The 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season is months away, but that does not mean it is too early to start the conversation about which drivers will be on the hot seat.
Drivers entering the last season of their contracts will feel the most pressure during the season. Their teams probably would have renegotiated their contracts by now if they were confident in their drivers. Most teams want to see how their driver performs before they open the checkbook and add more years to the contract.
The first half of the season will be important for all drivers, especially the drivers on the hot seat. NASCAR teams usually do not announce driver changes until the season is well into the summer months. The first half of the season is used to evaluate the talent on the team, and changes are made later.
Here is a list of the drivers who will be on the hot seat in 2014.
Clint Bowyer is the lead driver for Michael Waltrip Racing. It would be hard to imagine the team letting him go after the 2014 season, but Bowyer has been the center of controversy the past two years.
In 2011, Bowyer was involved in an incident at Phoenix with Jeff Gordon. Bowyer was accused of wrecking Gordon on purpose and ending both teams’ chances at the championship, and the two drivers continued their feud in the garage.
Last season, Bowyer was accused of spinning out on purpose in order to allow Martin Truex Jr. to make the Chase. Michael Waltrip Racing was fined, and Bowyer was not the same driver the rest of the season.
If Bowyer continues to find his way into controversial situations, Michael Waltrip Racing may have to look for a new driver to lead the team. If Bowyer is let go, he will have no problem finding another seat somewhere else.
Bowyer’s contract is up at the end of the 2014 season.
Greg Biffle has been at Roush Fenway Racing longer than any other driver.
When Roush Fenway Racing announces it is making a driver change, Biffle is usually the odd driver out.
The team let Jamie McMurray go at the end of the 2009 season. David Ragan was released at the end of the 2011 season. Matt Kenseth left the team at the end of the 2012 season. Biffle has remained with the team since 2003.
Biffle is in the last year of his contract at Roush Fenway Racing. The team has already re-signed Carl Edwards to a multiyear contract. Biffle will need to produce this season, or he could be looking for a new seat in 2015.
Biffle has made the Chase in five of the last six seasons. He has only three wins in the last three seasons (108 races). Biffle needs to win some races in 2014 to prove to Roush Fenway Racing that he should continue to be on the team.
Jamie McMurray is in his last year of his contract at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing.
The team proved last season that it is not afraid to make changes. Juan Pablo Montoya was let go at the end of the 2013 season, and Kyle Larson was brought in to help lead the team into the future. McMurray will have to prove in 2014 that he should be a part of Earnhardt Ganassi Racing's future.
McMurray raced well last season and even won the race at Talladega. The team desperately wants a driver in the Chase, and another 15th-place finish may not be enough to keep McMurray in the No. 1 car in the future.
The question with Marcos Ambrose has been whether he can win a race on an oval race track. So far, the answer is no.
Ambrose is entering the last year of his contract at Richard Petty Motorsports. The team must decide if it is happy being the dominate team on the road courses and just a field filler at the rest of the race tracks or if it wants a driver who can compete for wins each week.
Richard Petty Motorsports has two talented young drivers in its development program. The team has been working with Ryan Truex and Corey Lajoie for a few years now. It would not be a surprise to see one of those young drivers in the No. 9 car following the 2014 season.
Aric Almirola is another driver at Richard Petty Motorsports who may be on the hot seat in 2014. Almirola is in the final year of his contract and could be looking for a new job if he cannot find a way to win a race.
Almirola has raced well in the No. 43 car, but is that enough for the King and fans who are used to seeing the iconic number in Victory Lane?
Almirola has never won a race in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and had only one top-five finish last season. Almirola must be better than a top-20 driver each week, or Richard Petty Motorsports may give the seat to one of its talented young developmental drivers.
It is hard to imagine Danica Patrick on the hot seat, but Stewart Haas Racing is building a team of drivers who can win races each and every week. Patrick is not one of those drivers.
It is no secret that Stewart Haas Racing is giving Patrick all the resources she needs to be competitive. So far, the results are not there.
Patrick's popularity and ability to bring money into the organization are the only things keeping her in the No. 10 car. Sooner or later, she will have to produce on the race track as well.
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