By admin | January 3, 2012
By Richard Allen
In what is proving to be one of the most active off seasons in recent NASCAR history, a number of drivers are finding themselves in the midst of changes to their situations over last season. Some of these changes were sought out by the drivers while some were not and still others are disputed as to whose idea it was to make the change. Either way, several Sprint Cup pilots will find themselves in new surroundings in 2012 and most of those who do will find that their situations have not improved, but rather, regressed since last year.
A look at the drivers who will be better off in 2012 than they were in the previous campaign is the shorter of the two lists so it is likely the better place to start. This survey of driver moves from team to team does not include crew chief swaps as those will be addressed in a later column.
Despite the fact that his upcoming upgrade has been known for over a year, Kasey Kahne still has to be included in this group of drivers who will be better off this coming season.
Even though Kahne ran quite well at the end of 2011, it is a tremendous understatement to say that this driver is bettering himself by moving from Team Red Bull to Hendrick Motorsports. For that matter, wouldnâ€™t it be an upgrade to move from anywhere else to HMS?
With longtime crew chief Kenny Francis coming along, Kahneâ€™s transition to HMS should prove to be a smooth one. Look for the #5 Chevrolet to be an immediate contender for race wins this season.
While Kahneâ€™s move had been well known for some time, another driver upgrade came as somewhat of a surprise. A.J. Allmendinger came into this off season with a cloud of uncertainty surrounding him. His security in the Richard Petty Motorsports #43 seemed to hinge on that team landing a sponsor. And when it was announced that electronics retailer Best Buy was going away to form a union with Roush Fenway Racing drivers Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards, the young driverâ€™s future grew even more murky.
However, Kurt Buschâ€™s late season foolishness led to an opening at Penske Racing that no one had foreseen coming into the off season. For a while, rumors had made it sound like a sure bet that David Ragan would move into the #22 Dodge when his ride at RFR evaporated due to the loss of sponsorship. But seemingly out of nowhere, Allmendinger was named as the new pilot for â€˜The Captainâ€™ Roger Penske which will prove to be a significant upgrade.
Consider that Allmedinger went from a team whose future seems very much in doubt to one that is owned by one of the worldâ€™s richest men and seems to be on the upswing. That would seem to make him the upgrade champion.
And last of those to upgrade in the Sprint Cup ranks is Danica Patrick. After having competed for only two partial schedules with barely even moderate success at the Nationwide Series level, this highly marketable driver will land in a part time ride with the Hendrick satellite team that won the 2011 Sprint Cup title. And more, she will have one of the sportâ€™s top crew chiefs in Greg Zipadelli preparing her cars.
Definite upgrade for Danica.
Of the multiple driver changes since theÂ end of November, few could be considered upgrades for the drivers. But of these three mentioned here are significant upgrades.
Check here for the companion piece to this one about drivers who have downgraded http://racingwithrich.com/?p=1615
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