like a few years of him, reportedly, trying. While there have been a few rumors swirling as to the identity of the new owner, nothing is official.
The most popular rumor has put NASCAR Nationwide and Camping World Truck series team part owner, Harry Scott Jr. of Turner Scott Motorsports, as the new owner of Phoenix Racing. Those rumors also have TSM driver Justin Allgaier moving up to Sprint Cup to drive the car and bringing sponsor Brandt along with him for the ride.
Allgaier has publicly denied such a rumor, but we’ve all heard that song and dance before. Maybe he’s telling the truth; maybe he’s not. I don’t know. If Scott is the new owner of Phoenix Racing and brings Allgaier along with him, that could change the complexion of things.
Either way, I still think Busch should stay where he’s at. He and Furniture Row Racing seem to be a good fit. I also still see Martin continuing on with Waltrip’s organization in some capacity. But what about Newman and Dillon?
If neither driver gets the Phoenix ride, which will win out at RCR? Or will Childress start a fourth team. I don’t really thing the RCR four-car team is a good idea. After all, that’s been tried by Childress in the not-too-distant past, and it just didn’t seem to work.
But hold the presses for a minute. As a write this blog, word gets out that Juan Pablo Montoya is out at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing at the end of the year. Now, that throws and even bigger monkey wrench into the “Silly Season” musical chairs. If Phoenix Racing is off the table, Newman could end up at EGR and Childress can move his grandson up the ladder within his organization. But then, where would that leave Montoya? Besides, we can’t be 100 percent sure that Phoenix Racing is off the table, here. When the Phoenix sale was announced, Finch noted that the new owner already had a team and sponsor lined up, but that doesn’t necessariy mean Scott, Allgaier and Brandt.
Maybe Montoya already had plans to go there. Maybe Newman or Dillon already made those plans. Maybe there’s another driver, entirely, who’ll be driving for Phoenix Racing next year. Maybe Martin will be there, at least on a part-time basis, next year.
And as far as Montoya goes, what if his next gig isn’t even in NASCAR? Has anyone thought of that? He’s had experience, not to mention success, in other top-level series, including IndyCar and Formular 1. He could be headed somewhere completely outside the NASCAR universe. You never know.
I admit, when I first started writing, I forgot all about A.J. Allmendinger and JTG-Daugherty Racing. Will that team go with Allmendinger or Bobby Labonte full-time next year? My bet’s kind of on Allmendinger, so where would that leave Labonte?
Not too long ago, I thought I had this whole “Silly Season” situation figured out. Now, I’m not so sure. Make that totally unsure.
What do you think these drivers will land for next season? Let us know on Twitter @AutoRacingDaily or on our Auto Racing Daily Facebook page: facebook.com/autorcngdaily. Amanda’s also on Twitter @NASCARexaminer and has a fan/like page on Facebook: Auto Racing Daily.