NASCAR: A Handful Of Drivers Are Facing Uncertainty Heading Into 2017
As the 2016 NASCAR Sprint cup series season draws to a conclusion, eight drivers remain in contention for the prestigious Sprint Cup championship while a handful of other face an uncertain future past this season.
While crowning a NASCAR champion will take precedence over the final weeks of the season there is a group of drivers not in title contention that are facing uncertainty as it pertains to their 2017 plans. In past seasons the NASCAR silly season as it’s called usually featured one or two middle of the pack drivers which of course would cause a lot of buzz.
In recent years we have seen the likes of Ryan Newman, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Clint Bowyer change teams.
This off-season NASCAR lacks star power heading into free agency in the off-season but they do not lack storylines. A handful of drivers have no idea what their future will hold in the world of NASCAR when the checkered flag waves in a few weeks in Miami.
Notice how Talladega runner-up, Brian Scott downplayed the idea of making any reference to his future beyond the next handful of races?
He certainly could find himself back behind the wheel of the No. 44 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford come next season, but as educated race fans we know better than to assume anybody not among the elite is indeed safe and sound.
Remember the old proverb you’re only as good as your last race. Well that’s never been more prevalent in today’s landscape in the Sprint cup series garage. Let’s not forget the car Brian Scott currently pilots has been a proverbial hot potato over the last few season.
Chances are Brian Scott finds himself employed by Richard Petty Motorsports once the green flag drops on the 2017 campaign. After all he has something everybody wants in today’s tough economic climate, secure sponsorship dollars. And now factor in RPM’s recent cash flow problems this turns into winning combination that’s built to last at least another season.
Once upon a time signing a contract extension meant your future was decided for a certain period of time, well seemingly that entity has fallen by the wayside too in today’s overly competitive Sprint cup series.
Veteran drivers Greg Biffle & Casey Mears both agreed to renew their current pacts with their respective teams before the 2016 season commenced in February.
Now the rumour mill is a buzz that both these drivers could find themselves in new digs once the 2017 rolls around.
In Biffle’s case he’s said to have grown rather dissatisfied with the performance of the Roush Fenway Racing camps #16 team, a car the Biff has piloted for well over a decade.
Coming into the 2016, the Biff was extremely optimistic that his team could turnaround the misfortunes of the last two seasons gone by.
Yes, the Biff had every reason to feel good about the direction his team was headed. In late 2015 RFR hired a winning crew chief in Brian Pattie, combine that with a new aero package and Jack Roush’s never ending commitment to turn his organizations fortunes around in a hurry.
Unfortunately things haven’t quite worked out as planned, and now those shortcomings have ultimately shattered the Biff’s trust in the #16 team’s forward progress.
Why would a loyal employee like the Biff suddenly grown tired of his current situation at the twilight of his career? It’s simple really his RFR teammates (Stenhouse Jr, Bayne) have shown steady improvement over the last season even flirting with a berth in the chase until the final week of the season while Greg’s current program continued to be miles away from chase contention down the final stretch of the regular season.
Factor in a nearly three year winless streak and it becomes perfectly clear.
The Biff wants one more opportunity to make the chase and become NASCAR’s first Triple Crown winner. And let’s be honest he won’t accomplish that at Roush Fenway Racing.
Moving forward Jack Roush remains committed to the younger drivers on his roster. Their development is paramount if the organization hopes to claim some of it’s past glory.
Greg Biffle (continued)
On pace for his worst points finish of his Sprint Cup career Greg Biffle’s future with RFR looks murky at best. His team was dealt another harsh blow earlier this month when long-time RFR sponsor Cheez-It announced they are leaving NASCAR at the end of the 2016 season. Losing another sponsor makes it two consecutive seasons that a financial partner has deserted the once solid #16 team.
Sensing the end of the line could be near has generated red hot rumors that Greg Biffle could be on his way to JTG Daugherty Racing next season. The plan would be to have the Biff run a second car as a teammate to current JTG Daugherty mainstay AJ Allmendinger.
Should this rumor come to fruition it would certainly elevate JTG Daugherty Racing’s overall program moving forward.
This situation is a potential win –win for both team and driver.
For the Biff moving into a second JTG car provides that change of scenery he’s desperately seeking, all the while laying down a solid foundation for a younger driver to take over the ride once the Biff decides to hang up his helmet. If indeed this signing is made official expect a short term deal, keep in mind Biffle turns 47-years-old in December.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines a journeyman as “A worker or sports player who is reliable but not outstanding”
Look hard enough and you might find a picture of Casey Mears next to that definition.
Since arriving on the scene back in 2003, Casey Mears has showed flashes of brilliance in the Sprint Cup series, but never reached superstardom despite driving for industry heavyweights Chip Ganassi, Rick Hendrick & Richard Childress over the span of his thirteen year cup career.
Following disappointing stints with Hendrick Motorsports and RCR, Mears found himself playing the role of reliable sub after signing with Raymond Key Motorsports weeks before the 2010 Daytona 500. Once his deal with the underfunded single car team had fallen through Mears would spend the rest of the season filling in for Red Bull Racing & Tommy Baldwin Racing before settling into his current ride with Germain Racing.
Now in their sixth season together it appears Casey Mears could be on the movie again. Rumors have run rapid over the last month that Ty Dillon could take over the Germain Racing #13 car in 2017 despite Mears signing a two year extension to remain with Germain Racing before the 2016 season.
When asked this past weekend at Talladega about his future Casey Mears simply said he was focused on the final few races of the 2016 season and failed to make any acknowledgment about his or the teams 2017 plans.
Letting Casey Mears walk in favor of Ty Dillon has significant pros and consequential cons for Germain Racing.
Adding a young up and coming talent the likes of Ty Dillon is a major game changer for a single car team that has improved steadily over the past seven years.
While Germain Racing is no stranger to winning championships in the Camping World truck series they have been light years away from putting their #13 car in the chase for the Sprint Cup title. Ty Dillon would bring an abundance of resources from RCR with him to this program in the hopes of ending that dubious drought. However it’s hard to believe Ty Dillon would be Germain Racing’s long term solution and nothing more than a generous rental courtesy of his grandfather Richard Childress. As Mr. Childress has made it known he has big plans for his youngest grandson’s racing future with the family business.
Regardless of where some of the non-chase drivers end up in 2017 let’s hope they all get a fighting chance to preserve their careers past the 2016 in the Sprint Cup series.