Let me just say that I haven't been a big Jeremy Mayfield fan since his relationship with Rusty Wallace deteriorated in the sunset of his Penske career, but I am really glad to see him bucking the odds and starting up a full-time team for the 2009 season.
Mayfield is going to be a part of the handful of the drivers out to prove that one can still be competitive on limited funds in the upper levels of NASCAR. The sanctioning body said two years ago that the COT would reduce costs and allow more teams to be competitive.
While we laughed at that proclamation in 2007 and 2008 as the Big Four teams dominated victory lane, the poor economy is giving low-budget teams the opportunity to come out and prove something in 2009.
It will be intriguing to see if a team can be successful by purchasing just a few cars, like the teams below have, and running them at all types of tracks.
And who knows...as sponsorship costs continue to skyrocket, these low budget teams may be able to give some big name companies a discount, assuming they can perform well enough. Mayfield has already lined up All Sport as primary sponsor.
A quick note on this entry: I am not previewing any of the teams that are guaranteed to be start and parkers, specifically Larry Gunselman's 64 team, which will see Geoff and Todd Bodine behind the wheel, and Kirk Shelmerdine's 27 car.
A reminder that the 09 team, Front Row Motorsports' 34 car, and possibly R3 Motorsports (who will be running the Daytona 500 with Mike Skinner), will also run the full season.
And I only included Phil Parsons' team because I truly believe they are going to make an effort to race if they have sponsorship, seeing how everyone caught on to their little game in Nationwide pretty quickly last season. If Parsons parks that car 36 times in Cup competition, there are going to be some angry fans.
Hometown: Bahama, NC
Crew Chief: Tommy Baldwin Jr.
Owner: Tommy Baldwin Jr.
All things considered, Scott Riggs did a great job in 2008 for Haas CNC. It was fairly obvious by mid-summer that Tony Stewart was buying into the operation, and Riggs would not have a ride.
Add in a 150 point penalty and falling out of the top 35, and it's a wonder Riggs was able to hold it together, rebound, and drive the team up to 30th in owner points.
Scott is not the most talented driver in the garage area, but given decent equipment, he can put forth solid efforts, with a top 10 thrown in occasionally.
Riggs will be paired up with one of the bright mechanical minds of the series in Tommy Baldwin Jr, who will pull the extremely rare crew chief/owner double duty.
This team has limited resources and no sponsors yet (I figured State Water Heaters and Hunt Brothers Pizza would follow Riggs from Haas, but State has already announced they are going to be an associate sponsor for the Baker-Curb Nationwide team), but Baldwin has the know-how and Riggs the talent to keep this team respectable during the 2009 season.
I cannot see Baldwin lowering himself to start and park, even with the minimal budget, but I do have a feeling this team will produce a lot of nostalgia for the old-time fans who miss the days of teams trying to succeed without as much as two pennies to rub together.
Hometown: Lakeland, FL
Crew Chief: Philippe Lopez
Owner: Joe Nemechek
Nemechek spent the 2008 season racing for an underfunded operation, Furniture Row, with limited results. Seeing how the number of available rides was small, and the fact that he: a. is not a spring chicken, and b. does not have a strong track record, Front Row Joe has decided to return to his roots and run his own Sprint Cup operation.
Nemechek spent his rookie season in 1994 with Larry Hedrick's defunct team, before fielding his own team for two years, so he obviously has some experience in this field.
The Lakeland, FL driver also plans on running the full Nationwide schedule with his own team, something he did in the early 90s, winning the series title in 1992. With the limited funds at hand, fielding full-time operations in separate series is not going to be easy.
I have a feeling Nemechek will be parking in at least one of the two series, which may give rise to his old nickname of Needs-a-Check (this is a name that resulted from Jeff Fuller start-and-parking one of NEMCO's Nationwide cars every week a few short seasons ago).
Hometown: Owensboro, KY
#41 All Sport Toyota (NOTE: Mayfield does NOT have the 41 team's points from 2008)
Crew Chief: Tony Furr
Owner: Jeremy Mayfield
At one point, Jeremy Mayfield had a solid Cup career going. Five wins, nine poles, and three finishes in the end of season Top 10. But apparently he is not the best at keeping his frustrations about management to himself (see Penske, Evernham) and was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time with Bill Davis Racing, since the sponsor didn't pay the bills and it was Toyota's first year of Cup competition.
Even by today's standards, Jeremy is not an old driver, and still has some gas left in the tank. Starting and running your own team is no walk in the park, but this is the only shot Mayfield has at getting back in the good graces of the top owners in the garage should a ride open up in the future.
The odds are obviously stacked against Mayfield, but with the number of fully funded teams at its lowest number in years, he stands a good chance at making all of the races.
All Sport is a name sponsor that is probably not giving the team a whole lot of money, but should allow this new team to compete during the year of the testing ban. And Tony Furr is a solid veteran crew chief. Keep one eye out for Jeremy Mayfield in 2009. This is a driver with something to prove.
In 2008, Parsons and Humphrey committed, if you ask me, nothing short of theft by towing two cars to each Nationwide race. Of the 61 cumulative starts MSRP Motorsports made, they failed to finish 61 times. Obviously, these guys were simply interested in picking up an easy paycheck.
I know some people have to do what they can to survive in this sport, but come on, Parsons is a former driver and current TV commentator. He can't be that poor. Well, at least he is putting the money "earned" in 2008 to good use by starting a Sprint Cup team.
Parsons has named this team Prism Motorsports, which ironically enough is MSRP backwards. Will they be start and park double dippers this year? I would bet on it, although as I said above, Parsons is already drawing a lot of negative attention from people and if he parks cars in both series, it may just intensify.
They have Window World and Terry Labonte lined up for Daytona, and if they park after making the race on Labonte's past champ's provisional, we'll never hear the end of it.
Expect them to race during Speedweeks. As for Blaney, this is not the best opportunity, but I've heard a lot of people say that you have to be at the track each week in some shape or form, otherwise people quickly forget about you as a potential driver.