By admin | December 26, 2011
By Richard Allen
In the children’s game ‘Musical Chairs’ a group of kids walk around a set of chairs as music plays. Once the music stops everyone scrambles to find a seat. The trouble is there is always one less chair than the number of participants so one person is always left standing. That person is eliminated along with one of the chairs and the game continues until one person claims the final remaining chair.
During this off season for NASCAR Sprint Cup racing the game of musical chairs has been pretty intense with drivers, crew chiefs and team owners all playing three different games at the same time. However, unlike in the children’s version of the game, there were far fewer chairs available than the number of participants.
Due to reductions at teams such as Roush Fenway Racing and Richard Childress Racing along with the complete shutdown of Team Red Bull, there were not nearly enough seats available for everyone to fill which has left some relatively significant names standing after the music stopped.
It used to be that if a Nationwide Series driver could win a single race in that division, he would be almost assured of having a Sprint Cup ride very soon. Now, even race winning drivers in the Cup series are not guaranteed a ride at NASCAR’s top level.
David Reutimann, David Ragan and Brian Vickers have each won races at the Sprint Cup level. Yet, it looks as if they will each go into the 2012 season looking for a chair on which to sit.
Reutimann won a race in each of the 2009 and 2010 seasons for Michael Waltrip Racing. And strangely enough, his team actually expanded rather than contracted during the off season. However, new drivers Clint Bowyer and Mark Martin were brought into the fold which pushed the 41 year old second generation racer out of the Toyota team.
Martin Truex, Jr. will continue to pilot the #56 car for MWR while Bowyer will drive car #15, which has expanded to a full time team, for that organization. Martin and team owner Michael Waltrip will split time in car #55, which is essentially the car Reutimann drove last year.
All of the suddenly available talent, who were also able to secure sponsorship, left Reutimann with no place to sit when the music stopped playing.
Ragan was left out at Roush Fenway Racing when that company reduced its numbers from four full time teams to three. Landing enough sponsors to keep the organization fully funded has proven to be a difficult task for RFR. Package delivery service , UPS, decided to go from primary sponsor on Ragan’s #6 car to associate sponsor on the #99 of championship runner-up Carl Edwards. And more, former Sprint Cup champion Matt Kenseth looks to begin the 2012 season with only partial sponsorship in place on his #17 RFR Ford.
With only what amounts to two and a half sponsors secured, there was no way RFR could run the risk of starting a new season with four cars in their stable. Someone had to be cut loose and that someone was Ragan. That news comes despite the fact that the 26 year old Georgia native won his first Sprint Cup race just this past year in July at Daytona.
Just think what changing lanes a bit too early on that late restart in February’s Daytona 500 may have cost the newly engaged Ragan in the long run.
Of these winning drivers to be suddenly displaced, it is perhaps Brian Vickers who has the most interesting story. His ride at Team Red Bull simply went away when that organization closed up shop at the end of the 2011 season. However, this driver did not help himself throughout the most recent campaign by having well documented on track feuds with championship drivers Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart.
Whether accurate or not, Vickers came off looking like a vindictive and reckless driver who can’t tell the difference between an intentional crash and a “racing deal”. Remember, fans and media allow the bigger stars to spin their story first, which may have trapped Vickers behind the proverbial eight ball in both of these instances.
Whatever the case, Vickers, who has two Sprint Cup wins to his credit, was apparently not on the radar screen of any major team or sponsor during this off season shuffle as his name was rarely mentioned as a potential candidate for any vacant ride.
For children, musical chairs can be a fun way to spend some time at a birthday party or other whimsical event. For Sprint Cup drivers, it can be a cut throat affair that can prove to be a major setback in one’s career.
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