Silly Season Gets Sillier: TRG To Dodge With Labonte?

Christopher Leone@ChristopherlionSenior Analyst IOctober 14, 2009

FONTANA, CA - OCTOBER 09:  Bobby Labonte, driver of the #96 DLP Ford, stand on pit road during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pepsi 500 at Auto Club Speedway on October 9, 2009 in Fontana, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Autoweek reports today that fledgling NASCAR Sprint Cup team The Racer's Group and floundering manufacturer Dodge are interested in hooking up for the 2010 season.

The combination would be a marriage of two backmarkers in the series looking to move on to better things after markedly different 2009 campaigns.

Dodge has two contenders in the Chase for the Sprint Cup in Kurt Busch and Kasey Kahne, but neither appears a threat to win the championship. Worse for the manufacturer, Kahne and his Richard Petty Motorsports team will join the Ford camp in 2010, although whether their proposed merger with Yates Racing goes through remains to be seen.

TRG, however, has exceeded their expectations for the season. Owner Kevin Buckler only created the team a few weeks before the season, as one of many proposed start-and-park outfits popping up in a poor economy. Expectations were decidedly low, despite Buckler purchasing former Richard Childress Racing equipment.

Despite missing the Daytona 500 with driver Mike Wallace, the team has qualified for every race since while operating on a shoestring budget. Lead driver David Gilliland finished 14th at Las Vegas for the team's best result of the year, and perseverance has landed the team 37th in owners' points. With the possibility of at least two teams eliminated next year due to NASCAR's budget cap, the team may find itself 35th in owners' points come Daytona in 2010, locking it into the first five races of the year.

The team has also benefitted from the presence of Bobby Labonte in a handful of races. When Labonte was forced from his ride with Hall of Fame Racing in select events due to sponsorship issues, TRG picked him up to fill the ride.

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Hall of Fame began a partnership with Yates at the beginning of this season, but it's unlikely to carry over into 2010. Not only that, the Ask.com sponsorship that has adorned that car for much of the season appears more tied to past champion Labonte than the struggling race team. It seems unlikely that Labonte would want to return to HoF, especially with the ride being generally uncompetitive all year.

Rumors have thus been swirling that Labonte could go to TRG for the full 2010 season, bringing the Ask.com sponsorship with him. Thanks to Labonte's past champion's provisional, that team would then be guaranteed into at least the first 11 races of next season—surely an attractive prospect to all parties.

The marriage of TRG and Dodge works for both sides by establishing the manufacturer with a distinct entity to rank second in the hierarchy behind Penske Racing. Even though it would only add one car for the foreseeable future, the prospect of more than three Dodges in the field has to be attractive to the company.

Buckler could also use the manufacturer support to help him attain his goal of building a successful stock car team to go along with his strong road racing operation. Keep in mind that Dodge sponsored most of the RPM cars in some associate capacity this season, and any of that free money contained within Dodge's budget could go towards establishing the TRG team.

Buckler and Roger Penske even have manufacturer connections in sports car racing—both run Porsches in the Rolex Sports Car Series (Buckler in the GT class, Penske in the Daytona Prototypes).

Bringing in Labonte may simply be a step sideways for the former champion, but it would certainly help solidify The Racer's Group as a legitimate NASCAR team for the future. With the right combination of an experienced driver, a knowledgeable crew chief, and solid funding, TRG should climb up the standings in 2010.

The question right now is, will everything fall into place?

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