The Hot Pass: Rumors swirl at Chicagoland

BY foxsports • July 11, 2009

Fans and pundits aren't the only ones assessing performance at the halfway point of the Sprint Cup season.

Owners, sponsors and drivers are looking at options for next season as well.

In a normal economy, sponsors would have had their 2010 campaigns submitted by July 1. But the market is anything but normal right now.

This will be a season where performance is the key to locking down support for drivers. Marketing managers have to prove to the bean counters that there is a strong return on investment to justify allocating dollars to racing.

And this year, the dominoes will tumble.

Here's the garage buzz:

  • For the second straight season, Brad Keselowski is the top candidate for the No. 12 Penske Racing Dodge. David Stremme has experienced a couple of miserable weeks at the racetrack and is currently 32nd in the point standings. On Thursday, Stremme qualified 36th for the 400.

    Stremme, 32, has had a difficult time adjusting to the new car this year after competing in just one Cup race in 2008. The testing ban has hurt Stremme tremendously.

    Keselowski said on Friday he does not have a deal signed for next year. Certainly for a self-proclaimed "Eastsider," partnering with fellow Detroit-based Roger Penske would be an honor.

    Keselowski was offered the No. 12 ride last year after Ryan Newman announced he was leaving the ride to join Stewart-Haas Racing.

  • Hearing Yates Racing will clean house with its current driver roster at the end of the season. After the example that Tony Stewart has set at Stewart-Haas Racing on how a satellite operation should be run, is there any question why Jack Roush would not consider unloading Bobby Labonte and Paul Menard, who are 27th and 31st respectively, in the point standings?

    Yes, Menard brings decent money to the table, but with shopping its sponsorship there is certainly reason for concern for the No. 96 Ford. Labonte, 45, has one top-five finish this season. However, that's one more than Menard has posted. The best effort from the No. 98 Ford is 13th. In his third full season on the tour, Menard, 28, should be flourishing in Roush Fenway equipment. Funny thing is he was 26th in the point standings in a DEI Chevrolet last year.

    Labonte, who was 19th in the Petty Enterprise Dodge following 18 races in 2008, needed to rely on his top-35 standing in the owners points to make Saturday night's show.

  • Speaking of Yates Racing, it's been a tough road for former Yates driver David Gilliland this season. Gilliland, who was 21st in the No. 28 Ford for Doug Yates at this juncture last year, has qualified for every race in the No. 71 TRG Motorsports Chevrolet.

    Gilliland has been a loyal soldier in the start-n-park venture and is currently 43rd in the point standings. However, it appears he will have a reprieve — at the hand of Joe Gibbs Racing. Gilliland, 33, is expected to drive the fourth JGR car in four races at the end of this season.

    While a driver has not been named for next season, J.D. Gibbs has made it clear in the past that he's looking for a driver without strings.

    Sign of the times

    Richard Childress Racing cut salaries in the shop this week of employees over a certain pay grade. The reductions, which ranged from five to 10 percent, were in line with the individual salaries and reflective of recent budget cuts.

    "We had several people offer to take reductions if it meant keeping more employees in the shop," said RCR GM Mike Dillon. "We have extremely strong and committed people which is why Richard is taking this the hardest of all."

    Before the season started, RCR made similar adjustments at Earnhardt Childress Racing — the company's engine entity.

    Double dipping

    Tires won't be the only thing tested at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Tuesday and Wednesday. Yes, Goodyear has reserved AMS for tire test to prepare for the Pep Boys Auto 500, but Jamie McMurray is expected to put track laps on the new Ford engine.

    Joining McMurray at the tire test is Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch and Denny Hamlin.

    Watercooler talk

    Richard and Lynda Petty are off on a Russian adventure. The seven-time champion has always been an ambassador for NASCAR. Now let's see if he can win over the Kremlin.
    What advice did long-time general Robby Loomis offer the King before he left?

    "Not to get lost," Loomis said.

    Say what?

    Sebastian Montoya was a fixture on his daddy's hip between practices at Chicagoland on Friday. Despite Juan Pablo's rise into the Chase zone this season, his 4-year-old was carrying a No. 48 die-cast car. And when Sebastian was asked who is his favorite driver? "Kyle Busch."

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