So many Juniors, so many laughs.
We knew it was coming—talk in January set the stage for what's become the story of the 2007 NASCAR "Silly Season."
It's the punch lines in between, though, that have added a touch of ironic humor to the events of the past four months.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. announced in May that he would leave Dale Earnhardt, Inc. (DEI) at the end of 2007—and immediately topped the list of "must-have" NASCAR free agents. Rick Hendrick snatched him up within weeks, padding his stable of top-notch drivers.
Junior joins four-time champion Jeff Gordon and defending champion Jimmie Johnson at Hendrick Motorsports. The irony, of course, lies in the historic animosity between Earnhardt fans and Gordon fans—and their ambivalent reactions to the new partnership.
It was announced today that the second "Junior," Earnhardt's cousin and crew chief Tony Eury Jr., has inked a multiyear deal with Hendrick. The agreement will maintain a chemistry that has been good at times but volatile at others.
With Tony Eury Sr. taking a position at J.R. Motorsports—Junior's Busch team that has combined resources with Hendrick—you get an idea of where loyalties lie.
Then there's the third "Junior": Martin Truex Jr., who's set to become the top driver for DEI. Barring catastrophe, Truex's car will be the only one representing the Earnhardt name in the Chase for the championship—though recent slips have left him in a slightly precarious position with only Richmond remaining to fill out the 12 Chase slots.
Keep in mind that DEI recently merged with Ginn Racing, expanding the team to four cars and creating questions for a young group. Veteran Mark Martin will most likely share the No. 8 car with young Aric Almirola, Truex will pilot the No. 1, Paul Menard Jr. (another Junior!) will stay in the No. 15, and Regan Smith is in talks to take the No. 01 U.S. Army seat—which he'd shared with Mark Martin earlier this year at Ginn.
The official lineup for DEI should be announced in the near future.
With Earnhardt moving to Hendrick, Kyle Busch was placed on "waivers"—and was quickly snatched up by Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR). The capable but sometimes mentally absent junior Busch brother will pair with Tony Stewart—a two-time champion with a history of putting the bumper to opponents.
The younger Busch has drawn Stewart's ire on a number of occasions, so their relationship within the JGR camp will be worth keeping an eye on.
In other free agent news, word broke today that J.J. Yeley will steer the No. 96 DLP-sponsored car for Hall Of Fame (HOF) Racing in 2008. Jeremy Mayfield, meanwhile, is on his way out of a ride at Bill Davis Racing, where he has struggled to make the field this season.
1995 Indy 500 winner and 1997 Formula 1 Champion Jacques Villeneuve will drive the No. 36 for Davis next season.
Expect a Busch or possibly even a Cup ride for Scott Speed, the lone American formerly on Formula 1's Toro Rosso team. Sam Hornish Jr. (did I say "Junior" again?) will be making a decision in the coming weeks about moving from IndyCar, where he's a three-time champion, to NASCAR, where he has been a wreck waiting to happen in the Busch series.
Other silly-season news finds the Cup Series changing names to the Sprint Cup in 2008—and the Busch Series trying to follow suit, although Subway has balked on a sponsorship deal.
Ricky Rudd announced he's retiring at the end of the year, which will open a seat at Robert Yates Racing in the No. 88 Snickers car (no pun intended). Rudd just started his 900th career race, second all-time to Richard Petty.
If that isn't enough humor to fill out a "Silly Season" news sheet, I don't know what is.
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