Driver turnover has become the norm for Red Bull Racing in recent years. A.J. Allmendinger was replaced by Scott Speed, and Speed was replaced by Kasey Kahne.
Not to mention the fact that multiple drivers were used to fill the void left by Brian Vickers left season when he stepped out of the car to deal with a heart condition.
Vickers may be back in 2011, but we already know that Kahne is leaving after the year to take over the No. 5 car at Hendrick Motorsports. When that happens, Red Bull Racing will once again find itself shopping for a driver.
Kahne’s possible replacement could be one of the sport’s biggest names. Veteran Mark Martin will be a free agent following the 2011 season, and the ageless wonder has already said that he could see himself racing another four years. He is presumably looking for a full-time ride with a quality team, and that is exactly what Red Bull Racing has to offer.
The move makes sense on multiple levels. Heck, it would essentially be a trade on the part of the Red Bull organization and HMS. Kahne is replacing Martin at Hendrick Motorsports in 2012. Why not have Martin replace Kahne at Red Bull Racing?
Even last season, Martin’s name was being mentioned as a possible candidate to drive for Red Bull Racing. SPEED’s Randy Pemberton was on record as saying that Martin was joining the organization this season. Pemberton may have been wrong, but the rumor never develops unless serious discussion about the move actually occurred.
A year later, the same move seems to be the best solution for all parties involved.
That being said, Martin joining Red Bull Racing isn’t set in stone. The organization has shown its willingness to promote young drivers in the past, and it just so happens that Cole Whitt is waiting in the wings.
Whitt won a USAC title driving sprint cars and is currently embarking on his first season in the Camping World Truck Series. He has just a total of 16 NASCAR starts to date, mainly in the K&N Pro Series East, but inexperience hasn’t scared off Red Bull Racing in the past.
Allmendinger had a meager three Truck starts before being put behind the wheel of a Cup car. Speed had a full Truck season under his belt but little else before taking over for Allmendinger. Neither driver had an extensive background in stock car racing.
While sponsors may love the young, talented drivers, Red Bull Racing’s track record with developing their future stars has been abysmal. Given Allmendinger’s recent performance with Richard Petty Motorsports, it’s safe to say that the organization put him in a Cup car too soon and then gave up on him prematurely.
If Red Bull Racing moves Whitt to the Cup Series next season, it runs the risk of doing the same. It’s the equivalent of calling up a minor-league prospect before they are ready. Experience at the Cup level is valuable, but not at the expense of a young driver’s confidence. Ray Evernham basically ruined the promising career of Casey Atwood by promoting him too soon—something he readily admits to today.
It remains to be seen what Red Bull Racing decides to do. Putting Martin behind the wheel for three or four years while Whitt develops seems like the smart move. Martin could even mentor Whitt along the way.
It all depends on whether the decision makers at Red Bull Racing are focused on the long-term health of the organization or determined to make another short-term splash.