By admin | February 2, 2011
By Richard Allen
Have you ever noticed how often baseball and football players who have contracts about to expire suddenly have â€˜career yearsâ€™ as they renegotiate their new deals? Perhaps it will be seen this year whether or not that same maxim is true in NASCAR racing.
Every year there are bound to be drivers who have contracts to expire. In 2011, there is a bumper crop looking to either re-sign with their current teams or move elsewhere. Mark Martin, Carl Edwards and Clint Bowyer are joined by Greg Biffle, Jeff Burton, David Ragan and Brian Vickers as potential free agents seeking long-term security for the future.
In all likelihood, most of these drivers will wind up staying with their current teams. However, there is at least the possibility any or all could move until new contracts are signed.
One of these drivers in particular, Clint Bowyer, has already had mention made of him by another team. During the recent Sprint Media Tour, Andrew Murstein, the financier who invested in Richard Petty Motorsports, noted that the current Richard Childress Racing pilot was on his list of potential drivers for his team.
It would seem unlikely that Bowyer would consider leaving one of NASCARâ€™s top teams to join an organization that under its current ownership has yet to prove itself as a solid contender on a weekly or yearly basis. However, large amounts of money can speak loudly so never completely discount the possibility until the contracts are signed. And more, Bowyerâ€™s flirtation with one team could serve as an indication to others that he is at least willing to listen to offers.
Along with Bowyer, RCR driver Jeff Burton is also without a deal beyond the 2011 season. At age 43, Burton remains highly competitive but it has to be considered that not many victories have been amassed by drivers over the age of forty throughout NASCAR history.
While Burton may well continue to drive for RCR beyond this season, it probably would not be with the length of contract that will be offered to the younger Bowyer. One thing to consider is that RCR has added a fourth team with driver Paul Menard which could factor into future driver signings.
Edwards joins fellow Roush Fenway Racing drivers Ragan and Biffle in the ranks of drivers without a long-term deal beyond this season. During the Sprint Media Tour Edwards declared that, â€œIâ€™d like to be able to get it(contract) done so that we can just keep focused on winning, and thatâ€™s the most important thing.â€
It would be difficult to imagine RFR allowing either Edwards or Biffle to get away. During his turn at the microphone in front of the media team owner Jack Roush said he expects all three drivers in question to return to his organization but quickly pointed out that he was not involved in the day to day negotiations.
In the case of Ragan there is the complicating matter that he has had little success in RFRâ€™s #6 car and his sponsor, UPS, will have its contract run out this year. It would seem as though Ragan might be on less steady ground than his teammates who have proven the ability to win races.
Vickers situation is somewhat clouded in two ways. Last year, he had to take a leave of absence from his team due to health concerns. Although he has been given a clean bill of health as far as racing is concerned, any car owner looking to sign him may wish to wait and see for sure that his medical situation has cleared up. And more, his current organization, Team Red Bull, has been inconsistent which may cause him to want to wait and see what other offers may be forthcoming as well.
Perhaps the most intriguing of all the potential free agents is Martin. It is known that he will definitely be replaced at the end of the year by Kasey Kahne in the Hendrick Motorsports #5 car. Although he recently turned 52 years old, he has proven himself to still be very competitive and there is no question he wishes to return in 2012.
â€œIâ€™m absolutely, without a doubt, going to be driving race cars next year, just not going to be in any hurry to worry about that,â€ he recently declared. â€œIâ€™m focused on 2011 and really enjoying being a part of Hendrick Motorsports.â€
We know Martin will be somewhere else next year. We can be reasonably sure that Edwards and Biffle will remain in place for the foreseeable future. We can guess that it is most likely Bowyer and Burton will stay with RCR. Vickersâ€™ health and the strength of his team could play a role in where he ends up while Ragan most likely has to perform better.
Because these things may only be guessed as of now, there are not definite answers until the contracts are signed.
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