What NASCAR deems 'silly season' seems to begin a little earlier every season. It is the term used to describe the shuffle of drivers and crew chiefs as teams prepare for the next year of racing. Just fourteen races into the 2006 season, two ...
What NASCAR deems 'silly season' seems to begin a little earlier every season. It is the term used to describe the shuffle of drivers and crew chiefs as teams prepare for the next year of racing.
Just fourteen races into the 2006 season, two drivers have already announced their intent to move on in 2007. Casey Mears confirmed that he will not return to Chip Ganassi Racing and Brian Vickers stated that he will not be at Hendrick Motorsports past the season end.
It's the two big dominoes people in the Cup garage have been waiting to fall. Rumors have swirled since early this season that one or both of the young drivers may pursue other interests, although an announcement was not expected so early in the year.
While drivers used to fear announcing their departure too early in an active season to avoid 'lame duck' syndrome, it seems to be in fashion the last few years. The first driver to confirm their plans for 2007 came in April when Dale Jarrett announced that he was exiting Robert Yates Racing for a Toyota ride at Michael Waltrip Incorporated.
Mears name first came into play during the speculation of where Jarrett would land in 2007 as a possible replacement at Yates. It was also said that Mears had been courted by Team Red Bull and Richard Childress Racing. Mears made it fairly apparent Friday at Pocono International Raceway that his list is fairly short and would like nothing better than to inherit Vickers No. 25 Chevy seat at Hendrick next year.
"The possibility of going there is very appealing," Mears said of Hendrick Motorsports. "If that was to work out I would be very, very happy."
Vickers was slightly more reserved. At times his comments prompted musings on whether or not he was as actively involved in the decision for him to move on from Hendrick as touted.
In a media interview, Vickers stressed several times that while his heart was at Hendrick the performance basically was not and it was time to let go and move forward.
"It's a professional sport and there's an expectation," said Vickers. "Unfortunately, me and the 25 car haven't performed to either my expectations or Hendrick Motorsports expectations, and I felt like it was best for both parties involved to explore other options.
Vickers is said to be being romanced by Team Red Bull but Vickers declined to confirm which Cup teams he was speaking to, "We're going to look at all of our options, and anything, and any details are going to be kept private right now."
With those two players being set - there are still a lot of empty seats in the Cup garage and a serious lack of drivers to fill them.
Robert Yates may be the biggest loser in all of this. With nary a good looking 'young gun' to fill Jarrett's shoes in the No. 88 Ford it looks like UPS will be moving on to greener pastures. Yates Busch series sponsor, CitiFinancial, is set to make the move to Cup racing but it still leaves them without a viable candidate.
RYR's two development drivers, Stephen Leicht and Matt McCall, aren't quite ready to join NASCAR's premium league and the talent pool is draining with Mears and Vickers off the market. To add insult to injury, Elliott Sadler's 'mysterious' out-clause in his contract is up to a fair amount of debate. Whether or not Sadler intends to stay at Yates in the No. 38 Ford is still up in the air. With rides available at Ganassi and Toyota, Sadler's name has got to be on someone's list of candidates. With the way Sadler has performed the last two seasons, no one could blame him wanting a fresh start and a new sense of direction.
Basically, it breaks down to this: If Mears does ink his deal with Hendrick the No. 25 car will be locked. That leaves a seat open at Ganassi at the No. 42. The Yates No. 88 is driver-less and a rumored fourth team at Richard Childress Racing sponsored by Holiday Inn has yet to find a pilot.
That's three stout teams in search of three capable drivers. Maybe it's time to call Ward Burton in from the cabbage patch and ask Mark Martin to go into his third year on the 'Salute to you' tour.