Rumors today are predicting that Tony Stewart and Martin Truex Jr. are leaving their respective teams after the 2008 season. Stewart is rumored to be buying up to 50 per cent of Gene Haas' operation, and running a car there, possibly taking Home Depot sponsorship with him. Haas teams, both the 66 and the 70 Chevrolets are powered by Rick Hendrick engines, and supposedly, Tony wants to return to Chevrolet in the near future.
Martin Truex Jr. has had a couple of engine problems so far this year, and that might be leading to the rumor that he will be leaving Dale Earnhardt, Inc. after the 2008 season. Martin definitely has more than a few possibilities to pursue, namely the 4th Richard Childress team, or possibly Tony's old ride at Joe Gibbs Racing. Possibly a Roush driver or even two might be leaving after this year, and Martin could end up driving a Ford for Jack Roush. All of this is purely speculation at this point.
Bobby Labonte appears to be heavily favored to get the Childress team's 4th ride, since they will be carrying his General Mills colors next year. That's still entirely possible, but rumors also state that Bobby will remain with Petty Enterprises until he retires. Bobby's not saying, and neither is Robby Loomis, who is currently in negotiations with Labonte on behalf of Petty.
Richard Childress my just decide to chuck it, and put Scott Wimmer in the 33 next year. Or he could put a former Roush driver in the car. The fact is that we just don't know right now.
And we probably won't know until much later in the racing season. This is why the Silly Season is so much fun, because we can all speculate, and even if we are entirely wrong, so are probably at least half the other fans out there.
Last year, when Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced he would leave Dale Earnhardt Inc. after the 2007 season, I predicted that Dale would end up at either Richard Childress Racing or Joe Gibbs Racing, but that was before I knew that Gibbs would be switching brands to Toyota for 2008. The rumors began to grow that Dale Jr. would eventually go to Rick Hendrick, but I dismissed many of those. As it turns out, I was 100 per cent wrong on that one. Dale Jr. has revealed in the past year that Hendrick was really the only place he wanted to go, since his relationship with Rick had been a strong one, since Dale Jr. was just a boy. Personal relationships mean a lot in Nascar, and Jr. went where his heart told him to go.
I will be following the news about Stewart, Truex Jr., and Labonte with interest over the next few months, and I'm not making any predictions this time. For all I know, Labonte may end up at DEI, Truex Jr. might end up at Roush, and Tony Stewart might just decide to go open wheel racing again, in the new IRL/Champ series. I have no idea.
My instincts tell me that Bobby Labonte doesn't want to retire, he wants to win again. RCR could be the place that he does that. Truex Jr. obviously wants to win, but he's probably frustrated with DEI's engine woes, even though they seem to have improved much over last year. It's been rumored before that Stewart wanted to buy into a team, and that he wants to go back to Chevrolet, so Haas makes sense to me. That might be a totally wrong guess, but unless I'm missing something, Haas is probably in a position to be bought into, and soon. Tony's got the money, and I would not be surprised to see him make a transaction with Haas before the season is over. Whether the Home Depot will follow Tony is debatable, but I think that Home Depot would be crazy for not following Tony.
If all these changes happen, who would fill the voids left by these drivers? JGR, DEI, and Petty would have some vacancies to fill. Martin Truex Jr. could go to Gibbs. I could see that. Who would go to DEI and Petty though? Probably drivers that are just trying to prove themselves, either fired Cup drivers that need a job, or some Nationwide talent. Bobby could probably have the job at RCR if he wants it. Whether he does or not will have to be revealed at a later date.
If DEI or Petty hires Jeremy Mayfield, we will all know they are scraping the bottom of the barrel, not because Jeremy is a bad driver, but he's had some problems with authority, in the past. Personally I like Jeremy, but he's burned a bridge or two in the past. Bill Elliot seems to be the driver that never retires, so he might be a fill in for a while. Personally, I'd like to see Kenny Wallace get a shot at one of the open jobs, if they become available. Jason Keller is another driver I'd like to see in a Cup car again. Chad McCumbee appears to be waiting in the wings to replace Kyle Petty or Bobby Labonte, but I wouldn't mind seeing him in a DEI ride either. Stephen Leicht might be another viable driver.
The point is, who knows? I certainly don't, and neither do you, I would suspect. Silly Season is just what it is, guesses and speculation, and it's fun.
What we tend to forget, as Nascar fans, is that fun is what it's supposed to be for us. It is fun.
Have fun, will ya?