Now that the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season is over I wanted to take a look at the 2013 drivers that are entering their final year under contract.
Entering ‘13, eight full-time drivers will be competing in their final year of their contact and either can re-up or test the free agency waters.
The dominoes are going to fall with Kevin Harvick. ESPN broke the story in Phoenix that he will be leaving Richard Childress Racing for Stewart/Haas after the season for 2014. If that happens the domino will fall on SHR and Ryan Newman. Can Newman do enough in 2013 to get funding so SHR can have four cars, or will Harvick get Newman’s seat?
From there the domino falls back onto RCR and if Richard Childress brings up his grandson Austin Dillon from the Nationwide Series to Cup. He certainly is ready and the chips and falling his way for that to happen. Dillon would more than likely take Harvick’s seat and they would change the No. 29 back to the No. 3.
From there, the ball is still in RCR’s court. They have Jeff Burton and Paul Menard as free agents and how they go about them will determine the development of Austin’s younger brother Ty. I’d expect him to get more seat time in the Nationwide Series next year and possibly replace Austin in 2014. I would expect him to move up to Cup in 2015 so whoever fills either Burton or Menard’s seat will only get a one-year deal. I can see Burton either retiring or coming back for one last season.
Menard likely will stay with RCR as he has full season sponsorship. If he moves on he won’t have a hard time finding a ride with funding but I don’t see him going anywhere.
From there, the dominoes fall to Kyle Busch and Joe Gibbs Racing. Busch is likely to return but nothing’s guaranteed. He’s been very loud in voicing his displeasure with Toyota engines and has almost been released multiple times. He truly is the most talented guy in the free agent class and Gibbs doesn’t want to part with him.
Top rides are going to be tough to come by and I suspect Busch will wait to see what Harvick and RCR do. If Harvick goes to SHR and Dillon to RCR then Busch only has JGR left as a top ride. I suspect he stays but stranger stuff has happened.
That leaves the final three free agents as Jamie McMurray, Juan Pablo Montoya, and Bobby Labonte. I don’t see McMurray or Montoya going anywhere as Chip Ganassi is very loyal to those two. Their 2013 seasons should be a lot better next year with Hendrick power and I would think both should be back with EGR to finish their careers.
Labonte will either re-up with JTG or retire. I suspect the latter as I can see him and Burton both retiring following the 2013 season. They both were a part of the 1993 rookie class and next year will be their 21st seasons in Cup.
Basically, silly season should be yet another good one as a very talented driver could be on the outside looking in for a top ride. The dominoes start with Kevin Harvick and RCR.
Juan Pablo Montoya
Photo courtesy of NASCAR.com
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