Going into this season the hottest driver in the final year of his contract was Roush-Fenway Racing’s Carl Edwards. It seemed that he held all of the cards and every owner who was going to have a seat open for the 2012 season wanted to at least talk to him.
Each week that Edwards remained unsigned for the next season fueled another rumor as to where he might end up if he and Roush could not hammer out a deal. Every press conference that he held began with the question of how his negotiations were going with Roush and if he was talking to other owners.
Edwards made it very clear that he wanted to stay with his present team but his name began being linked with other organizations in the sport. Joe Gibbs Racing was the front-runner as a likely home for Edwards if the deal with Roush couldn’t be put together.
The deal was finally put together with Roush during the late summer and with that announcement the annual rite of “silly season” was expected to get underway. Silly season is all about the movement of drivers, sponsors and crew chiefs for the following season and it is an annual occurrence in the sport.
After Edwards signed his deal, Clint Bowyer became the biggest name available for next season as the Richard Childress driver’s deal was up at the end of the season. Normally after Edwards was taken off the free agent marker, the next driver up would shop around to get his deal but that is in a normal year and as it turns out, the sport is still not back to the point that it can do business as it did just a few years ago because of the weak economy.
The fact is that the sponsors willing to put up huge sums of money in the form of a sponsorship to get the driver they want with a team that they feel can be competitive are still not out there. That is the cold hard fact that Clint Bowyer and his owner Richard Childress have had to face in recent months as they have tried to work out a deal that would keep the three-time Chase participant in his current ride.
Childress just can’t find that sponsor even though Bowyer has a deal with 5 Hour Energy that is reportedly for about 20 races next season. That still leaves the owner with the task of finding sponsorship for 16 races plus the Bud Shootout and Sprint All-Star race.
If Childress can’t find the money to keep Bowyer, the rest of the teams in the so-called pecking order of spring Cup racing have to be scrambling. Bowyer is just too good a driver not to be in a quality ride for next season, but with each passing day his options seem to shrink.
Michael Waltrip Racing has now entered talks with Bowyer for next season and apparently it feels that it can find the additional sponsorship to get the deal done. He would join Martin Truex Jr. and David Reutimann, making MWR a three-team operation. By being the only driver with that operation with Chase experience, he would become its premier driver.
If the deal can be worked out, that moves another proven winner up the list as the best driver looking for a ride for 2012. Mark Martin’s three-year run ends at Hendrick Motorsports at the end of the season and the two are parting on good terms. Both parties knew going into this season that there would be no effort to keep the two together as Hendrick had already signed Kasey Kahne for next season.
Martin is a proven winner with Chase experience and is one of the best in handling the press and working with a sponsor. His age (52) may be a concern to some owners and sponsors, but he knows how to take care of equipment and, more importantly, will always get the car in the show as well as be competitive if the equipment is up to speed. The only question is how much of a schedule does Martin want to run next season.
There is still time for deals to be made and it could be that it’s not a matter of time running out but more of a deal where the money is running out!
Race Preview Event: Sylvania 300 (second race in Chase) Track: New Hampshire Motor Speedway (1-mile oval, variable banking at 2 & 7 degrees) Date: Sept. 25, 2 p.m. TV: ESPN Radio: PRN Defending Champion: Clint Bowyer