Dearest NASCAR Team Owners,
Congratulations to many of you for making it to the halfway point of the season — and, for the rest of you, you’re almost there.
By now you probably have a good feel on your car(s), driver(s) and team(s). Whatever kinks that needed to be worked out at the beginning of the season have either been righted or are still being explored. You have a clear idea of where you stand in relation to other teams and may even be on the way to a possible championship at season’s end.
The above paragraph may also not apply to you. Condolences if so.
‘Silly Season’ has been revving up lately, the culprits being everybody from already-confirmed drivers making moves to those with poor on-track (and off-track) performance, with even the occasional one with a failed drug test. Look, I understand your pain. I’m here to (try to) help, I promise.
If you’re the owner of one of those teams with little choice but to try to salvage what’s left of the 2012 season, perhaps a driver change is in order. They happen every year, after all — someone’s shown little to smile about in a seat, they get replaced and the team tries to finish out the year with a new driver or drivers.
There’s plenty of drivers out there who currently have no full-time ride in any of the top three NASCAR series. Some have part-time gigs, while others simply bounce around trying to find a place to stick. These could be your guys.
I’ll separate them by series for which to be considered for ease of access.
Sprint Cup Series
The fact that Vickers doesn’t have a full-time ride this season anyway is troubling at best, but what’s done is done. He has obligations to run a few more races for Michael Waltrip Racing in the No. 55 this season, but that’s it. Two top-five finishes in three races certainly isn’t an easy stat to come by, and Vickers is still not even 30. Toyota owners, especially, take note.
Gordon used to run every race in the series until sponsorship woes finally forced him out. He’s got a lot on his plate with other racing and his Stadium Super Trucks Series, but he’s a definite wheelman, and with the right equipment could definitely be an asset to a team looking to fix a problem with performance.
As long as you can steal him from the clutches of Wood Brothers Racing, of course (unless you’re Jack Roush — in which case, disregard). Bayne’s said to be a potential suitor for the Roush Fenway Nationwide ride next year and drives every so often for the Wood Brothers in Cup, but if you need to fill in those other spots, and he’s cleared to do so, you could do worse.
Awesome Bill was visible at Daytona last week after helping Turner Motorsports with its Cup debut and running well until getting caught in a wreck. Elliott says he might be done and has no other plans right now in the series. Like Gordon, he’s a veteran who can still perform decently well in the right equipment and could do wonders for a small team (for more than just his past champion’s provisional).
Oh, why not? Ward suddenly jumped back in the sport earlier in 2012 at the Camping World Truck Series’ first race. He hasn’t been back since, but he at least showed he’s still got it. He’d probably get passed up in favor of younger guys who race in the lower series, but being a Daytona 500 champion in the 2000s has to mean something, right?
How Truex doesn’t already have a full-time ride in the sport is beyond me. He did exceedingly well for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2011 and nearly won at Dover this year. He’s still young, has some sponsor backing and has the talent to back it up. Someone get this kid in NASCAR more often.
Sorenson’s older now, but a proven veteran nonetheless. He’s taken some rides in the lower-horsepower seats such as Cup’s FAS Lane Racing and Nationwide’s Jimmy Means Racing in 2012, but with Turner Motorsports last year, Sorenson was in championship contention until his release. An easy fix for a mid- to top-tier Nationwide team.
Bires went from JR Motorsports’ flagship organization to starting and parking. It’s a shame, because Bires can really wheel a car — he just needs that second chance (and a more substantial one, not two races in a Gibbs ride). A must-see for any young team especially.
Darrell Wallace Jr.
A Gibbs development driver who has run well in about everything he’s tried to drive. Getting him away from Gibbs might be the toughest battle, though, but given their recent track record with such drivers, he may not be there much longer after all. A top-10 finish finish in one’s first Nationwide race is a notable accomplishment, even in top equipment.
Speaking of young former Gibbs drivers… how about this guy? He struggled in his first foray in Nationwide, garnering only two top-10 finishes in championship caliber equipment. He’s now back in the series parking cars for Curtis Key. He’s another driver who deserves a second chance — if you can even call his first chance much of a chance at all.
Camping World Truck Series
Gaughan’s a Truck veteran who scaled back his schedule in exchange for better equipment — in his case, part-time in all three series with Richard Childress Racing. But if the opportunity arises, I could see Gaughan heading to the series full-time again, as long as the team has its best foot forward. Also, sponsorship? He’s got it.
He’s gotten much older since his last time running full seasons in the series, but Crawford’s probably still got some mojo left in him if he’s in the right ride. That said, he’s pulled off some decent runs in the Tagsby truck, which isn’t known for setting the world on fire with results, so it may not matter where he goes. Either way, a safe choice.
Another aging option, but Skinner was at least still running quite competitively before his exit from the series on a full-time basis, with three wins in 2009 and an eighth-place points finish the following year. I’m willing to bet he can still do some good things in the series where he made his name.
Ward’s son? Why not? Sounds like Jeb may not be in the No. 27 truck much more this year due to funding issues, which may open him up for other rides if sponsorship’s a non-issue (which it probably is, but we can dream of better days). He ran remarkably well in his first five races, eventually scoring a top-10 finish at Charlotte. He seems to have the talent needed to compete.
Call me crazy, sure, but hear me out first. Wallace doesn’t have a lot of truck races under his belt, but his quest for sponsorship/staying power in Nationwide doesn’t seem to be going too well. Maybe it’s time to go the way of other veterans before him and try the third-tier series on a more regular basis, taking some of his sponsors with him. Who knows, maybe we could see Kenny in Victory Lane again.
Owners, hopefully you have seen some viable options to fill a variety of needs here. Best wishes and best of luck,
Kevin Rutherford, Frontstretch contributor