The Frontstretch: Vexing Vito: Summer Is Officially Over With Silly Season In Full Swing by Vito Pugliese -- Thursday August 15, 2013

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For a season that was not so silly thus far, things sure have gotten crazy the last week or so. First it’s made official that Newman won’t be back at Stewart Haas Racing, then coincidentally Smoke snaps his twig in a sprint car crash. Max Papis is tabbed to sub for him, then Austin Dillion is announced as his replacement for Michigan – just as probably the biggest domino to fall thus far, Juan Pablo Montoya after seven seasons in the No. 42 at Earnhardt Chip Felix Ganassi Sabates Racing Franchise Team – is out for 2014. Meanwhile at MWR, the worst kept secret in racing was confirmed when Brian Vickers got the nod with a two-year, fully sponsored season in the No. 55 Toyota.

To quote Charlton Heston in Planet of The Apes, “It’s a maaaaaad house!!!!”

What does this all mean for the principles involved and where might they all land? Here is my humble opinion of what happens, why, and how:

Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14: Austin Dillon ends up subbing for Smoke in races that do not conflict with his Nationwide title pursuit? Why you ask? Because the same sponsor that is on the flanks of the 14, also once belonged on his Camping World Truck Series Championship winning firesuit. His younger brother Ty is also carrying the Bass Pro Shops black and red on his rig, so at this point, it’s a family affair. Gets Austin some prime seat time, and helps to further strengthen this bond that seems to be brewing between SHR and RCR. With the way Austin has progressed, putting him in a Cup car full-time next year or the year after is not a stretch.

“It’s over, Johnny…it’s over!” After seven seasons, Juan Pablo Montoya may find it’s a long road back to another top shelf Sprint Cup ride. Or he might just go drive IndyCars and dominate again.

Richard Childress Racing No. 29: Ryan Newman ends up here. RC said as much that Newman is the front runner in his mind to take over the car vacated by Kevin Harvick. Newman allegedly has Quicken Loans as a sponsor, which is good since The King of Beers is going with Harvick to the new No. 4 (i.e., No. 39) team that was Newman’s. Wherever he goes, look for crew chief Matt Borland to follow. He and Newman simply work brilliantly together.

Earnhardt Ganassi Racing No. 42: Ready? Kurt Busch. Mind blowing, I know. Why? Hard to say, call it a gut feeling, a hunch, woman’s intuition…however most of it is linked to Kurt’s recent IndyCar test a couple of months ago, and his sudden desire to run the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 double on Memorial Day. He may have been in purgatory last year in the No. 51, managing to get in just about as much trouble as he did during the final dark days at Penske Racing, however what he’s done thus far at Furniture Row Racing is nothing short of remarkable.

The Outlaw has had a “target” on his back for a couple of years now. He might soon have one on his hood. And back. And chest. And decklid…

If I was Kurt (which I’m not…or…am I…), I’d stay in the No. 78 and keep things rolling, and make that team your own. However, I still think Kurt wants a prime-time ride and opportunities outside of stock cars, and Ganassi’s IndyCar program offers him just that.

Furniture Row Racing No. 78 If Kurt Busch bolts and does not resign with the flat black 78, this could be a home for A.J. Allmendinger to land. TRD had met with Furniture Row recently, though it is unclear if anything beyond talking was accomplished. Allmendinger has done a few races in the No. 47, and JTG-Daugherty Racing desperately needs a parent operation to help funnel some technology their way. On the flip side, JTG could very well switch to Chevrolet, and align itself with Furniture Row Racing and RCR. Either way, despite his transgressions from last year, A.J. Allmendinger is most certainly not through with NASCAR.

Now all of this is contingent upon a few things. With Kurt, all of this goes out the window if for some reason Dodge is to get back into the fold and Andretti Autosport suddenly decides to build a NASCAR empire. Both look unlikely at this time, much to the chagrin of Mopar fans everywhere. As if the lack of anything affordable made between 1962 and 1974 still plauges them, they have to contend with not having a Charger, Challenger, or driver to pull for. And by “they”, I mean, “me”….

Many have suggested that Mark Martin would be the perfect fit in the No. 42, to split time with Kyle Larson, and help mentor him along – preventing him from being Loganofied at such an early age. Martin’s Yoda-like fostering would most certainly benefit the budding Jedi Larson; and keep in mind that the crew chief on the No. 42, Chris Heroy, was Martin’s lead engineer at Hendrick Motorsports in 2009 when he won 5 races, and just missed a shot at a Championship after getting put on his lid on the last lap at Talladega.

With Brian Vickers taking over the No. 55 in 2014, where does that leave Mark Martin to go? Easy: wherever he feels like it. He never retired in 2005, so don’t expect him to say, “never again” now either.

Larson just turned 21 a couple of weeks ago, and has 12 Top 10s in his first 21 Nationwide Series starts, and captured his first Truck Series win in his first start this year at Rockingham, backing it up with a second place finish at Eldora. Does that mean he’s ready to supplant a guy with seven Formula One Grand Prix wins, CART championship, plus an Indy 500 win to his name?

No offense to the Brendan Gaughan and Alex Bowman, but Jimmy Vasser and Michael Schumacher they’re not.

Most importantly in this scenario, is this something Mark Martin wants to even tackle? Yeah, the guy remains beyond motivated – and potential teammate Jamie McMurray was the driver once announced to be replacing him in the No. 6 at Roush oh – eight years ago – before Kurt Busch decided he was going to drive the Penske Deuce out of the blue. But at 54 years old and having made quite a home, impression, and difference at Michael Waltrip Racing, who seems interested in keeping in around in some capacity. He seems perfectly happy driving what and when he wants to, and doing weighted dips and deadlifts five days a week; does he really want to throw himself into a new system?

Besides, the last time I checked, that No. 6 car is still mothballed; and every Martin fan with a rusty Valvoline saw blade six license plate or faded Winn-Dixie 60 shirt would like to see that happen.

***************
At what point does Jeff Gordon remember he’s Jeff Gordon, stops running into stuff, quits getting run into, and starts winning races and rattling off a few Top 5s in a row here or there? This has gone on far too long and is getting to the point where it’s not even surprising anymore.

Vito’s Stone Cold Pick of the Week for MIS? Kasey Kahne. It was dumb luck he didn’t win in June; and by dumb I mean, he had the fastest car and while leading, had a tire go IED in the middle of Turn two. All of this however goes out the window if Carl Edwards wins.

The Ford guys have been saying, “wait and see” the last couple of weeks, and they said the same thing a few months ago before Biffle won at MIS. Jack Roush loves to show up and show out at Michigan International Speedway, and Edsel Ford doesn’t show up to just any racetrack – but he does at this one. As important as this race is for the manufacturers to win, it’s even more important to Jack that Toyota NOT win here.

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JP
08/15/2013 10:03 AM
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I would love to see Kurt stay put and take that team to the top. The chemistry seems to be there, the car rocks, and Kurt is one hell of a driver…if he can keep his cool till the end of the race.

Carl D.
08/15/2013 10:10 AM
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It would be nice if Jamie McMurray gets a teammate that can actually help him. I don’t think that’s Kurt Busch. Busch’s history as a team player leaves much to be desired. I’d rather see Allmendiger in the #42 and Busch stay at Furniture Row. Nobody in their right mind should want to go to JTG-Daugherty… that’s a team that’s either not committed to or incable of ever being anything other than a mediocre single-team operation. It’s driver-career suicide.

Michael in SoCal
08/15/2013 11:24 AM
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The Kurt Busch to the 42 car is interesting, especially with the Indy Car ties.

Bill B
08/15/2013 05:58 PM
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So is Dillon moving into the 29 ride or not? That’s what I thought I’ve heard. Now everyone’s saying Newman.

another Andy D
08/15/2013 06:37 PM
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Vito, Thank you for a thought provoking article.
AJ and Kurt each have a history, so I’m not sure how well that would play for Target, so maybe Ryan Newman could be a better choice.
On the other hand, they did sponsor Jimmy Spencer and it would be kind of ironic if Kurt Busch ended up in that ride.

Sue Rarick
08/16/2013 09:11 AM
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I am still trying to figure out why anyone would want AJ. If I hear the word potential one more time I will come to that persons home and run over their dog……Seriously, He was with a good team at Petty and a great team at Penske and he won how many cup races?????? Oh that’s right he hasn’t won yet. Heck even Reutimann in crappy (pre scott miller) MWR cars had two wins in that time. A lot of hype for someone with so little results.

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