NASCAR Sprint Cup: 15 Drivers Who'll Be Looking For Teams in 2011
While NASCAR's version of free agency, known as "Silly Season," unfolds over the spring and summer months, there are always a few drivers and teams with uncertain plans for the upcoming season as the leaves change color and the temperatures turn cooler.
Even though Kasey Kahne knows where he will race next season (Red Bull Racing), there is still a group of drivers looking for potential rides in the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
The harsh reality for most drivers is that very few rides will open up in 2012, no doubt encouraging those with established teams to hold onto their seats for as long as possible. The sport is continuing to change, and "Silly Season" may soon be a thing of the past.
Here is a look at 15 drivers with undecided futures in NASCAR.
2010 Highlights: Despite missing the Chase for the Sprint Cup, McMurray's reunion with co-owner Chip Ganassi at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing was a memorable one. The Joplin, Mo. native won the Daytona 500 in February and the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in July, and currently ranks 14th in the Sprint Cup points standings.
Outlook: McMurray's deal with EGR lasts until the end of the season. It would be quite surprising if he left the team, with the lack of quality rides available at the moment. However, the fate of sponsors Bass Pro Shops and McDonald's for next season is unknown, meaning McMurray could be on the market if funding fails to develop.
2010 Highlights: In his fourth full season with Richard Petty Motorsports, Elliott Sadler is on pace to have the worst season of his 12-year Sprint Cup career. His lone top 10 finish came with a ninth-place result at Michigan last August, and he has an average finish of 25.2.
Outlook: Sadler's future was written on the wall at the start of the 2009 season, when RPM attempted to fire him. At that moment, Sadler forced the team to honor the rest of his contract.
The Virginia native has driven in Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series events for JR Motorsports and Kevin Harvick Inc. this season, and it seems likely that he could be doing so on a full-time basis next season.
2010 Highlights: In his second season, the ex-Formula One driver has cut down his DNF total from eight last season to two this season. A pair of top 10 finishes at Atlanta in March and Daytona in July have propelled him to 27th place in the Sprint Cup points standings.
Outlook: Speed is signed with Red Bull Racing through the rest of the season. Despite his improvements, it seems likely that he will be replaced by Kasey Kahne in the No. 82 Toyota next season, with that ride then vacated again in 2012 when Kahne joins Hendrick Motorsports.
Speed may wind up in the No. 19 vacated by Elliott Sadler at Richard Petty Motorsports, should funding exist.
2010 Highlights: In his second season driving for Penske Racing in the Nationwide Series, Allgaier recorded his first career victory at Bristol in March. The 25-year-old is the top Nationwide-only driver in the series, ranking fourth in the points standings with six top five and 16 top 10 finishes.
Outlook: Allgaier's future at Penske is in doubt after Verizon announced it would pull its support from his No. 12 Dodge on the Nationwide level. He has been rumored to join Turner Motorsports in the Nationwide Series next season, but he may get a look from a Cup team or two before the winter is over.
Sam Hornish Jr.
2010 Highlights: In his third full season driving the No. 77 Dodge for Penske Racing, the 2006 Indianapolis 500 champion has just one top 10 finish this season, coming last month in New Hampshire.
Outlook: With Mobil 1's sponsorship leaving Penske at the end of the season, Hornish may become a free agent.
Owner Roger Penske has said that the Defiance, Ohio native will return to the organization in some form next season in a No. 12 Dodge, either replacing Brad Keselowski's previous ride in the organization at the Cup level or Allgaier at the Nationwide level.
However, Hornish has noted that his contract with Penske is up after this season. Only time will tell.
2010 Highlights: The former Joe Gibbs Racing driver spent the season driving for start-and-park teams such as Whitney Motorsports and Tommy Baldwin Racing. In 12 starts this season, his best finish is 18th at Daytona in July.
Outlook: Here's where the talent pool begins to drop sharply. Yeley will likely continue to start-and-park next season for teams, despite showing flashes of success a few years ago at the Nationwide level.
2010 Highlights: In addition to his duties as driver of the No. 81 Dodge for McDonald Motorsports in the Nationwide Series, McDowell has started-and-parked in 21 races this season.
Outlook: Expect McDowell to do more of the same next season on the Cup side, with the former Michael Waltrip Racing driver's Nationwide future unknown at this time.
2010 Highlights: Gordon's self-owned operation ran into financial trouble early in the season, after a sponsorship deal with Warner Music Group Nashville fell through.
Gordon's "SpeedFactory.tv" online reality show adorned the car for most of the season until Kevin Conway and his ExtenZe sponsorship allowed Gordon to relinquish driving duties.
Outlook: Robby Gordon Motorsports on a NASCAR level may very well be done after this season, barring a sponsorship deal. Expect the veteran driver to go off-roading in 2011.
2010 Highlights: Conway, with ExtenZe sponsorship, started the season at Front Row Motorsports. In August, he left the team to join Robby Gordon Motorsports in the No. 7 Toyota.
Outlook: Conway is a lock to win the 2010 Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year, but that's purely because he's the only rookie running a full schedule this season. Where he goes next season is completely dependent upon his ExtenZe sponsorship.
2010 Highlights: Stremme joined Latitude 43 Motorsports in the No. 26 Ford last March. In 11 races, Stremme had a best finish of 24th place three times this season before leaving the team in July.
Outlook: Stremme should return to the Nationwide level, where he had a successful stint with Rusty Wallace Racing before joining Penske Racing in 2009.
2010 Highlights: The French-Canadian IndyCar alum has competed in four races for Latitude 43 Motorsports, with a best finish of 17th at Watkins Glen.
Outlook: Expect Carpentier to do some spot duty again next season, along with the road course races on the Cup and Nationwide levels.
2010 Highlights: Riggs started and parked in two races this season.
Outlook: More of the same in 2011. Riggs' best days as a driver are long gone.
2010 Highlights: No Cup starts.
Outlook: The above note surprised me, as Darnell remains in the Roush Fenway Racing stable of drivers.
Unfortunately, Darnell may be stuck waiting for an opportunity, despite solid career numbers in both the Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series.
2010 Highlights: Sauter, a Camping World Truck Series regular, started and parked in four races this season.
Outlook: Sauter will likely continue full-time with ThorSport Racing in the CWTS.
2010 Highlights: Gilliland has competed in 25 races for Front Row Motorsports this season, with a best finish of 16th at Bristol in March.
Outlook: Expect the Californian to do more of the same next season, depending on the financial status of FRM.
Any thoughts regarding this list? Please comment below.
Ryan Papaserge is a junior Journalism/Mass Communication student at St. Bonaventure University and a writing intern at Bleacher Report.