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It’s that time of the year



Michael Waltrip Racing finally made it official last week when it held a news conference to introduce Martin Truex Jr. as the driver to take over the wheel of Michael Waltrip’s Camry next season.

Truex Jr. will now slide behind one of the most highly recognized rides in the sport as Waltrip and his sponsor NAPA have had a long history together that not only featured two Daytona 500 wins but also some highly successful TV commercials.

It will definitely be a change of pace for Waltrip as he has been driving in the series since 1985, but like many of the drivers that get out of a full-time ride, he will still drive part time in 2010. MWR announced that NAPA would sponsor Waltrip in his familiar #55 in the Daytona 500 next season and after that the number of races that he would attempt to qualify would be determined by additional sponsorship.

The move to MWR by Truex Jr. has long been rumored this season as he was in the last year of his contract at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing and it was public knowledge that he wasn’t really interested in re-signing with EGR.

Truex Jr. was thought to be the cornerstone driver of the merger between Dale Earnhardt Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing last season as he was a former two-time winner of the Nationwide Series and had made the Chase in 2007. He has lacked the consistency to be competitive this season while his teammate Juan Pablo Montoya is in the top 12 at this time with a very good chance of making his first-ever appearance in the Chase.

Truex Jr. will be joining an organization that has definitely surprised many people this season. MWR driver David Reutimann took the organization to its firstever trip to a Sprint Cup victory lane when he won the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte in May. He has also been in or near the top 12 all season long and after Chicagoland, he finds himself in 14th place only 76 points from being in the Chase field.

MWR has also benefited from its close association with JTGDaugherty Racing this season with driver Marcos Ambrose. Like Reutimann, Ambrose has surprised the series with his strong runs this season thanks to his team’s use of MWR’s chassis and engines. While the team is not owned by MWR, it is clear to see that it races as the organization’s third team which benefits all three teams by the sharing of information at the racetrack.

With Truex Jr.’s plans finalized for next season, Brad Keselowski now becomes the driver that everyone is waiting for to announce his plans for 2010. He currently drives full time for Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the Nationwide Series, but has also made several starts in the Sprint Cup series, his start at Talladega ending up in victory lane. He has made no attempt to hide the fact that he wants to go racing full time next season at the Cup level and would like to drive for a team affiliated with Hendrick Motorsports.

Hendrick has the maximum four drivers under contract for next season and would be unable to field a fifth car, but Keselowski could possibly end up at Stewart- Haas Racing next season. Hendrick supplies equipment and technical support to Stewart- Haas. Stewart has indicated that he feels his operation is up to adding a third team, but, like every other owner in the garage, knows that can only be accomplished if a sponsor can be found.

Keselowski may have another option rather than holding out for a Hendrick-affiliated ride. His name is now being mentioned as the driver to replace David Stremme in Roger Penske’s #12 Dodge next season. Stremme now sits in 32nd in the standings and has struggled all season long. While it wouldn’t be a Hendrickcaliber ride, Penske’s three-car operation does have the kind of equipment and sponsorship to run up front. Penske’s top driver is Kurt Busch, who currently sits in fourth place in the Chase.

Keselowski has said that he has no firm offers for next season, but does believe he will be driving full time in the Cup series. Keselowski has already proven that he can win at the Cup level. He now must find the team that will give him the best chance to show his talents on a weekly basis.

Race Preview — Event: Allstate 400. Track: Indianapolis Motor Speedway (2.5-mile rectangle, 9 degrees of banking in the turns). Date: July 26, 2:15 p.m. TV: ESPN. Radio: IMS. Defending champion: Jimmie Johnson.

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