NASCAR: Driver movement should heat up
CHARLOTTE ó The biggest domino in NASCAR’s free agency season fell when Tony Stewart decided to bolt from Joe Gibbs Racing at the end of the year. It opened up a seat in the coveted No. 20, a ride loaded with a two-time championship winning team that will stay behind crew chief Greg Zipadelli.
Yet despite the promise and potential in the latest job opening, top-name drivers aren’t exactly jockeying for the seat.
Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle re-signed with Roush Fenway Racing before Stewart’s exit became official, and long before he muddied any potential relationship by tangling with JGR star Kyle Busch, Juan Pablo Montoya reconfirmed his support of slumping Chip Ganassi Racing.
Matt Kenseth is under contract, Kasey Kahne isn’t available, Richard Childress has his talent under contract and the stars at Hendrick Motorsports aren’t going anywhere.
So where does that leave Joe Gibbs Racing?
With Joey Logano, of course.
Gibbs officials have done nothing to dispel the notion that their 18-year-old phenom will fill the seat next season, and Stewart himself has endorsed the promotion.
“Of all people, he could do it. He’s been a proven product in anything that he’s driven,” Stewart said on his Sirius Satellite Radio show. “I definitely think that Joey Logano has the talent that whenever ó and I would say he’s going to be in the Gibbs system a long time ó so whenever the Gibbs family decides to put him in a Cup car that he’ll be ready.”
Zipadelli, who so patiently nurtured Stewart over the past decade, already has faith in Logano based on the few years the teenager has been in JGR’s developmental system. He’s tested with the kid, and based on feedback and on-track performance, is quick to argue Logano is far ahead of his age.
But with just five Nationwide Series starts to his career (albeit he’s scored two poles and a win in that span), Zipadelli also admits there still are questions surrounding Logano.
“Experience is priceless,” Zipadelli said. “It’s one thing to do it in other divisions, but when they feed you to the sharks out here (in the Sprint Cup Series) on Sunday, you’re going against the best in the world that have tons of experience. There’s a lot to this sport … mental, physical … and that all comes with time.
“I think what we’ve seen so far, I think he has as good of a chance as any 18-year-old to come into this sport and succeed.”
With everyone so high on Logano, only the sudden availability of an A-list driver should block his imminent promotion into Stewart’s seat.
That means Stewart’s departure shouldn’t create the big shuffling of rides that was widely anticipated ó though there’s still going to movement.
Perhaps as early as this weekend, Daytona 500 winner Ryan Newman could announce his next job.
The Indiana native has long been expected to choose Indianapolis Motor Speedway, site of Sunday’s race, to reveal where he’s headed. All signs have pointed to Stewart’s new venture at Stewart-Haas Racing, and Newman waited just a few days after Stewart’s deal was complete to announce he’s leaving Penske Racing at the end of the year.
It’s plausible that Gibbs could swoop Newman up and put one of NASCAR’s greatest qualifiers in Stewart’s old seat. Richard Childress could potentially persuade Newman to jump into his expanding fourth car. But all signs point to all-Hoosier lineup at Stewart’s new team.
With Newman’s seat available, that could be filled by David Stremme. Out of the Cup Series all season, Stremme smartly declined opportunities to get in sub-par seats, a decision that landed him a deal as Penske’s test driver this spring.