photo from Nascar.com
Tony Stewart made it official today. He will be driving the #14 Old Spice/Office Depot Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas racing in 2009. It's a good looking car, in my opinion. Tony looks extremely happy. He'll be driving the 14, which was his hero, A.J. Foyt's number. But one big question remains, which of course is who will Tony's teammate be next season?
Ryan Newman seems to be the odds on favorite at this point, according to everything I read and hear. Ryan recently announced that he and Penske Racing will be parting ways after 2008, and he has to be at least considering driving the #4 for Stewart-Haas. Other top drivers that might be in the running include Casey Mears, who will not be returning to Hendrick Motorsports next year, and possibly Martin Truex Jr., should he decide to part ways with Dale Earnhardt Inc.
This all means, regardless of where Ryan Newman goes, that the #12 Dodge of Roger Penske is an open slot too. I imagine David Stremme will most likely be in the car, but no one knows for sure. Casey Mears might also have a shot at that ride as well.
Tony Stewart leaving the #20 Toyota at Joe Gibbs racing leaves an empty slot too, but many people believe that the greatest thing since sliced bread, Joey Logano will be in the #20 Home Depot car next year, despite his tender young age of 18. Joey has already won in the Nationwide series though, and from what I've seen of his personality, he would be a perfect teammate for #11 Denny Hamlin and #18, Kyle Busch.
Personally, I'd love to see Casey Mears in the #4 next year. He and Tony share a love for racing all kinds of cars, and winning in them. Casey won at Charlotte last year, and though he and the 5 team just haven't seemed to click this year, I think Casey deserves a chance to redeem himself, and I can see him being a good fit with Tony Stewart. To me, Casey has always been a good, solid driver, who takes care of his equipment, and doesn't have a reputation for being rough on the track.
Ryan Newman would also be a good choice, of course. Ryan is one of the greatest qualifiers in the history of the sport, and if he's got good equipment, he could consistently put a Stewart-Haas car on the pole in roughly at least a quarter of the races each year. He's a race winner as well, but has not had much success since his Daytona 500 victory in February this year. Ryan might arguably be the least noticed Daytona 500 winner in recent years, but the fact that he has that particular race under his belt makes him a very attractive bet as a driver to put in the #4.
I like Ryan Newman, but he remains somewhat of an unknown to me. He is an intellectual, it would seem to me. He doesn't say much to the press, other than the obligatory thanks for his team and sponsors. I know that he and Rusty Wallace had a famous feud while they were teammates a few years ago, and I don't know exactly who was the instigator in that feud, or who might have been at fault. Before Newman drove for Penske, Jeremy Mayfield said a few things about the organization that got him kicked out of the #12 car. Of course, Mayfield said a few things about Ray Evernham that got him kicked out of the #19 car too. Mayfield seems to be contrite about that now, and wants another ride. Jeremy's won some races too, so he might be a viable candidate for one of the open slots next year as well.
But, getting back to Ryan Newman, all I know is that he says very little. I have a hard time reading him, when it comes to teammate potential. I think most of us can agree that Rusty Wallace can be a bit of a jerk at times, but was he, a veritable legend in the sport, such a jerk, that a young driver like Ryan Newman lost all respect for him? Or was Ryan just conceited to begin with, and doesn't have much respect for drivers who have accomplished much more on the track than he has? That remains an unknown to me, because Ryan just doesn't give me much to work with. He seems like a nice enough guy, but what is he like when the cameras and microphones are out of range? I hope that in Ryan's case, it's a matter of what you see is what you get. Maybe he's just a quiet, thoughtful guy, who shuns being the center of attention. If that's so, there's absolutely nothing in the world wrong with that.
I'm not going to make any predictions here. Ryan seems to be very likely to end up in the #4 car next year. Personally, I believe that Stremme might end up in the #12. That might leave a gap at Ganassi Racing, but they've had sponsorship troubles anyway. Rumors have been floated that Juan Pablo Montoya might be leaving Ganassi as well, so there are too many drivers, too few or too many rides, and my feeble brain can't get a handle on much of it.
A part of me would like to see Jeremy Mayfield get back into Cup racing somewhere. If he goes out and charges hard, like he's perfectly capable of doing, he could be a contender to drive for a top team in a year or two. If Jeremy has truly conquered his habit of foot in mouth disease, I think he could be a valuable to asset to any team.
Another high profile open slot is of course the #33 Chevrolet, which will fill the 4th and final Cup slot at Richard Childress Racing. For some reason, which I have no idea how to explain, I see Martin Truex Jr. in that car next year. I guess that because Martin Truex Jr. is a friend of Dale Earnhardt Jr., and knowing how close Richard and Dale Jr. are, I can see Richard giving Martin a ride. I don't know if that will happen, of course, but I can see it possibly happening. David Stremme and Casey Mears have likely been thought of to take that ride as well. If I'm Scott Wimmer, who has been acting as somewhat of a test driver for Richard Childress Racing over the last couple of years, and has seen some success in the Nationwide series in an RCR car, I'd be pulling my hair out, wondering if I were going to get the nod from Richard. If the world were a fair place, Scott probably should get that ride, but since there are considerations such as sponsors and points, and all those other unfair things, I don't know exactly what Scott Wimmer's chances are for that ride. Scott's previous experience as a Cup driver was decidely unglamorous.
Ah, tis summertime, and the Silly Season is in full bloom.
Ain't it grand?