Could Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman and Carl Edwards be among drivers who might be better off with new teams?
When race car drivers change teams, they hope that greater success comes along for the ride.
Sometimes a change of scenery works out well, as in the case of Kyle Busch, who was forced out at Hendrick Motorsports at the end of 2007 to make room for Dale Earnhardt Jr., only to bounce back better than ever at Joe Gibbs Racing.
More recently, Clint Bowyer left Richard Childress Racing when enough sponsorship funding couldn't be found, jumped to Michael Waltrip Racing and then enjoyed the best season of his Sprint Cup career, finishing second in the 2012 final standings.
There's also Kasey Kahne, who went from Richard Petty Motorsports to a brief stint at the now-defunct Red Bull Racing and then wound up with a dream ride a Hendrick Motorsports in 2012, finishing a career-best fourth place.
Even though the 2013 season doesn't officially begin until the Daytona 500 on Feb. 24, there are seven drivers in particular that—if they endure yet another bad year—might want to start thinking about new addresses for 2014, either by choice or not.
Could Carl Edwards be thinking about how he'd fare with another team in 2014?
The 2013 season could prove crucial for Carl Edwards and his potential long-term tenure at Roush Fenway Racing. Even though he signed a lengthy contract extension to remain at RFR in 2011, less than a year later rumors surfaced that Edwards might be interested in jumping to Penske Racing and vice versa.
Although nothing panned out, there's no question Edwards had a terrible season in 2012, after losing the 2011 Sprint Cup championship by a mere one point (due to a tiebreaker), the closest title finish in Cup history.
Edwards has not won in 69 starts on the Cup side and looked lost far too many times last season.
This season, Edwards has two things going for him. First, veteran Jimmy Fennig is his new crew chief. Fennig led Kurt Busch to the 2004 Cup championship for RFR.
Second, Edwards no longer has to play second fiddle to Matt Kenseth, who left RFR during the offseason for Joe Gibbs Racing. However, even with Kenseth gone, Edwards will likely still not be the No. 1 driver at RFR, at least to start the season.
The No. 1 spot on the depth chart will be held by veteran Greg Biffle. It's up to Edwards to find some of his old magic and unseat Biffle as the top dog at RFR. If not, don't be surprised if Edwards starts looking for a new home where he will unmistakably be No. 1.
Where would he go? That's the big question, as there are very few A-tier teams that don't already have an established No. 1 who likely won't be going anywhere anytime soon. He might be in line to replace Kevin Harvick at Richard Childress Racing, but that would be a long shot.
Then again, if Biffle chooses to follow Kenseth's lead and leaves RFR, Edwards might still become No. 1 by default.
Jamie McMurray has long been one of the most loyal soldiers in Sprint Cup. Even when he left Chip Ganassi Racing for what he thought were greener pastures at Roush Fenway Racing, McMurray never burned any bridges at his former place of employment.
That proved especially key when team owner Jack Roush let McMurray go after the 2009 season. McMurray quickly returned to the CGR (now Earnhardt Ganassi Racing) fold and had one of the best seasons of his career, starting with a win in the Daytona 500, as well as triumphs in the Brickyard 400 and the Bank of America 500.
Unfortunately, even with those three wins, McMurray still missed the Chase for the Sprint Cup—which he has never qualified for in his career—and finished 14th in the final season standings.
The 2013 season will likely be a make-or-break year for McMurray. Ever since he left CGR at the end of 2005, he's had dismal campaigns more often than not. In his last seven seasons, starting with his first season at RFR in 2006, McMurray has finished 25th, 17th, 16th, 22nd, 14th, 27th and 21st (the latter three with what is now EGR).
Team owner Chip Ganassi is not one to settle for mediocrity from drivers, crew chiefs or any other team personnel. Unless McMurray has a big turnaround in 2013, he might want to start updating his resume.
Where would he go? Don't be surprised if he goes back to RFR or maybe to Penske Racing.
Chip Ganassi is one of the most loyal team owners in motorsports. His attachment and patience with Juan Pablo Montoya is a good example of that.
Montoya and Ganassi have been seemingly connected at the hip since 1999, when Montoya won the CART championship as a rookie, and then doubled back the next season to win the prestigious Indianapolis 500 on the rival Indy Racing League circuit.
But Ganassi's patience can only last so long. Since Montoya came to the Cup world in 2007, he's had just one good season, 2009, when he not only qualified for his first—and only, to date—Chase for the Sprint Cup, he finished a career-best eighth in the final standings.
While that performance gave hope of even better things to come, reality has been the complete opposite. Montoya has finished 17th, 21st and 22nd in his last three seasons, sandwiched around finishes of 20th and 25th in his first three seasons with the then-CGR.
The 2013 season will be pivotal for both the team and Montoya.
After several seasons of being part of the Earnhardt Childress engine-building partnership, EGR will have its motors supplied by Hendrick Motorsports in 2013 (even though the Earnhardt Childress engine business will continue to supply motors to other teams, most notably Richard Childress Racing).
As for Montoya, he's coming off his worst single-season performance in Cup racing, starting by hitting a jet dryer while under caution in the season-opening Daytona 500, causing a massive fireball, and ultimately ending with zero wins, zero top-fives and just two top-10 finishes in 2012.
Even with loyalty that stretches back nearly 15 years, Ganassi and Montoya could go separate ways after the 2013 season if things don't markedly improve.
The onus is on both, as well as Jamie McMurray, to see EGR climb back into overall respectability, lest we may be talking about a totally different driver lineup in 2014.
And if Montoya does move on, where does he go? Penske Racing might be a possibility, as well as Richard Childress Racing. Then again, he may end his seven-year NASCAR experiment and go back to open-wheel racing in the Indy Car Series.
Rarely has a driver dropped so far, so fast, as Kurt Busch. After winning a Cup championship with Roush Racing in 2004, he moved to Penske Racing in 2006, a place where it seemed he'd have a home forever and a place to retire from.
But after several controversial exchanges during the 2011 season, capped off by a profanity-laced explosion at TV announcer Dr. Jerry Punch in the season-ending race at Homestead, Busch was summarily let go by team owner Roger Penske.
The combination of being fired after most seats for 2012 had already been filled, plus his past history, forced Busch to settle for a ride with Phoenix Racing. That's comparable to going from the world champion Baltimore Ravens in the NFL to a United Football League team.
Although he expressed remorse at some of his past actions, as well as vowing to turn over a new leaf, the new KB looked suspiciously like the old KB in 2012.
He was suspended for one race weekend for yet another run-in with a reporter—after already being on probation for an intentional burnout in former teammate Ryan Newman's pit stall at Darlington, prompting a post-race confrontation with Newman's crew.
Still, a past champion is a past champion. And even though Busch reportedly had conversations with Richard Childress Racing about a potential ride for 2013, the older Busch brother ultimately received his release from Phoenix Racing to sign with and race for Furniture Row Racing for the last six races of 2012.
Busch is back with FRR in 2013 and should have a better season. He has a bigger team, better resources, more personnel and if he can stay out of trouble, could take some significant steps to returning to the level of team and performance he once enjoyed.
While he likely can stay at FRR for as long as he wants to, don't be surprised if Busch winds up with RCR in 2014. With Kevin Harvick vacating his seat to move to Stewart-Haas Racing, and likely one other vacancy to be filled by Austin Dillon, Busch could be just what RCR needs going forward for the future.
Ryan Newman has been one of the biggest conundrums in Cup racing throughout his 11-year career, having constantly played second fiddle and never the No. 1 driver on any of the teams he's been with.
At Penske Racing, he first toiled in the shadows of new NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Rusty Wallace—spending much of that time barely talking to his "teammate" because of a lengthy feud between the pair. Then, since 2009, Newman has been Tony Stewart's right-hand man at Stewart-Haas Racing.
This season, Newman will share the backup position spotlight—if not be completely overshadowed—by new teammate Danica Patrick, while still ranked behind Stewart. And with Kevin Harvick already set to emigrate to SHR from Richard Childress Racing for the 2014 season, Newman could potentially be the odd man out.
It's a shame that Newman has always played a backup role on the Cup teams he's been with because he likely would make a great No. 1 driver for some team. If he indeed has to find another home in 2014, a good fit could be a place like Furniture Row Racing (if Kurt Busch leaves) or Richard Petty Motorsports (if Marcos Ambrose moves on).
This will be Jeff Burton's 20th full-time season in Sprint Cup and his ninth full season with Richard Childress Racing.
And if things continue or get worst than they have been the last four seasons, it could potentially be Burton's last year at RCR.
After finishing seventh, eighth and sixth, respectively, from 2006 through 2008, Burton has been virtually off the competitive map in Sprint Cup since. He's finished 17th, 12th, 20th and 19th in the last four seasons, hasn't won a race since 2008 and has had just two top-five finishes in each of the last two seasons.
Burton turns 46 in June and can't afford to have another off-year, not with Kevin Harvick leaving RCR at the end of this upcoming season, as well as Austin Dillon likely being promoted to the Sprint Cup series full time in 2014. Then there's the possibility of even another driver joining the RCR fold next season, perhaps Kurt Busch or Carl Edwards.
Where would that leave Burton? Where could he potentially go? If not a smaller, less-funded team, then perhaps retirement.
Marcos Ambrose is a perfect fit for Richard Petty Motorsports. He's a great ambassador, a fan favorite and represents the legacy and high standards of RPM.
At the same time, though, Ambrose's talent and skill level might be better served at a team with more funding, resources and personnel.
That's not a knock at RPM by any means. It's just that Ambrose may outgrow the organization if he finally has the breakthrough season in 2013 that many have predicted from him the last couple of years. If that's the case, RPM likely wouldn't be able to afford to keep Ambrose for 2014 and beyond.
Of course, if Ambrose has another season where he finishes between 18th and 26th in the standings (as he has in each of the last four seasons), his fate may be decided for him, keeping him in the RPM fold for at least another year or more.
Where would Ambrose go if he moves on from the Petty organization? Perhaps Roush Fenway Racing, where he would fit in quite well with Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards, provided both of the latter two stick around for 2014.
Or maybe a place like Penske Racing, where he would also be a good fit with Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano. Or if Michael Waltrip Racing expands in 2014, that could be another option for the friendly Aussie.
Follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski.