Pros and Cons of Each Notable Team Change for 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
If you’re heading to Daytona for the season-opening 500 in February, you may need to buy a program just to keep track of the numerous driver changes for the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup season.
While several smaller teams are still trying to figure out who will pilot their cars—be it full- or part-time—in 2014, most of the major driver changes have already been announced.
Let’s take a quick look at the pros and cons of some of the more notable team/driver changes.
Pros: Following a 13-year tenure, Kevin Harvick moves from Richard Childress to Stewart-Haas Racing.
He'll likely have the strongest teammate contingent he’s ever had with Tony Stewart (three-time champ) and Kurt Busch (one-time champ), not to mention the still-earning Danica Patrick.
Harvick went about as far as he could go at RCR and still was never able to win a championship, so the change of scenery should do him good.
Cons: With change comes uncertainty. Harvick will have a brand new team, a new crew chief and new equipment that could take a while to get used to.
Plus, with Stewart’s return still a bit up in the air as he recovers from this past summer’s sprint car wreck, Harvick could be cast into the No. 1 role at Stewart-Haas Racing—at least temporarily—if Stewart isn’t ready for the Daytona 500.
Talk about going from the frying pan into the fire.
Pros: Will car owner/grandfather Richard Childress finally bring back the fabled No. 3 Chevrolet of the late Dale Earnhardt for his grandson’s debut as a full-time Sprint Cup driver?
Austin Dillon has been outstanding coming up through the ranks with championships in both the Camping World and Nationwide Series. He is looking to become the first driver to ever win titles in all three series—eventually.
Cons: The pressure of driving the No. 3 could be intimidating and distracting. Plus, let’s face it, even with the talent he has, Dillon has come along at a rather fast pace over the last three seasons. Will he be able to make the transition to Sprint Cup, or will he struggle? Could he have used one more season in the Nationwide Series (or whatever it will be called in 2014)?
On the flip side, the opportunity is there and he has to take it, with both Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton having departed RCR.
Pros: Ryan Newman needed to get out of Stewart-Haas Racing. He would never be the No. 1 driver and just never seemed to have the support from team co-owner Gene Haas that he had from other co-owner and teammate Tony Stewart.
The move to RCR will keep Newman in a Chevy, and a new address should help invigorate him, particularly with the way he was so rudely handled in 2013.
Reportedly, because SHR wasn't ready to field a fourth team, Newman was told he would be let go at season’s end just before the Brickyard 400—which he ultimately won, by the way—only to have Kurt Busch be brought in by Haas, who found money that likely should have gone to Newman.
With RCR looking like it potentially could be on the upswing, Newman could be going to the right place at the right time.
Cons: Let’s face it, Earnhardt-Childress motors just aren’t as good as Hendrick Motors, which Newman had at SHR. But what he may lack in power, he has talent that should help overcome such.
But then there’s also the fact that Newman will be a new guy on a team that will field a rookie (Dillon) and a mediocre veteran (Paul Menard) as his teammates.
He has a chance to jump out and be a leader, but the boss’ grandson (Dillon) could be an impediment.
Pros: Kurt Busch did a tremendous job in a relatively short period of time (just over a year’s time) at Furniture Row Racing. He became the first driver from a single-car team to ever make the Chase and, had it not been for mid-Chase misfortune, likely would have finished much higher.
Moving to Stewart-Haas Racing will help Busch continue his comeback of the last two seasons. Plus, he has a pair of teammates that could present the most formidable one-two-three punch (Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick and Busch) that NASCAR has ever seen—potentially even more of a punch than Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr./Kasey Kahne.
Cons: Even though he seemed to be on his best behavior most of 2013, there is still uncertainty among fans on whether or not Busch truly is a changed man after some of the missteps he’s made in his career that have cost him deeply.
Also, let’s face it, he's never really been BFFs with Harvick and Stewart.
Will all three be able to bury the hatchet and work towards a common good at SHR? The jury will be out on that for at least the first part of the new season.
Pros: Juan Pablo Montoya will not be back in the No. 42 Target Chevrolet of Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing. Instead, rookie Kyle Larson, the 21-year-old phenom, will be behind the wheel.
Larson has a lot to prove and a lot to show, but given his incredible talent, he could be at the right place and at the right time to show what he’s got.
He’s with a team that has struggled unmercifully for the last several years, and anything he does could potentially be an improvement.
Cons: Larson's age (21) is definitely working against him. Plus, even though he’s done well in other series, he is still very inexperienced.
He’s a great representative for primary sponsor Target, going for the youth market, but how will he fare against seasoned veterans like Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch and six-time champ Jimmie Johnson?
Our biggest fear is Larson comes in with a big rep, quickly finds he can’t live up to it and continues to fall further and further behind.
He needed at least another year in the Nationwide Series in our mind, but when opportunity knocked, he had to answer.
Let’s hope he didn’t answer the wrong door.
Pros: With the immense talent he has, A.J. Allmendinger needed to get back to a full-time ride, and he has that in 2014 with JTG-Daugherty Racing, replacing veteran driver and former Cup champ Bobby Labonte.
There’s little doubt that Allmendinger will be able to pick up the ball and run with it, something that JTG-D has needed for the last two to three years.
While making the Chase may be tough, his talent should get JTG-D into at least the top 15 by the end of the 2014 season.
Cons: Allmendinger continues to be hounded by the drug issue that forced his suspension in 2012. To his credit, he’s done everything NASCAR has asked of him, including a treatment and recovery program, but many fans are not as forgiving and have long memories for situations like that.
If Allmendinger does well early in the season, he could change some minds. But if he struggles (which we don’t think will happen), you can almost hear some fans asking if he’s still on the bad juice.
Pros: Brian Vickers is the de facto replacement for Martin Truex Jr., who left for Furniture Row Racing after Michael Waltrip Racing was forced to scale back when NAPA pulled its sponsorship at the end of the 2013 season.
Still, Vickers has Aaron’s as his primary sponsor and has a solid company around him. He should do well. It’s about time he’s back in a full-time ride.
Cons: Vickers’ health remains suspect. He missed the last five races of 2013 with recurring blood clots in his leg but insists he’ll be ready for the start of the 2014 campaign.
If he’s not, who knows what MWR will do in terms of getting a replacement.
There’s a lot riding on Vickers this upcoming season; let’s hope his health doesn’t throw a roadblock in the way of all the potential pluses and success that could come from him behind the wheel of the No. 55 Toyota.
Martin Truex Jr.
Pros: New team, new scenery, new start.
After the Michael Waltrip Racing debacle at Richmond last September—which essentially forced Truex to be disqualified from eligibility for the Chase for the Sprint Cup, not to mention the loss of NAPA sponsorship—a new home is just the right thing for him.
He has some big shoes to fill, those of Kurt Busch, who became the first driver to qualify a single-car team for the Chase. But without having to worry about a teammate, Truex could shine as the No. 1-and-only.
Cons: Even though he could shine as the team’s only driver (although there’s still a possibility FRR could add a part-time team and driver, something it has wanted to do for quite some time), Truex could also flounder without backup support.
Still, he has a lot of friends on other teams that may still look out for him on the racetrack.
But one other thing he has to worry about is FRR’s resources, which are nowhere near what Truex had at MWR and with the NAPA sponsorship.
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