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Silly Season 2008

Posted by chadmusselman on July 10, 2008

NASCAR’s version of the trade deadline or free agency is called the “Silly Season”. This is the time when drivers who’s contracts are expiring after the season start negotiating with teams to try and secure a new ride for future seasons. The main difference between NASCAR and the other major sports is that there are no tampering rules, and no deadlines to restrict when deals must be worked. A race team in NASCAR can talk to any driver at any time, even if their contract isn’t up for several years. What this means is that, in theory, if someone signs a contract with team A through 2010, team B can talk to the driver, and sign them to start in 2011. Seems very odd, but that’s the way the sport currently operates.

Each year it seems that silly season gets sillier. Last year we had the Dale Earnhardt Jr. saga where he wanted to buy part of DEI, which his dad built, but his step-mother wasn’t selling.

This season may be even sillier yet. Let’s go through what we know so far, in no particular order.

Stewart leaving Gibbs, purchasing 50% of Haas
Probably the biggest story, and the one most talked about right now, Tony Stewart is leaving Joe Gibbs Racing after the season. Tony was under contract through 2009, but JGR released him from the final season, so he can pursue ownership of a Sprint Cup team. Tony will be purchasing 50% of the Haas-CNC team, which will now be named Stewart Haas.

This move brings on quite a few changes for Stewart on the racing side of things. As part of this letting Tony out of his contract, JGR specified that he cannot hire anyone from his former owner. What this really means is that he’s going to have to find a new crew chief, as Zippy can’t go with him. Another change for Stewart is the sponsor. He’s not going to have Home Depot as a sponsor. Office Depot will be the main sponsor of his team next season.

Some other changes include the fact that he’ll be back with Chevy, and out of the Toyotas. It’s no secret that Tony is a Chevy man, with them supplying him cars for the other series he races in, and tracks he owns. Also for Tony is a new relationship with Hendrick. Hendrick racing currently provides the Haas team with chassis and engines, which they’ll continue to do after Stewart becomes ½ owner.

Where will Ryan Newman be in 2009
Newman’s contract expires after the 2008 season, and it’s doubtful that he’ll return. He’s had a very disappointing season, and should be looking for new scenery to get back in the top tier. The newly formed Stewart Haas team needs a second driver, and Ryan is a good one. It seems to be a good fit, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Newman signs with Stewart’s new team before the season is over.

Casey Mears will not race for Hendrick after 2008
This was the last year on his contract, and Hendrick won’t be renewing his contract. Casey was a big disappointment in his two seasons with Hendrick. Some people thought he should have been the driver released last year to make room for Earnhart, but it didn’t work out that way.

Mark Martin will take Casey’s ride
Mark Martin, who originally said he’d retire with Rusty Wallace after the 2005 season, will take Casey Mears’ spot at Hendrick, and run full-time once again to contend for the championship. Mark signed a two year contract, but it’s not known yet if he’ll race full time in 2010.

Aric Almirola driving #8 next year
DEI is going to be putting Aric Almirola in the #8 car full-time next year to take Mark Martin’s place.

Greg Biffle signed a 3-year extension with Roush
Greg had been negotiating his new contract with Roush for most of this season, and a couple weeks ago got everything finalized to return to Roush through 2011.

Clint Bowyer also signed an extension with Roush
Bowyer had an option year on his contract for 2009, which Roush picked up, and they also added two more years, so he’s now locked up through the 2011 season as well.

Bobby Labonte re-signs with Petty
Bobby Labonte re-signed with Petty Enterprises for four years, and also got some ownership rights to the team as well. One change for Labonte in the future with Petty will be the sponsor. General Mills is leaving Petty to sponsor Richard Childress Racing’s new 4th car.

Richard Childress Racing starting 4th team
RCR has said they’re starting a new team, which will be their fourth car in the Sprint Cup Series. They’ve signed General Mills as the primary sponsor already, but are still looking for a driver. Speculation was that Bobby Labonte would move over to them since he has a relationship with General Mills, but he re-signed with Petty. Greg Biffle was another candidate, but he’s firmly with Roush now. RCR is still looking…

Petty Enterprises sells majority ownership to Boston Ventures
Desperate to turn their team and fortunes around, Petty Enterprises sold a majority stake to Boston Ventures. The firm has holdings in a wide variety of companies and industries. This gives Petty more money to play with, hoping to actually become competitive again.

Petty has also said they want to add a 3rd team to the stable, “when the time is right.” Who knows when that will be. I’d think they should contend for some wins with two cars first.

Is DEI for sale?
There are reports floating around that DEI is for sale. Teresa Earnhardt denies this, but where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Rumors like that don’t get started for no reason. If DEI does sell, or finds a financial partner, how mad would Dale Jr. have to be? He tried to purchase some of DEI last season and was denied. If they sell less than a year later I’d imagine Dale’s hatred of Teresa would be at an all-time high.

Remaining questions
– What team will Ryan Newman go to?
– Where will Casey Mears end up?
– Who will RCR get to drive their new General Mills car?
– Will Joey Lagano take over the 20 car next year for Joe Gibbs?
– Bill Davis Racing lost Caterpillar as the sponsor for the #22 car. (They’re going to Jeff Burton in the #31 next season.) Who will be the sponsor next year?

As you can see, there’s a lot going on, and many questions to still be answered. I guess we’ll have to be patient and wait to find out how everything goes down.

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