Racin’ with Russ—Each year at this time, I dive into the many driver, crew, sponsor and paint scheme changes for next year. I’ll also throw in my predictions as to how well the various combos will fare. Either take some notes or save these articles to keep up with the many changes.
Car No. 30 - David Stremme
Stremme will be back in this Inception Motorsports Chevy to run all but two races in 2012, the road courses. The veteran racer was a good choice for this new team, netting 18 starts and $1.3 million in earnings. No word on sponsor dollars but have a good outlook on rising up in the ranks. Top 20 finishes is about the best this group can hope for.
Car No. 31 - Jeff Burton
This veteran racer returns to his Childress Chevrolet with Drew Blickensderfer now calling the shots from atop the box. In the sponsor department, big equipment name CAT returns alongside Cheerios and Wheaties, new from the departed No. 33 team.
Burton comes off a so-so season at best, with only five top 10 runs—20th in points is just not going to get the job done. Fortunately for Burton, his contract with CAT and Childress has a few years left on it. Results for ‘12? Much of the same and no Chase spot.
Car No. 32 - Mike Bliss, Ken Schrader and Terry Labonte
These three drivers were among those trying to improve the status of this independent team run by veteran Frank Stoddard. With help from Yates-Roush Ford products, they have the right go-power, but will need serious backing to complete the mission of success. Making shows will be their main goal.
Car No. 34 - David Gilliland
This Front Row Motorsports driver started last season with an impressive third place run in the Daytona 500. This three-car Ford team is all about staying among the top 35 in points, and for the most part, does just that with very little resources….read: money.
Taco Bell has been the sponsor with Peter Sospenzo as crew chief. The formula for this year is still under construction, with drivers such as David Reutimann or David Ragan possible replacements. Stay tuned. Gilliland’s two top 10 runs and nearly $4 million in earnings may just keep his job.
Car No. 35 - Geoff Bodine
The senior Bodine brother ran a handful of Cup races last year with marginal results. The 62-year-old driver may have put together a significant sponsor program to run most of this season under the Tommy Baldwin Chevy banner. Results? Nothing to talk about.
Car No. 36 - Dave Blaney
Another veteran racer under Tommy Baldwin’s direction has always been a Steady Freddy by making races and not tearing up equipment. Last year’s sponsor Golden Corral does not appear to be making a return, perhaps the chocolate fountain not doing as well as planned. They earned one top 10 and $3.2 million for their efforts.
Philippe Lopez called the shots from the crew chief spot, but most aspects of this group is under a large question mark.
Car No. 37 - Josh Wise
This rookie-of-the-year candidate will run the full season under team ownership of Larry Gunselman’s Fords. What started as a start and park team last year may just work out to be more than a field filler with this talented young driver.
Car No. 38 - Travis Kvapil - J.J. Yeley
This ex-truck champ and experienced Cup driver have continued to be a reliable source of keeping a team in the top 35 in points with Long John Silver‘s restaurant help. Neither Front Row Motorsports driver has been re-signed and falls into the same situation as the No. 34. (See No. 34)
Car No. 39 - Ryan Newman
This Stewart-Haas teammate made the Chase last year, racked up 17 top 10’s and a win, but was never a factor in the Chase, finishing 10th.
He returns to the No. 39 Chevy with Tony Gibson as crew chief, U.S. Army as primary backer alongside Tornadoes and Quicken Loans.
With teammate and now three-time champ Tony Stewart as an inspiration, this group should improve overall, not a title shot.
Some of the final puzzle pieces to who will drive the No. 43 Cup car and the No. 88 Nationwide car should be solved by this time next week. All indicators point to Aric Almirola in the No. 43 with David Ragan, Reed Sorensen or David Reutimann in the No. 88.
What’s your choice? Drop me a line.
That’s it for this week. Next week, RWR will continue with Part 5 of Who’s Where for 2012 NASCAR’s Sprint Cup series, along with racing news from around the globe.