Quick Hits: Phoenix International Raceway

Charlie TurnerSenior Writer INovember 5, 2008

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NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series enters the second-to-last race of the season at Phoenix with many teams still unsure about their 2009 plans. In recent years, most teams have already set their lineups for the following season by this point. However, plenty of drivers are still searching for employment, and plenty of teams are still attempting to put together the right packages to allow them to go racing next year.

A good amount of the field still lacks sponsorship for 2009 and beyond, and even top-tier teams are feeling the crunch. Longtime stalwarts such as Dale Earnhardt Inc. and Chip Ganassi Racing are having problems inking long-term deals in a crumbling economy. Four cars between them next season is a possibility, despite the teams running seven this year. Even Hendrick Motorsports recently had a modest round of layoffs that sent Stevie Reeves, Jimmie Johnson’s spotter, packing.

At last count, 35 full-time Sprint Cup seats have been filled by drivers for next season (not including Max Papis’ limited schedule with Germain Racing). Of those 35, cars for David Reutimann, Aric Almirola, Reed Sorenson, Ryan Newman, Juan Montoya, Bobby Labonte, and Chad McCumbee have either partial sponsorship or none altogether. Assuming that two open seats with full sponsorship (the No. 21 at Wood Brothers Racing and the No. 41 at Chip Ganassi Racing) are filled, and assuming the worst in regards to all other unsettled teams, we could only see 36 full-time cars attempting the race at Daytona.

This week’s Quick Hits is, in effect, a premature analysis of cause of death for some cars that may not be around come February. Be prepared to say farewell to any of the following next year:

5. No. 28 or 38 Yates Racing Fords: Yates has full-time sponsorship for Paul Menard from his family’s hardware store chain for one car next season. While team owners Doug Yates and Max Jones have suggested that they will add a third car for Menard, rather than replace either Travis Kvapil or David Gilliland, the team cannot afford to patch together limited sponsorships as they have this year.

The two current drivers have combined to run eight races with blank cars, and the majority of the rest with very limited sponsorship. Had Ford not filled in some holes earlier this year, the team would have run 15 of 72 races unsponsored. With many of those companies probably not returning in 2009, the team may only have enough sponsorship for one of its current drivers next year.

4. No. 22 Bill Davis Racing Toyota: With rumors of a buyout by Gillett Evernham Motorsports at a standstill, not much is known of the fate of this team. Bill Davis has entered this car in NASCAR competition since 1993, and whether Maxwell House, MBNA, or Caterpillar was on the car, it has never been unsponsored. Davis has had these issues with other cars before, but never with its mainstay Cup team.

Right now, the team’s best hope is that Toyota decides to move up its sponsorship from the Truck Series to this car, but that’s iffy at best. If the team puts Michael Annett in the car, they may attract sponsors based on his raw talent and potential, but the deals might be similar in nature to what Yates has been doing this year. Those life-support deals won’t be enough to sustain a team for too long.

3. No. 96 Hall of Fame Racing Toyota: This is a team in disarray under a relatively new owner partnership. The team has no alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota past this season, no bona fide driver (with Brad Coleman getting the shaft in most of the team’s recent deals), and less than a full season’s sponsorship from DLP HDTV.

Recent reports have had the team switching to Ford and partnering up with the Wood Brothers for 2009, reuniting the Woods with Ken Schrader, who currently drives the No. 96. The Woods claim that their sponsorship for 2009 is all set, meaning the two could collaborate on finding deals for the No. 96. Regardless, rest assured that without some sort of alliance, this team will not be around in 2009.

2. No. 77 Penske Racing Dodge: Rumors keep swirling that Sam Hornish Jr. is going to return to the IndyCar Series with Penske for 2009, possibly to replace Helio Castroneves, who is currently facing tax issues. Regardless of Penske’s potential need for its IRL team, however, the results haven’t been there. The best American open-wheel driver of this decade hasn’t been able to translate his skills to the heavier stock cars.

If Hornish stays, look for Mobil 1 to stay with him. Mobil has been a longtime Penske sponsor and had been looking to expand to a full-time primary for a couple years before Hornish’s arrival. If Hornish departs, however, they may replace Kodak on David Stremme’s No. 12 Dodge.

1. No. 01 and 15 Dale Earnhardt Inc. Chevrolets: No one can say they didn’t see this coming. The No. 01 has had minor partners at best all year, and the No. 15 has neither driver nor sponsor for 2009 with Menard’s departure. Regan Smith’s win (cough) at Talladega has drawn some interest, but most agree that Aric Almirola has more promise than Smith, and any sponsorship attracted would probably go there.

The team may be merging with Chip Ganassi Racing, which would afford Smith a shot at the No. 41, Almirola’s needs permitting. J.J. Yeley has also stated that $12 million in sponsorship would land him in one of those cars for next season, but given his underwhelming performance this year, it might be a longshot.

On a more positive note, however, congratulations to last week’s winners at Texas: Ron Hornaday, Kyle Busch, and Carl Edwards in the Truck, Nationwide, and Sprint Cup races, respectively.