Every year, everybody starts anticipating the first official announcement about their favorite driver with regards to plans for the next year ahead. With more drivers during the free agent list, each year it becomes more intriguing.
So here’s a list of those with contracts up:
Without going into this much, I am going to lock Hamlin in for a new contract with Joe Gibbs Racing. He has run great with Joe Gibbs Racing, and without some of their bad luck and mishaps last year, he could’ve been the one to take Johnson off the top of the mountain.
I am also going to lock Kevin Harvick in for a new contract with Richard Childress Racing (RCR). When they were struggling last year, I was the first to vote for him to go to Stewart-Haas Racing or start his own Cup program through KHI. However, RCR has made a huge turn around and Harvick is now off to an awesome start this year.
Also, I don’t think I could see Harvick at any other team than RCR, personally; there’s just something special with that combination. Now, I’ve said these words before as I said that Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Dale Earnhardt Inc couldn’t be separated and then Tony Stewart and Joe Gibbs Racing, yet there were certain special circumstances that broke those apart and now everything seems right again.
So who is going to make the first major announcement of Silly Season? I am giving that award to Kasey Kahne.
Kahne has already made it clear that he wants to leave Richard Petty Motorsports (RPM) with his conversation with Jay Busbee in November. Here is the transcript:
Jay Busbee: How much will you try and stay in the loop with RPM management on what's going on?
Kasey Kahne: I use to try and stay in the loop and then things don't happen that they say will. At this point, I have one year left (on my RPM contract). I want to do the best job for Richard Petty Motorsports in my final year. It's up to them what happens. They do their thing and I'll do mine. All I can do is make myself better at driving race cars and communicating with Kenny Francis. If I do that, I'll be happy next season.
Busbee: So you'll try and look elsewhere next year?
Busbee: Regardless of what happens next year, will next year be your last year with RPM?
Kahne: That's hard to say. Come January, I can start looking around; I can talk to other people. I would imagine the Gilletts are going to talk to me at that point. But as of right now, the Gilletts haven't talked to me and I'm just kind of doing my job, doing the best that I can through the end of the season. The ups and downs of the team has made it difficult for me to really say, 'Man, I'm going to be here for 10 more years.' I really don't know what's going to happen. Truthfully, I don't know what's going to happen right now.
Influencing Kahne’s decision are two factors: his performance and RPM management. So far he sits 20th in the standings, 114 points out of the Chase with only two top 10s in six races so the performance is down.
On the RPM management side, there’s been changes as to who’s running the team in the past two years, which makes it hard for good decisions to happen. Ray Everingham was originally in charge, then came George Gillett with his investment, followed by a merger with Robert Yates Racing. With all the changes, those who are looking for answers may feel confused about who to talk toas Kahne has expressed in other interviews.
In Kahne choosing to leave RPM, he’d be a good fit at Stewart-Haas Racing with Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman. Kahne and Stewart are good friends, and Stewart has expressed the will to go to three teams. He said last year that he’d expand to three teams if he had the sponsorship in place. So if Kahne could bring Budweiser or pick up another sponsor, (something that shouldn't be too hard, as he is appealing to the ladies and others with his personality and looks) there’s a perfect opportunity for both parties.
In looking at RPM overall, the 2010 season is a big contract year for them as all of their contracts are up.
Paul Menard right now looks like the most willing to stay. He’s having his best season yet, as he sits 11 in points with a fifth place finish at Atlanta being his highest. However, one thing for sure to note is wherever he goes, he’s got sponsorship through the family company.
Elliott Sadler is the next ranked RPM driver in points after Menard and Kahne at 23rd. Sadler has the personality that everybody loves and has showed points of greatness, though he has still not impressed the critics. There could be a change here, though right now it sits as the 50/50 line.
A.J. Allmendinger is the lowest RPM driver in points, sitting in 26th. A lot of people believe that Allmendinger has a lot of potential through some of the runs he has had and the growth that has been seen. However, he has yet to prove it so if he doesn’t get things turned around, he could be headed out the back door.
From somebody who could be headed out that door to somebody who did head out that door last year, we hit Jamie McMurray.
McMurray was the odd-man out at Rouch Racing last year when they had to shrink down to four teams from five. After Martin Truex Jr. left Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing for Michael Waltrip Racing (MWR), McMurray took the empty seat and looked to get back to the success he had with Chip Ganassi before.
He started the year out with a bang by winning the Daytona 500 but now sits 19th in points, with only one additional top 10 that came a week later at California. Since California, the season has been on a downwind spiral. Bass Pro Shops, one of the main sponsors, is on their last contract year, so this could be a big year sponsorship wise. If Bass Pro Shops pulls the plug, you could McMurray without a ride again.
Then of course there’s the franchiseDavid Reuittman. Reuitmann led the charge for MWR last year, though is off to a bad start this year as he sits 24th. Reuitmann proved last year that he has talent, and if MWR doesn’t give him the equipment that he needs and he gets an offer, you could see him leaving.
Every year is always interesting, and this year should come to be no surprise no matter what happens. Now we just got to wait for the first announcement to made and see how the chips fall. Hopefully your favorite driver has a ride come 2011.
Thanks to Jay Busbee’s blog post “Kasey Kahne’s eyes are beginning to wander from RPM ” for this transcript