It’s hard to think about next season, especially when there is just one more race before the Chase field is set to begin the championship round of the schedule. Several drivers will be going to Richmond this weekend with a chance to secure one of those highly sought after 12 spots, but for some it is the perfect time to finalize their plans for the 2013 season.
There is more stability among the top teams now than there has been in a long time as sponsorship deals are becoming harder and harder to come by that will actually give an owner enough money to race competitively. If an owner and driver have such a contract, chances are that any problem that might come between the two could be worked out in order to keep the sponsor from leaving.
Owner Joe Gibbs is one of the few owners that has been able to change drivers over the years while still keeping his sponsors happy. He has seen two former Sprint Cup champions in Bobby Labonte and Tony Stewart move on from his Joe Gibbs Racing operation while still being able to keep the sponsor.
When Labonte moved on, his Interstate Batteries sponsorship stayed with JGR and when twotime champion Tony Stewart decided to part ways with the former NFL head coach, his sponsor, Home Depot, stayed on with Gibbs. It had to be a tough call on the part of Home Depot because Gibbs wasn’t replacing Stewart with a proven veteran.
Gibbs and Home Depot decided that they would go with a very talented young driver in Joey Logano. Just like the majority of young drivers when they come in to the Cup Series, the learning curve was tough on Logano, but he did show signs of having what it takes to be successful in the sport. He won early in his career and again this season, but the results haven’t been what Gibbs wanted for his Home Depot team.
Logano was told earlier in the year that he was free to look around for other opportunities for next season, but they wanted to keep him at JGR. Gibbs was up front with him when he told him that it depended on whether or not they could get sponsorship for a fourth team for 2013 to go along with teammates Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and a driver to be named for Logano’s Home Depot team.
Later this week JGR is expected to announce that Matt Kenseth will be behind the wheel of the Home Depot Toyota beginning next season. He is a former Cup champion and is currently enjoying a great year with his longtime owner Jack Roush. Even with all of the success that Kenseth and Roush have had over the years, the team has had problems attracting sponsors. This, maybe more than anything, had Kenseth looking at all of his options for next year as soon as the green flag waved to begin this season.
Kenseth always had some of the best equipment and resources in the sport when he was with Roush, and the two has the success to show for their efforts. He will now change manufacturers in the switch from Ford to Toyota, but he will still be in some of the best equipment in the sport and the resources that will be available to him will instantly make him one of the favorites next season to not only secure a spot in the Chase, but to also make a serious run for his second title.
Kenseth’s move now leaves Penske Racing’s Shell Oil team as the best open seat for next season. Penske will be switching from Dodge to Ford next season and has entered into an agreement with Roush to use its engines. Penske has hinted that he would like to put Sam Hornish Jr. in a ride for next season, but that it would probably be with a third team that would join teammate Brad Keselowski.
The name that keeps coming up for this opening is Logano. Gibbs can only offer him a part-time Cup ride and a full-time Nationwide ride at this time, and he has said that he wants to remain full time in the Cup series. He does have the experience but the level of his success may not be what Shell wants to go with next season.
Event: Federated Auto Parts 400
Track: Richmond International
Raceway (.750-mile oval, 14 degrees of banking in the turns)
Date: Sept. 8, 7:30 p.m.
Defending Champion: Kevin