It looks like the Daytona Pre-Season Thunder event pushed teams to make decisions on 2012. If you remember, David Ragan, David Reutimann, Kurt Busch, and Clint Bowyer were dismissed or left their rides following the 2011 season. One by one, they found employment, but the changes were substantial.
[media-credit name=”CIA Stock Photo” align=”alignright” width=”253″][/media-credit]1. When sponsorship couldn’t be found for the Roush-Fenway No. 6 after the 2011 season, Roush released David Ragan from his contract. Ragan finally found a ride in one of the Front Row Motorsports Fords this weekend, as I predicted. It was also announced that Nationwide Series Champion Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. will be in the Daytona 500 in this car for seems to be a one-shot effort.
2. After being released from the Michael Waltrip Racing No. 00 car, David Reutimann finally found a ride with Tommy Baldwin Racing for a limited number of races. Reutimann will be replaced by Mark Martin and owner Michael Waltrip in what will become the No.55.
3. The No. 5 ride vacated by Martin will be filled with Kasey Kahne at Hendrick Motorsports. Kahne had driven the No. 4 Red Bull Toyota in 2011 after leaving Richard Petty Motorsports late in 2010.
4. After Kurt Busch and Roger Penske agreed to part ways, and after much speculation on who would drive the No. 22 Dodge, A.J. Allmendinger was hired on what many consider to be a one-year contract.
5. When Allmendinger was given his release from the No, 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford when main sponsor Best Buy left for Roush-Fenway, it was rumored that Kurt Busch would get that ride. Unfortunately, sponsors didn’t feel comfortable with Busch, so Aric Almirola got the ride and got the bonus of Smithfield Foods as a sponsor.
6. When Clint Bowyer and Richard Childress couldn’t come to terms or a sponsor could not be found, Bowyer left the No. 33 Chevy for Michael Waltrip racing with NAPA as sponsor and using the No. 15. The No. 33, much like the No. 6 at Roush-Fenway, was retired.
7. Kurt Busch ended up at Phoenix Racing with the No. 51 Chevrolet, which is considered an arm of Hendrick Motorsports. No sponsor has been announced.
8. Scott Speed found a ride in the No. 95 Bob Leavine Ford for an unannounced number of races, a place Speed raced last year for a few races.
9. Sadly, TRG Racing, the home of rookie of the year Andy Lally, has apparently closed shop to concentrate on other forms of racing
Whew, is that ever a mouthful. In the more than 15 years I have been covering the Sprint Cup Series, I cannot remember any more changes. Most of it is a symptom of a not-yet-recovered economy. Things will get better in time. It will be interesting to see how the move to MWR Toyotas treats Martin and Bowyer, how Stenhouse performs in the No. 6 at Daytona, a race that car has been very competitive in, if Kahne can avoid the slump of the No. 5 at Hendrick, how A.J. does in the Penske organization, whether or not Aric Almirola can lead the Pettys back to victory circle, and finally what Kurt Busch will do in James Buescher’s cars. I can’t wait
After all the stuff we’ve heard (and stuff is very appropriate in this context) over the years, we were led to believe that some insurance god somewhere had mandated that under no circumstances could cars run faster than 200 mph at Daytona, and something awful would happen if that were the case. Well in Daytona testing this week, even though single car speeds were well below that, 200 mph was fairly common in drafting. NASCAR went to a bigger plate on Friday, and the result was Kurt Busch topping 206 mph, and went back to the smaller plate on Saturday. The result was still speeds in excess of 200 mph, so I guess we can expect some tweaks before next month if the 200 mph insurance mandated limit is still in effect. Or was it ever? Kurt Busch said this week that was common in the two car drafts. I have no idea, but the last two days saw more pack racing.
I cannot imagine how it feels to be David Ragan and David Reutimann these days. Ragan was in the car that Mark Martin almost won numerous championships in, and was featured in UPS commercials the last few years. Now, he’s been relegated to running in a car that, well, hasn’t been all that competitive. Reutimann is in the same position. Both have won races in better equipment, but their chances, except at Daytona or Talladega, are slim (anyone can win there). It also points to the big gap in the haves and have-nots.