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Open seats limited in 2014

Steve Mickey

Steve Mickey

The 2013 Sprint Cup schedule is just at the halfway point to setting the field for this year’s Chase run, but rumors have already started about which driver may be on the move for the 2014 season.

Much of the talk centers on Richard Childress Racing’s No. 29 team that will be looking to replace Kevin Harvick, who has already announced he will be leaving at the end of the season to drive for Stewart-Haas Racing.

Rumors of Harvick’s departure began long before the 2012 season ended, but was not made official until earlier this year. There is still no word if his sponsor Budweiser will stay with RCR or make the move with Harvick to Stewart- Haas. The team that Harvick leaves was once the team of the late Dale Earnhardt Sr., and is still considered to be the flagship team of RCR’s three-team operation.

Harvick may not be the only driver leaving RCR before next season, as his teammate Jeff Burton is in the last year of his contract. Burton has struggled in recent seasons and is 21st in points after Pocono with only one top five and two top-10 finishes on the season.

It’s been no secret that Childress is ready to move his grandson

Austin Dillon up from the Nationwide Series to the Cup level in a full time ride. The only question with Dillon’s move is if he will land in the seat being vacated by Harvick or if Childress opts out of Burton’s contract and puts Dillon in that ride.

Childress’s only present driver who will definitely be coming back next season is Paul Menard. It was announced just a few weeks ago that his contract had been extended. That makes RCR’s 2014 lineup two-thirds completed with its remaining open seat becoming the most sought after job opening next season.

The vast majority of the top drivers in the sport are under contract for next season. Before we even begin to speculate on who might end up in RCR’s open seat, it is worth noting that for whatever reason driver contracts in this sport seem to be easily broken. Ty Dillon, brother of Austin, also drives for RCR in the Nationwide Series, and will no doubt make the move to the Cup level sooner than later. The conventional thinking is that Childress will want to give him another year in the Nationwide Series.

That more than likely leaves the seat open for a Cup driver, and there have already been several names being tossed around. Roush-Fenway Racing driver Greg Biffle will still be under contract for next season but his name has started to be linked to the open ride. Even though his team has struggled at times this season, he says he is happy at Roush and has not had any contact about making a move for next season.

The driver that would definitely like to make the move to RCR next season would be Kurt Busch. The former Sprint Cup champion now drives for the one-car team of Front Row Motorsports and has elevated that team’s efforts to the point that they are now being considered one of the favorites to make it to victory lane at each stop on the schedule. Busch’s seventh-place finish at Pocono on Sunday was his fifth top 10 on the year to go along with three top fives. Even more impressive is that it moved him up two spots in the standings to 15th, only 21 points from being in the Chase. He is also tied for 10th in bonus points that shows he is also leading laps, which you must do if you want to win a race.

If Busch can continue putting up those kinds of numbers, he will definitely put himself in line for a better ride next season and there may be no better one out there than the one with RCR. It will be left up to Childress if he wants to take a chance on a driver with what you would say has had some problems in the past but never had a problem with what he does behind the wheel.

Race Preview
Event: Quicken Loans 400
Track: Michigan International
Speedway (2.0-mile D-shaped
oval, 18° of banking in the turns)
Date: June 16, 1:00 p.m.
Radio: MRN
Defending Champion: Dale Earnhardt Jr.

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