By admin | June 25, 2008
By Richard Allen
Greg Biffle has reached an agreement to stay with Roush Fenway Racing for three more years. It also appears as though sponsor 3M will remain with the Roush Fenway Racing team. That puts a major piece into the silly season puzzle.
At one time this season Biffle, Tony Stewart, Bobby Labonte, Martin Truex and Ryan Newman were among the names considered â€œin playâ€ for 2009. The announcement that Boston Ventures had taken control of Petty Enterprises was coupled with the announcement of Labonteâ€™s return to that organization.
Now, at least two of those big name potential free agents are off the board.
It is with the other three that the situation becomes somewhat murky.
Recently, Daytona 500 winner Ryan Newman stated he was not going to make any commitments regarding his future until he sees whether or not his Penske Racing South team shows improved performance. That obviously indicates he is at least willing to look around.
In the case of Martin Truex the situation is also a bit difficult to understand. At one point it was announced that Dale Earnhardt, Inc. had picked up his option and he would be in their fold for another year. However, that announcement appears to have been premature.
As it stands now, Truex is not signed. He is free to stay or to move. Various rumors have him going in several directions. One interesting thing to have been picked up on by observant NASCAR followers is he has been paired with fellow free agent Tony Stewart in some new Bass Pro Shops television commercials. That has fueled speculation the two drivers may be teammates next year with the sporting goods chain as one of the backers.
The most intriguing of the free agents is in fact Stewart, who in point of fact is not really a free agent at all. His contract with Joe Gibbs Racing actually runs through the end of the 2009 season. Stewart has raced the entirety of his 10 year career with JGR.
Another interesting television spot development not lost on observant followers is the fact that a new line of Home Depot commercials have been very explicit in pointing out the home improvement company has been with HIM for all 10 years, seemingly solidifying the relationship with their driver.
Stewart has been rumored to be considering numerous options including staying where he is, moving to another team or starting his own team. The two time champion is the key domino. Whatever he does will set the stage for other developments.
Speculation has it he wants to be reunited with Chevrolet, as he has ties to the auto giant through other forms of racing. JGR switched to Toyota this past off season.
Should Stewart decide to leave and JGR gives him permission to do so, that would obviously open the #20 car up. Some believe the announcement by JGR that highly touted youngster Joey Logano may attempt some Sprint Cup races later this year is not merely a coincidence.
Another known open seat for 2009 is a fourth team for owner Richard Childress which already has a funding commitment from current Petty/Labonte sponsor General Mills.
Obviously, movement by either Truex, Newman or both would free up rides in those cars.
Some sponsors are thought to looking around as well. Caterpillar has already announced it will leave Bill Davis Racing for the RCR team driven by Jeff Burton next year. UPS, Army and others may also be in search of greener pastures.
All of this speculation is occurring and none of it revolves around any driver being fired. That apparently has happened to driver Casey Mears. Published reports have him being replaced by Mark Martin at Hendrick Motorsports in 2009.
So, while it may seem as though the re-signing of Biffle might clear a few things up, there are so many things left uncertain that one piece of the puzzle leaves many more to be placed.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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