Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Tuesday Ramble - Sonoma Edition

Silly Season is a widely used term when discussing possible driver lineup and sponsor changes in NASCAR. It used to start about July and end sometime in the fall, so that everything was all settled and teams were geared up to go into the off-season with their new drivers and sponsors.

Over the last few years however, Silly Season has stretched out to become pretty much a twelve month long affair. In fact, speculation on which Roush driver would have to be farmed off to another organization has been going on for well over a year.

There was much hoopla in 2006 with Toyota getting ready to enter the arena and new teams sprouting up. Then in 2007 we had the Dale Jr. saga, and in 2008 the Tony Stewart saga. But that wasn’t even the beginning.

With sponsors dropping off like flies, teams merging in order to survive, and even a potential lawsuit for a driver to keep his seat, Silly Season never really ended in 2008. As an AJ fan, I didn’t truly know if he would even have a ride come Daytona 500 time. And even now, I still don’t know if he will be finishing out the season.

2008 seemed to carry right over to 2009, and even though a few teams have gone away, a few teams and drivers are still fighting to keep their names out there by showing up at the track each week. And while there are a few unanswered questions as far as drivers go – who will Roush drop, will Truex stay at EGR, etc – Silly Season in 2009 has mostly been talk about the manufacturers.

With Chrysler just starting to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings and GM just entering them, there are a lot of unanswered questions for teams. Many of the manufacturers have pulled out of the Truck series and the Nationwide series already, and are planning cuts even for the most lucrative NASCAR organizations. Add in the fact that sponsor money is still scarce, and we might as well try to predict what is going to happen in 2010 with a Magic 8 ball.

Will Red Bull leave Toyota and switch to Chevy? Vice versa for EGR – will they leave Chevy and go to Toyota? RPM has been in the news a lot lately with rumors swirling about a move to Toyota as well. Or even more mind boggling, is it possible that we will see another foreign manufacturer enter the sport?

We’re not even to July yet, and rumors are swirling around the garage areas like vultures waiting for a kill. The problem is – there probably aren’t going to be any answers to those questions for awhile.

With everything on hold for two of the car companies, are they even allowed to sign a release letting race teams out of their contracts? Or for that matter to agree to bring in a new one? I can’t fathom all the legal issues, but my guess is that we’re not going to find out anything anytime soon.

As far as the drivers go, we may see shuffling going on right up until the Daytona 500 next February. Teams have to have sponsorship money in place before signing a driver for their car, and the sponsors are waiting in vain for the economy to stabilize enough to promise their support. Not only that, but we don’t even know yet which sponsors might decide not to renew their contracts.

Have you heard the rumors about RCR possibly having to cut back to just two teams next year if sponsorship doesn’t come through? Is there any driver who is really safe in their seat anymore? Last year I could have named about twenty-five drivers that I was certain had absolutely no worries about their immediate future. Currently I can only think of a dozen or so who can sleep soundly at night (besides Paul Menard, of course.)

So I guess NASCAR is like much of the United States right now. Drivers, crew members, and even team owners are trying to make sense out of a crazy situation, all while waiting for the other shoe to drop. What will happen? I guess we will have to wait and see, because my Magic 8 ball says – Reply hazy, try again.

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