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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

5 Points to Ponder: Inside the Sprint Cup Rumor Mill

Editor’s Note: With the Cup Series taking a rare weekend off, this week’s Five Points will try and help sort out the rampant rumors you may have seen throughout this year’s Silly Season. When the Frontstretch live blog returns next week at Indianapolis, the column’s regular format will also return.

ONE: Danica Patrick to… well… anywhere in NASCAR

Danica Patrick – along with Dale Earnhardt Jr. – is in the upper echelon of driver marketability in American motorsports. In the last year of her contract at Andretti Green Racing, she currently sits fifth in the IndyCar standings, but has struggled to keep up with the Penske and Ganassi race teams in front of her.

Why it might happen: She’s ready for a new challenge; has shown no signs of contending for a championship in IndyCar; marketability will be at an all-time high.

Why it won’t happen: Open-wheel drivers tend to struggle in NASCAR; may not be willing to run ARCA/Nationwide/Truck series for long during a transition period; may play it safe and stick with what she’s good at; is she really willing to give up her quest for the Indianapolis 500?

Quotable: “Yeah, I’m told, of course, that we want you here [at IndyCar]. But we’ll see. At the end of the day, I’ve got to go with my gut about what I want to do.”

Probability: Some may think this would never happen, but NASCAR needs Danica right now, and she seems open to it along with several top-tier teams willing to court her. – 25%

TWO: Kevin Harvick to Stewart-Haas Racing

Richard Childress Racing as a whole is having a down season, and now the driver who once replaced the late Dale Earnhardt is ready to make a change. The problem? He’s under contract through 2010. Shell would like to make the jump with Kevin Harvick to car owner and good friend Tony Stewart’s team, but Richard Childress isn’t keen on letting both go in today’s economy.

Why it might happen: Stewart is open to starting a third team; Harvick wants out at RCR; Harvick and Stewart are good friends.

Why it won’t happen: Childress may not let Harvick out of the final year of his contract; will Stewart take Harvick if Shell doesn’t come along?

Quotable: “RCR also has a multi-year contract with Kevin Harvick that includes the 2010 season. That said, Shell will be the sponsor and Kevin will be the driver of RCR’s No. 29 Shell-Pennzoil Chevrolet Impala SS in 2010.” – Richard Childress

Probability: In today’s economy, Childress may grant Harvick his release, but would be crazy to let Shell go as well. In the end, though, I expect to see Harvick in the No. 29 next season as driver and owner sort out their differences. – 35%

THREE: Red Bull Racing to Chevy in an alliance with Hendrick Motorsports

Why it might happen: Hendrick Motorsports is looking for additional business after GM cut support; Team Red Bull GM Jay Frye has worked with Hendrick in the past; look what HMS equipment has done for Stewart-Haas.

Why it won’t happen: Loyalty – Red Bull was part of Toyota’s entrance into the sport.

Quotable: “Anything is possible.” – Team Red Bull GM Jay Frye

Probability: Hendrick support might be too good to pass up for an operation looking to step it up a notch in 2010. – 75%

FOUR: Brad Keselowski to Penske, SHR, Red Bull, or JR Motorsports

Brad Keselowski is the sport’s most-coveted driver on the market right now. Rumors have associated him with Hendrick-affiliated teams JR Motorsports, SHR, as well as Red Bull Racing and Penske Racing. No matter who it is, though, it’s almost certain he will be in Cup next season.

Where he’s most likely to go: A Hendrick-affiliated team, leaving SHR as the clear frontrunner; if both David Stremme and Sam Hornish Jr. leave, Roger Penske is expected to make a serious offer; RCR will have an opening if Harvick decides to bolt.

Where he’s less likely to go: If Penske decides to put anybody new in the No. 12 next season, it’ll be Justin Allgaier, not Keselowski, hinging his future there on whether Hornish returns; Earnhardt Jr. says the chances of moving JRM to Cup in 2010 is only 10%; Brian Vickers has a contract renewal pending at Red Bull, who claims they have no plans to expand to three cars.

Quotable: “Brad wants to do something that is somehow associated with our company.” – Rick Hendrick

Probability: Even if Red Bull Racing makes a move to Chevy with Hendrick support, I don’t see the team parting ways with rookie Scott Speed. If Harvick stays at RCR, Keselowski should be in a SHR car next season. – 80%

FIVE: Richard Petty Motorsports to Toyota

Richard Petty has been loyal to Dodge for years, but the economic slowdown has hurt the Chrysler brand’s support in the sport. Couple that with the fact that Petty is in the last year of his contract with the manufacturer and rumors are bound to circulate.

Why it might happen: Chrysler’s bankruptcy has stopped cash flow to RPM; team has partnered with the Toyota-powered Braun Racing team in the Nationwide Series.

Why it won’t happen: The only thing that could keep RPM in a Dodge in 2010 is Petty’s loyalty.

Quotable: “We’re open to look at about anything right now.” – Richard Petty

Probability: This is a move that seems imminent. – 95%

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