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NASCAR 167 43 NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers in contract year 27259008 Decision time Decision+time NASCAR

Silly Season will be in overdrive in 2011.

Some of NASCAR’s top Sprint Cup drivers – and their sponsors – have contracts expiring at the end of this year.

The most desirable drivers are both marketable to sponsors and talented on the racetrack.

This year‘s market appears to be on an upswing, although some current sponsors are looking to renegotiate deals. A driver with the total package can help an organization in every possible way.

Here are the drivers we’ll be tracking this season:

Nick Laham - Getty Images http://static.foxsports.com/content/fscom/img/2011/02/10/GYI0063382859_20110210103241619_600_400.JPG http://static.foxsports.com/content/fscom/img/2011/02/10/GYI0063382859_20110210103241619_107_80.JPG
NASCAR 167 43 NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers in contract year 27259005 Carl Edwards Carl+Edwards NASCAR

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is NASCAR’s most popular with fans, but Carl Edwards could walk into just about any situation – or boardroom – and be perfectly comfortable. Couple Edwards' marketability with his consistency, and it’s a win-win for owners and sponsors alike.

In six full seasons on the tour, Edwards has qualified for the Chase for the Sprint Cup five times. In 229 starts, Edwards has posted 18 wins, 70 top fives, 118 top 10s and seven pole positions.

Insiders claim Edwards is team owner Jack Roush’s favorite driver. However, after the last round of negotiations, Roush doubted he could afford Edwards’ next contract. Those who are close to Edwards believe that winning is far more important to the driver than the paycheck. For now, Roush says he’ll leave the contracts up to his business team.

Jared C. Tilton - Getty Images http://static.foxsports.com/content/fscom/img/2011/01/20/GYI0063124085_20110120165227426_600_400.JPG http://static.foxsports.com/content/fscom/img/2011/01/20/GYI0063124085_20110120165227426_107_80.JPG
NASCAR 167 43 NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers in contract year 27257007 Clint Bowyer Clint+Bowyer NASCAR

Richard Childress could hardly contain his excitement when he first discovered Clint Bowyer back in 2004. Although there were hiccups during the last round of negotiations, Bowyer and Childress have built a solid relationship over the past seven years and remain on solid ground.

After five seasons under the Childress banner, Bowyer has qualified for three Chase for the Sprint Cup runs. In the most recent Chase, Bowyer battled back from a 150-point deficit following a NASCAR penalty to 10th place. The performance is a testament to his resolve.

Bowyer would make a solid addition to any driver roster. Although The Hartford sponsorship opted out this season, Bowyer is extremely marketable. It’s not surprising that other owners have shown an interest in him. But he’s best suited in his current situation.

Todd Warshaw - Getty Images http://static.foxsports.com/content/fscom/img/2010/11/05/GYI0062335901_20101105134326_600_400.JPG http://static.foxsports.com/content/fscom/img/2010/11/05/GYI0062335901_20101105134326_107_80.JPG
NASCAR 167 43 NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers in contract year 27257006 Juan Pablo Montoya Juan+Pablo+Montoya NASCAR

Following a tumultuous final season in Formula One, Juan Pablo Montoya came to NASCAR looking for a new start in 2006. He found it through his reunion with team owner Chip Ganassi.

In 2008, Montoya qualified for his first Chase for the Sprint Cup and came close to winning his first oval race at the Brickyard, where he won the Indianapolis 500 in 2000. Last year at Watkins Glen International, Montoya earned his second career Cup victory. But he lacked the consistency to make the Chase.

At 35, Montoya still has a lot to prove in a stock car. During the Rolex 24 last weekend, Montoya’s co-owner Felix Sabates said the driver wasn’t “going anywhere” and he expects the deal to be completed soon. For Montoya, there’s no place like home.

Chris Graythen - Getty Images http://static.foxsports.com/content/fscom/img/2011/02/10/GYI0063382669_20110210102844608_600_400.JPG http://static.foxsports.com/content/fscom/img/2011/02/10/GYI0063382669_20110210102844608_107_80.JPG
NASCAR 167 43 NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers in contract year 27257008 Greg Biffle Greg+Biffle NASCAR

Greg Biffle delivered Roush Fenway Racing championships in both the Nationwide and Truck series before graduating to Cup in 2003. For the past eight years, Biffle has campaigned full time on the Cup tour. He has posted at least one win in all but one season.

His best points finish in Cup was second in 2005, when he posted a career-high six wins. Although Biffle missed the Chase for the Sprint Cup the next two seasons, he has not finished worse than seventh in the points standings since. In 294 starts, Biffle has a respectable 16 wins.

At 41, Biffle will likely finish his career at Roush Fenway Racing. He signed a three-year contract with the organization in April.

Chris Graythen - Getty Images http://static.foxsports.com/content/fscom/img/2011/02/10/GYI0063383601_20110210112029710_600_400.JPG http://static.foxsports.com/content/fscom/img/2011/02/10/GYI0063383601_20110210112029710_107_80.JPG
NASCAR 167 43 NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers in contract year 27255009 Jeff Burton Jeff+Burton NASCAR

Jeff Burton was Dale Earnhardt’s choice to succeed him in the No. 3 Chevrolet. Although that day came earlier than expected, Burton found his way to RCR three years later and revived his career.

At 43, Burton has grown into the elder statesman role at RCR. He is often the catalyst for change with his ability to identify weaknesses and provide solutions.

Burton has amassed 21 victories in 583 races, but only six of those wins have been earned in the past decade. Still, Burton remains consistent and Caterpillar appears pleased. He has qualified for four of the past five Chases.

Burton and RCR announced in April that the driver, and sponsor Caterpillar, have extended their contracts with the organization. Burton signed a multiyear deal.

John Harrelson - Getty Images http://static.foxsports.com/content/fscom/img/2010/10/03/GYI0061897655_20101003090143_600_400.JPG http://static.foxsports.com/content/fscom/img/2010/10/03/GYI0061897655_20101003090143_107_80.JPG
NASCAR 167 43 NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers in contract year 27255006 Ryan Newman Ryan+Newman NASCAR

Ryan Newman showed tremendous promise during his first four seasons at Penske Racing, never finishing worse than seventh in the points standings.

In his last three years at Penske Racing, Newman won just one race -- the 2008 Daytona 500 -- and moved to the newly founded Stewart-Haas Racing the following year.

Since NASCAR introduced the new-model car in 2007, Newman has won only two races and qualified for one Chase. Certainly, four DNFs in the first 18 races last year created a points deficit for Newman that was difficult to overcome.

Sponsorship continues to be problematic for the No. 39 team, and chances are the military branches will pull back in 2012. Newman will have to pick up his performance considerably in 2011, not only to attract benefactors but to maintain his status at SHR.

Jerry Markland - Getty Images http://static.foxsports.com/content/fscom/img/2010/11/21/GYI0062559929_20101121154303_600_400.JPG http://static.foxsports.com/content/fscom/img/2010/11/21/GYI0062559929_20101121154303_107_80.JPG
NASCAR 167 43 NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers in contract year 27259006 Brian Vickers Brian+Vickers NASCAR

Brian Vickers, 27, won just one race at Hendrick Motorsports before joining upstart Red Bull Racing in 2007. With a new team and a new Cup manufacturer -- Toyota -- Vickers missed races for the first time in his NASCAR career.

It took three seasons -- and new management -- to right the ship. Vickers finally won a race and qualified for the Chase in 2009. Certainly, his earlier body of work at Red Bull should be judged accordingly.

Then last year, Vickers' career was disrupted again with medical issues. Vickers was sidelined last season after being diagnosed with blood clots in May. With a clean bill of health, Vickers is ready to roll again at Red Bull Racing.

While Vickers exemplifies the Red Bull athlete, time will tell whether he’s 100 percent behind the wheel. Chances are team owners will be guarded before long-term commitments are made.

Jerry Markland - Getty Images http://static.foxsports.com/content/fscom/img/2011/01/21/GYI0063141432_20110121215015608_600_400.JPG http://static.foxsports.com/content/fscom/img/2011/01/21/GYI0063141432_20110121215015608_107_80.JPG
NASCAR 167 43 NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers in contract year 27255010 Mark Martin Mark+Martin+ NASCAR

After last spring’s highly publicized signing of Kasey Kahne at Hendrick Motorsports for the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup season, it became apparent that Mark Martin would be the odd man out.

Still, Martin made it clear on the media tour last month that he’s not ready to retire.

After a solid 19 seasons with Roush Fenway Racing, Martin split the last four years between the now-defunct Ginn Racing and Hendrick Motorsports. That didn’t stop Martin from winning. Behind the wheel of the No. 5 Chevrolet, Martin vaulted that team to second in the points standings in 2009, its best run since Terry Labonte won the title in 1996.

At 52, Martin shows no signs of slowing down. While it won’t be surprising to find Martin in a Cup ride in 2012, there are rumors he will compete for the Nationwide title.

Chris Graythen - Getty Images http://static.foxsports.com/content/fscom/img/2011/02/10/GYI0063384053_20110210121015742_600_400.JPG http://static.foxsports.com/content/fscom/img/2011/02/10/GYI0063384053_20110210121015742_107_80.JPG
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