By admin | January 26, 2010
By Richard Allen
2010 promises to be a pivotal year in the careers of several NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers. Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne, Elliott Sadler, Jamie McMurray, Scott Speed and A.J. Allmendinger each have contracts set to expire at the end of the 2010 season.
The problem for each of these drivers is that they find themselves entering an end of contract season at a time when the sport is contracting rather than expanding. New rides, particularly ones that would be perceived as an improvement, will be difficult to find. New sponsors do not appear to be on the way which means no organization that might have room to expand under the four cars per owner rule will be looking to do so. And, without the benefit of sponsors it is highly doubtful any new team owners will emerge in a meaningful way.
Of those who do not have a contract beyond this coming season, Hamlin may be the most intriguing. As soon as last season ended many began to pencil him in as a contender to challenge Jimmie Johnson in 2010. That is an interesting role to play for someone in a contract year.
And to add to Hamlinâ€™s â€˜issuesâ€™ for this season, he recently tore an ACL in his knee while playing basketball. Some seemed a bit surprised when the driver announced he would put off surgery until after the season. There should have been no surprise. He has to compete in every race in order to have a shot at the Chase for the Championshipâ€¦and to assure that he comes out of this season with the best possible contract for his future.
It would appear to be a safe bet to say that in this current economic climate Hamlin will be back with Joe Gibbs Racing after this season. There almost certainly will not be any place for him to go that would be better than where he is right now.
Harvick and Kahne have each expressed their doubts about their current situations going into 2010. Both would seem likely to leave where they are after the season if there were available rides out to go to. Like it or not, each driver may be stuck where they are for the foreseeable future.
Sadler has a strange place on his current team. Not so long ago he essentially had to bring about, or at least threaten, legal action just to keep his seat. With less than stellar results since then it would seem likely that this driver will move on at the end of the coming season.
Considering that he is not as young as what sponsors seem to want these days and he has not produced wins or top finishes of late, it would appear as though Sadler is driving for his very racing life in 2010.
McMurray finds himself in a similar position for the second year in a row. Last year, he was the odd man out at Roush Fenway Racing when his contract expired at the very time that team was forced to reduce from five teams to four. He signed a one year deal with Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing for this season. Now, like Sadler, McMurrayâ€™s contract will expire at the end of the year at a point in his career when he may not exactly be in high demand.
As young drivers Speed and Allmendinger may have a few more options than Sadler and McMurray, but neither has the luxury of being able to have a bad season in a contract year. And like everyone else who has a contract set to expire, there just arenâ€™t many places to go.
These drivers may well be facing the most important seasons in their careers. With so few options available to them, it is key for each to do well right from the outset.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly columns appear in The Mountain Press and The Knoxville Journal.
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