Drivers get last shot to audition for 2012

BY Larry McReynolds • November 16, 2011

So we are down to it: The last race of the year. For some this might be their last race, period.

This weekend is the last race for Red Bull Racing. It really sunk in when I watched all those guys enjoy Victory Lane at Phoenix. That was only their second win in five years of racing. Sunday at Homestead will be the last time that whole group will be together.

Mark Martin is running his last race in the No. 5 car for Hendrick Motorsports; Red Bull’s Kasey Kahne is taking his place. What is David Reutimann going to do next year? What is David Ragan going to do as well? Brian Vickers is in the same boat, however, he’s really being a knucklehead in these races lately and not doing much to help his cause in finding a ride for next year. What about all of Clint Bowyer’s guys, what are they going to do?

So while we celebrate a new champion Sunday and an end to a great season, there are a lot of things ending that aren’t quite so encouraging. I hate it for every one of them. I don’t care if it’s a driver like Reutimann or the guy who sweeps the floors for the Red Bull team. All these guys and gals have families to feed.

Don’t forget, Monday is when folks will be let go and then Thursday is Thanksgiving. That’s really tough. Then you are a little over a month from Christmas, followed by New Years, and most have no idea what they are going to be doing in 2012.

Phoenix last weekend and Homestead this weekend are really important, not just for Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards to settle the championship, but also as mini-auditions for a lot of guys who don’t know what 2012 holds for them. They want to show these team owners and crew chiefs who might be looking to make changes that they should be added to the roster.

Beyond that, Sunday’s Ford 400 is about Tony and Carl. It’s a two-car race. Kevin Harvick is in third but he is too far back in the points. So you have two drivers, two teams, two manufacturers, one 400-mile race and only a three-point separation.

The first order of business is qualifying. You want to make a statement to the other guy about how strong your car is, and there is also the benefit of pit selection. Trust me, Tony Stewart doesn’t want to see Carl Edwards qualify fifth, while the best Tony can muster is 25th.

Last year is a perfect example of what I am talking about. Do you remember what happened to Denny Hamlin? He qualified poorly, got caught up in trouble early and the championship slipped away. If you are Tony or Carl, you want to go down swinging. You don’t want to go down by something out of your control ruining your day. They both will put it all on the line Sunday and will be of the mind-set that “if you can beat me, well, then, and only then, do you deserve to be the champion.”

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