If you have been a longtime follower of the sport of NASCAR’S Cup racing, then you know there comes a time in the season when the changes for the following season begin to be made public.
Of course, some of them are the worst kept secrets in the sport and have long been made known, just not “officially” announced. In past seasons those announcements usually were held off until the days of summer began to shorten but now if an owner, driver or sponsor waits even until the beginning of summer to make such an announcement they are behind for the following season.
Rick Hendrick and Kasey Kahne got the ball rolling a couple of weeks ago when they announced that they would be teaming up beginning next year (we don’t know where) and since this is somewhat of a copycat sport, the roll of the ball has started gaining momentum. You have to remember when one major announcement is made such as that of Hendrick and Kahne, there is a ripple effect.
Kahne will be leaving Richard Petty Motorsports and now it seems that his sponsor Budweiser will also be moving. Budweiser has long been one of the biggest sponsorships in the sport and it seems that the courtship for those dollars began last year when Richard Childress Racing had a meeting with Budweiser officials about its sponsorship.
Jack Daniels left RCR at the end of last season and a sponsor was never found for its fourth team. The troubles continue for that operation, as this week Shell/ Pennzoil announced that it would be leaving RCR’s Kevin Harvick’s team at the end of this season and moving over to Penske Racing to be become Kurt Busch’s primary sponsor for 2011. Harvick’s team is the flagship operation of RCR as it was once the team of the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. that won six Sprint Cup championships and would more than welcome the Budweiser decal on its hood.
Penske now becomes the big winner in all of this as his plans are now firmly set for next season. Kurt Busch, who took over the famous #2 Miller Lite Dodge when Rusty Wallace ended his career, will now be moving out of that ride and will be starting a new team with the #22 that will display the colors of the new Shell/Pennzoil sponsorship.
Penske and his organization should grow stronger from the move as Brad Keselowski will be moving over from Penske’s #12 team and take over one of the most recognizable rides in the sport when he crawls behind the wheel of the blue Miller Lite Dodge. He leaves a fully funded ride with one major problem; its sponsor is Verizon that is not allowed to put its name on the car due to NASCAR’s contract with Sprint.
All of the moves at Penske do create a problem with its third team that is driven by Sam Hornish Jr. Hornish’s team now has sponsorship from Mobile 1 but since it competes with Shell/ Pennzoil it will be leaving at the end of this season. Penske officials announced they were committed to running a third team next year with Hornish and that they would be announcing sponsorship for that team in the coming months.
While Hendrick and Penske seem to be getting their operations in order for next season and beyond, it leaves Childress and Petty with plenty of work to do before the green flag waves in Daytona to begin the 2011 season. Childress not only must deal with the loss of Shell/Pennzoil, it also has to sign Harvick to a new deal as his contract runs out at the end of this season.
Richard Petty Motorsports, owned by the Gillette family, is also facing serious financial problems so the future of that operation is up in the air. It must go out and replace both its top driver and sponsor while trying to hold on to the Mennard sponsorships that seems to always be rumored to be on the move, and also the future of its driver Elliott Sadler who has his name floating in the garage area as maybe being available for next season.
These changes are only the beginning. It’s not yet May and it is clear that we will have to buy a program next season in order to keep up with all of the moves, but it’s just business as usual in the Sprint Cup Series.
Heath Calhoun 400 Track:
Richmond International Raceway (0.75-mile oval, 14 degrees of banking in the turns) Date:
May 1, 7:30 p.m. TV:
MRN Defending champion: