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Several drivers scrambling for rides
With the number of full-time Sprint Cup rides shrinking by at least three or four seats in 2012, the mad scramble has begun.
At least Brian Vickers and David Ragan have seen the writing on the wall for a while. The drivers — and their managers — have had time to prepare for this day. Reutimann discovered his fate Tuesday morning.
All of these drivers have been on the fringe throughout their NASCAR Sprint Cup careers and have failed to capitalize on the opportunities afforded them.
Reutimann was a fabricator by day and racer by night when he got the call from Michael Waltrip Racing. Reutimann has scored two Cup wins, and his best points finish came in 2009, when he was 16th. In Reutimann’s defense, MWR was in its infancy when he came on board in 2007 and for the past three years has played second fiddle to Joe Gibbs Racing in the Toyota camp.
At 41, however, Reutimann is in a tough spot. While many aging racers are masterful at building relationships with sponsors, Reutimann never invested the time or effort with Aaron’s that was necessary to keep the connection congenial — as is Waltrip’s forte — when performance lagged. Now, Reutimann will have to rely on previous associations within the garage in order to continue racing, if that’s what he decides to do.
Reutimann certainly could be a factor in the truck series, if he could bring sponsorship for a buy ride.
Vickers’ contract was up with Red Bull Racing at the end of 2012, and he likely was shopping for a new ride long before the company announced in June that it would no longer support the NASCAR program. Vickers had been mentioned as a possible candidate for a Michael Waltrip Racing position, but that never materialized. A Nationwide seat at Turner Motorsports appears to be the most likely scenario for Vickers right now.
Despite three full seasons with NASCAR’s premier operation — Hendrick Motorsports — the best Vickers could muster was one victory and a 15th-place points finish in 2006. Even after five seasons with Red Bull, the results were similar: one win and one Chase berth with a 12th-place finish in 2009.
In Kasey Kahne’s first full season with the team, he is 15th in points — 10 positions higher than Vickers.
And if mediocrity weren’t enough to steer a potential Cup owner away from the 28-year-old — who has not made the most out of his previous opportunities in racing — Vickers made no friends last week at Martinsville. His former employer Rick Hendrick came over the radio to warn Dale Earnhardt Jr.: “If you see Vickers, watch out. Maybe you’ll want to wreck him before he gets to you.” A harsh commentary from someone who remains close to the driver.
Jack Roush put Ragan on notice before the season began. With both Ragan and UPS’ contracts up this year, it was a pivotal season for the affable driver. And like Vickers, Ragan has had his chance with a premier organization for the past five years. But other than 2006, when he barely missed the Chase, his numbers have not warranted staying power. His first — and only — win came this season in his 163rd Cup start.
UPS showed a lot of patience. but at the end of its tenure opted to jump on the No. 99 with Carl Edwards at a reduced rate at Roush Fenway Racing.
While RFR president Steve Newmark say he would like to see Ragan remain in the No. 6 if sponsorship can be found, Ragan’s representation is already calling on potential teams for next season. And with Ricky Stenhouse waiting in the wings, can Roush Fenway really afford to risk the opportunity for advancing the 24-year-old who will likely be the future of that company? At 25, Ragan still has time to turn his career around. If he wants to remain in the Ford camp at the Cup level, it would likely be with one of the Front Row Motorsports teams, since Trevor Bayne appears set to remain with the Wood Brothers for next season.
Roush could still run the No. 6 part-time if a sponsor can’t be found for Ragan, but my bet has Stenhouse — if anyone — driving that car on a limited basis.
Also, now that Martin has agreed to go to MWR, that opens a hole at Phoenix Racing for next season as the veteran was expected to run a partial schedule in the No. 51 Chevrolet. Considering that James Finch receives his cars and engines from Hendrick Motorsports, that ride is a decent consolation prize for any driver looking for competitive equipment.
Richard Childress Racing also could be fielding a part-time car to prepare for Austin Dillon’s run in Cup in 2013. The company is expected to announce that AdvoCare will partially sponsor Dillon’s Nationwide effort for 2012. Expect an announcement at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend.