Even though the season 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup series has yet to reach the half way point, there are several stories that have kicked the silly season into high gear. Here are some stories to keep tap on over the next several weeks and months.
1. Martin Truex Jr. You may or may not have heard yet, but earlier in the week, Truex said he will make the decision whether he will depart Earnhardt-Ganassi racing at the end of the 2009 season.
The former two-time Nationwide Series champ and his primary sponsor, Bass Pro Shops, are signed through the 2009 season. But, Truex has struggled in the last year and half with his team as he had no wins and missed the Chase in 2008, and has shown no real promise so far in 2009.
If Truex does jump ship, which all signs seem to indicate he will, where he ends up is a mystery. Many teams are locked in for 2009 and not many seats look like they may open up. This story will be worth keeping tabs because it may shake things up in the garage area.
2. Will Stewart-Haas add third team? So far for the 2009 season, Stewart-Haas racing has exceed everyone's expectations for a first year team. They have been contending for wins, placed both of their drivers (Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman) in the top 12 in points, and for Tony Stewart, brought home a win in NASCAR's All-Star Race.
With the five team rule going into full effect next season, many are beginning to wonder if Hendrick Racing, which provides about 60 percent of the equipment to Stewart-Haas, will possibly ask Stewart-Haas to take on a third full-time ride.
Since Mark Martin decided to keep driving the No. 5 Hendrick Car in 2010 full-time, Brad Keselowski has been left on the outside looking in.
In an interview last Saturday, Keselowski said he "would love to drive for Mr. Stewart full-time in 2010 in a cup car," indicating Hendrick may be courting Stewart-Haas to throw in a third car for 2010. Besides Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr., Juan Pablo Montoya or Kasey Kahne could be tapped to take over.
Adding a third car, likely Hendrick's "fifth car," will also shake up the garage area given several big name drivers may be looking for a new ride in 2010.
3. Penske to Toyota? This story has been back and forth the last few weeks, but seems to have died off as of lately. Many in the garage area are speculating Penske may be the next major NASCAR team to jump ship to the growing Toyota house.
Toyota wants Penske because like Joe-Gibbs Racing, they bring experience, sponsors, and at least one solid driver in Kurt Busch. Penske has denied all allegations, but with Chrysler going bankrupt, many are beginning to question Dodge's future in the series.
Penske has been the team to carry the Dodge banner so far in 2009, as they are the only Dodge team to record a win thus far, and more importantly, are the only team running the new R4 engine.
Several issues exist for this story to happen. First, a big one, is that Honda provides engines for Penske's IRL team. While Honda is "inviting" competition, it's hard to believe Honda wouldn't really dig Penske wheeling around cup cars with the Toyota emblem on them.
4. Who will get the boot from Roush Racing? As everyone knows, the four cars per team rule kicks in for 2009 full swing, meaning the grandfather Roush was allowed also goes out the window. The biggest question as of late is, which driver will get the boot?
One year ago, everyone had their bet set on Jamie McMurray, especially as Greg Biffle decided to sign a new contract and David Ragan was an upcoming driver during 2008. But, that's not for sure as of late.
Ragan struggled down the stretch in 2008, missing the Chase, which seemed to set a bad tone for the 2009 season. McMurray has shown a lot of promise as he comes to cope with the new car. Roush will have a tough decision to make, and currently, remains completely mum on who will get the ax.
Some in the garage area think Ragan may get the boot, especially given his team is now not doing so hot. It's an interesting situation because both cars have sponsorship, and both drivers are generally in the top 15 most weeks.
Even more telling is, what will happen of the booted team? The easiest answer is sending the car over to Yates racing. But, their re-emergence has died off as of lately, going from a three car team, to just one due to lack of sponsorship.
Roush and Yates racing have a joint engine program and remain the only two teams fielding Fords. Whatever move Roush-Fenway makes, it will shake up the series a little, especially given the caliber of drivers facing the decision.
5. Will Hendrick swap personnel for the No. 88 team? Everywhere and anywhere there is news about NASCAR, the trials and tribulations of Dale Earnhardt Jr. are among the talk. His dismal showing in 2009 has caused many in the garage area, and fans, to call for some major moves.
Everyone know's Hendrick has been making small moves behind the scenes, trying to get the No. 88 car to perform. So far, those changes have yielded no results (he qualified 28th for the Coke 600, and didn't do too well in the All-Star Race).
In the past, multi-car teams have literally swapped personnel between cars. Engineers and crew-chiefs are the two primary individuals to consider. Problem is, the other three teams are going so well together, one can't imagine Hendrick wanting to mess with those teams.
With help needed, does Hendrick look in house or take a bet outside, attempting to match Earnhardt Jr. up with someone to get the car on track. It likely won't be more than a few more weeks before we see a major move, likely starting with Tony Eury Jr. getting the boot.
Whatever the mix up will be, it will need to change the dynamic of the No. 88 team, otherwise people may call for Earnhardt getting the boot from Hendrick racing, potentially making room for Brad Keselowski.
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