(WOMR file photo)
Of the announced seat changes that became public since the end of the 2011 Sprint Cup season, there are some upgrades in equipment and some obvious downgrades in equipment, as well. This is my evaluation of where some of these drivers stand following their off-season moves.
The drivers who have upgraded their positions
The first driver that comes to my attention as the most obvious upgrade has to be Kasey Kahne. His one year deal with Red Bull Racing was just a short pit stop with a team that was failing, and has officially shuttered their doors after the end of the 2011 season. In 2012, Kahne finds himself piloting the Hendrick Motorsports #5 Farmers Insurance Chevy, and doing so, for the foreseeable future. In addition to Kahne moving to HMS, he is bringing with him his longtime crew chief, Kenny Francis, as well.
The Dinger, better known as A.J. Almendinger, elevated his stature by securing the Penske Racing #22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge driver’s seat. That seat opening became available after Kurt Busch’s infamous tirade and meltdown directed towards ESPN’s pit reporter, Dr. Jerry Punch. Last year The Dinger was employed, or underemployed, driving the Richard Petty Motorsports #43 Best Buy Ford. His future, and for that fact, the future of RPM has many question marks surrounding it. Best Buy bailed out on RPM after the end of the race season, and resurrected itself as a sponsor with the Roush-Fenway organization. The fact that the RPM#43 Ford team lost its major sponsorship was the out that allowed The Dinger to seek, and receive, his release from RPM. Thereby giving rise to the ability to seize the opportunity at Penske Racing, an obvious upgrade in equipment with better financing!
And the last driver to upgrade positions is none other than Danica Patrick. Not only will she be running a full Nationwide schedule for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and JR Motorsports, Patrick will also be augmenting that ride with a partial Sprint Cup schedule driving the Stewart-Haas Racing #10 GoDaddy.com Chevy.
The drivers who have downgraded their positions
The driver that took the biggest downgrade in both equipment and financing obviously is Kurt “The Mouth” Busch. Busch’s fall from grace is very well documented with problems at both Roush-Fenway Racing. Busch went from a primo ride with Penske Racing driving the #22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge to the very underfunded James Finch Phoenix Racing #51 Chevy. Even though Phoenix Racing receives their motors from Hendrick Motorsports, the team still has to be considered an underdog in the Sprint Cup world.
Clint Bowyer will take a step back as well. Bowyer moves from one of the premier race teams, Richard Childress Racing, to a very middle of the road team in the likes of Michael Waltrip Racing. Even though MWR has two race victories with David Reutimann, it still can not be considered a very serious threat on a weekly basis yet.
Bowyer’s departure from RCR is one still shrouded in a veil of mystery. Neither party really wants to take responsibility for the separation. Notwithstanding, it will be very interesting to see if Bowyer can be the key element that will lift MWR to the next level of competition in the Sprint Cup series.
Continuing with the Michael Waltrip Racing saga, Mark Martin is moving over to the MWR fold. Most certainly the fact that Martin is leaving Hendrick Motorsports, that too can only be noted as a downgrade. As you will recall, Martin is being unceremoniously removed from the HMS #5 Chevy to make room for the above mentioned Kasey Kahne. Martin won five races for HMS in 2009, however, he has been winless for the last two years.
Hanging with the MWR theme, David Reutimann was rooted out of his ride in the MWR #00 and replaced with the aforementioned Mark Martin. It was just announced that Reutimann was signed for a one year deal with Tommy Baldwin Racing. Even though MWR was not an upper tier race team, Reutimann hooking up with TBR would also be considered a downgrade, as well. TBR has struggled in its brief history, even though they made all the races in 2011. That team started out as a “start and park” until sponsorship could be secured.
But the real hard luck story for the 2012 season would be David Ragan. Having won the July Daytona race, The Coke Zero 400, Ragan now finds him without a ride in any series and nothing in sight, with just 51 days til the Daytona 500!
What are your views on the silly season driver changes?
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!