I think this is the first time in quite a while that, heading into the final race of the Sprint Cup season at the Homestead-Miami Speedway, we have no idea who the 40-plus full-time drivers for the 2009 season will be. Granted, back in the days before Jayski, when “silly season” wasn’t as prevalent as it is now, a lot of contracts were signed in NASCAR’s offseason. Yep, we used to have an offseason. Who knew?
30-plus teams have already set their drivers and schedules for next season. Most of these teams, and a few others, have secured sponsorship. However, a lot of teams face uncertain futures, and as I detailed last week, a good amount of cars may not be around next year.
That being said, plenty of companies are still interested in sponsoring Sprint Cup teams. It’s just a matter of matching up the right driver, team, and sponsor with one another. There are plenty of quality drivers out there waiting for a call from teams, and there are plenty of teams fishing for enough sponsorship to be competitive next year.
Allow me to do all the work for you, drivers, teams, and prospective sponsors. This week’s Quick Hits are five teams that would certainly make sense to appear on track next year:
5. No. 41 A.J. Allmendinger—Target Chevrolet, Earnhardt Ganassi Racing
This one’s not too much of a stretch, which is why it ranks fifth. Allmendinger is the best driver available, and the No. 41 is the best car available. Chip Ganassi likes taking risks on open wheel drivers (because, obviously, that’s where he does his best), and Target would certainly appreciate a young driver who’s shown promise as of late.
Allmendinger’s done well in the No. 10 at Gillett Evernham Motorsports the past few weeks, with three top-20 finishes. He’s only failed to complete four laps out of a possible 1476, showing that he can keep the car on the track. EGR (sounds unnatural, doesn’t it?) may be in a take-whatever-we-can-get mindset, but adding Allmendinger to its stable could prove a savvy move by the end of the season if he breaks out.
4. No. 28 Travis Kvapil—US Air Force/Hitachi Power Tools/K&N Filters Ford, Yates Racing
There have been rumors as of late that the Air Force is going to head to Yates after a long association with the Wood Brothers. If so, there’s no doubt in my mind that the sponsorship would go to Kvapil.
Not only has Kvapil outperformed David Gilliland this year, his sponsorship status is far less certain—Gilliland has relationships with FreeCreditReport.com and CitiFinancial that should carry him through at least part of next season, financial crisis notwithstanding.
Yates wants to expand to three cars next year, the other belonging to Paul Menard, who brings his Menards family sponsorship to the table. They basically have Menard’s and Gilliland’s rides covered. It wouldn’t be surprising if Hitachi stuck around for next year, or if some of the team’s other one-race sponsors made more of a commitment next year.
3. No. 00 David Reutimann—Aaron’s Rent/Champion Mortgage/Dow Chemical Toyota, Michael Waltrip Racing
Reutimann’s earned his keep these past few weeks. He had a chance at winning his first race in Texas two weeks ago and qualified fourth last week at Phoenix. Aaron’s has already announced that they will be on the car for half the season, but that still leaves an 18-race hole to fill.
This year, Champion Mortgage sponsored the No. 00 for 12 races with Michael McDowell, two with Mike Skinner, one with Mike Bliss, and one with Allmendinger. Even if they don’t return, rumors have been floating that Dow Chemical will upgrade their associate sponsorship with the team.
It’s unlikely that Champion would want to commit to 16 races again in this economic climate, but anything that they don’t pick up, Dow would probably fill. Reutimann’s going to be a star in Sprint Cup one day, and whoever can snap up space on his car would be smart to act now.
2. No. 21 Kyle Petty/Bill Elliott/Jon Wood/Patrick Carpentier—Wells Fargo/Motorcraft Ford, Wood Brothers Racing
So the Air Force might go to Yates. Big deal. If the team brings on Kyle Petty and his 12-race Wells Fargo sponsorship, that more than fills the commitment the Air Force made this season. The Woods claim that their sponsorship contracts are set for next season, with Ford and Motorcraft, but given the automaker’s plight, a backup plan would certainly help.
The question is more about who will drive the car than who will finance it, as has been for the past couple of years. Bill Elliott is open to running a few early-season races, but nothing more. Jon Wood’s been waiting in the wings for a while.
However, the Woods are also high on Patrick Carpentier, who was unceremoniously dumped by GEM after an incident at Talladega with team director Mike Shiplett. A few decent performances with the Woods could be the necessary jump-start to make Carpentier’s NASCAR career as successful as his career in CART.
1. No. 22 Scott Riggs—State Water Heaters/Hunt Brothers Pizza/Bad Boy Mowers Toyota, Bill Davis Racing
Despite the past couple years, people need to remember that Riggs is a capable driver. He finished 20th in points in 2006 despite missing the Daytona 500. His poor 2007 was the result of completely wrong data at GEM, and the Haas CNC cars currently aren’t high-quality competitors. (Just you wait ‘till next year, though.)
Counting both starts and DNQ’s, the three aforementioned sponsors have combined for roughly 36 races this season over four cars—the Nos. 22 and 27 at BDR, and the Nos. 66 and 70 at Haas CNC. State and Hunt Bros. have both affirmed their desires to stay in the sport in 2009, after combining for just over 30 races in total this year.
Both sponsors appear pleased with what Riggs has done this season, qualifying for almost every race. Bad Boy Mowers has adorned Davis Toyotas four times this season and could certainly fill out the schedule.
Finally, congratulations to Phoenix’s winners: Jimmie Johnson in Sprint Cup, Carl Edwards in Nationwide, and Kevin Harvick in the Truck Series.
Photo Credit: Icon Sports Media