To be honest, I'm having a hard time making predictions when I'm not really sure about who is running. After all the team mergers in 2008-2009 off season, I thought the craziness was over. Instead, as is often the case with NASCAR, 2009-2010 has resulted in even nuttier mergers, "alliances", and points swapping.
Here's a recap of what I think has transpired since Homestead 2009:
Richard Petty Motorsports - George Gillett's team (with minority interest held by The King) merged with Yates Racing. Or so it seemed. A.J. Allmendinger moved from the multi-personality #44 last year to the iconic #43 with majority sponsorship from Best Buy (shout-out to Paul on Twitter). Its taken a couple of years for it to happen, but this is the very scenario I hoped would happen when Red Bull Racing sidelined A.J. in favor of Mike Skinner in the spring of 2008.
With the change, RPM switched to Ford, now has an engine relationship with Roush-Yates, and picked up a full-time 4th car sponsor in Menard's home improvement chain. That's the upside. The downside can be reduced to one word: Paul.
Richard Childress Racing - With Jack Daniels retreating to Lynchburg, RCR's 4th car from last year was shelved for 2010 ... or so it seemed. In January, an announcement was made that RCR acquired an equity interest in FRR (but not a merger) and contracted for a “technical alliance” with FRR . As part of the alliance, the #07's 2009 points were transferred to a 2nd FRR car.
FRR still plans to run Hendrick Motorsports engines. A-ha, finally a deal that makes sense! RCR gives up access to the #07 owner points from 2009. In return, Childress gets the opportunity to look deep inside an HMS engine…maybe. Perhaps this is a "technical alliance" that makes sense - at least for Childress. If that's the case, I suspect HMS may wait to install their motors in FRR cars until race weekend & then retrieve them before leaving to hedge this very risk.
Furniture Row Racing - An announcement was made this week that Doug Yates is also now a minority owner of Furniture Row (in addition to Richard Childress). As part of the ownership, Yates brings with him owner points from 2009 to transfer to a FRR team to guarantee it a starting spot in the first five races. But you may ask how can that be since Yates merged with RPM and Yates' points obviously went to Menard's #98? Not so fast my friend.
It seems RPM didn't merge with Yates - it simply acquired its assets (a legal/accounting terminology difference), hired Menard, transferred the Menard's sponsorship and adopted the use of the #98. Menard will apparently start the 2010 season in the #98 using RPM's owner points from Allmendinger's #44 ride from last year. As a result, Yates' points from last year remained available. So Doug Yates joined FRR as a minority owner, and FRR can now take advantage of those valuable yet intangible points.
If you are keeping score at home, that gives FRR three cars with guaranteed starts in the first five races of 2010. The #78 car with Regan Smith gets in by virtue of his 2009 performance. Cars two and three get in through the new equity positions of Childress (07) and Yates (98).
Roush-Fenway Racing - Because of the laughable 4-car team rule, Jack Roush was forced to shutter a 5th team that finished high in the 2009 points. RFR contacted Jamie McMurray's old #26 ride because the team no longer had value in NASCAR's eyes. Right? WRONG! The Cat in the Hat was essentially told the #26 had no remaining value as long as he owned it. However, in NASCAR's eyes and in an open market, the 2009 points had a lot of value. So Roush sold the team to a new outfit called Latitude43 Motorsports and transferred the 26’s points as part of the deal. Boris Said has been hired to race the team's car.
Despite Roush's not having any equity position in the new venture, NASCAR announced a "one time exemption" (cough...ahem...B.S.) allowing the new owner to use the points in 2010 earned by another owner in 2009. So in the end, Jack turned something worthless into something valuable. As the adage goes, he made chicken salad out of chicken s**t.
I realize all these mergers and alliances are a by-product of two things:
- NASCAR's top 35 rule which guarantees a starting spot in the field to teams (not drivers) in the top 35.
- A lingering, brutal economic situation where big dollar sponsors are as scarce as hunters in church on a fall Sunday morn.
So here's who I think we've got as guaranteed starters for February through March to start the 2010 Cup season. Once the first 5 races are completed, we'll have to re-visit who is in/out of the top 35.
00 - Reutimann - Michael Waltrip Racing
1 - Jamie McMurray - using Martin Truex's points from last year
2 - Kurt Busch
5 - Mark "GoGrandDaddy.com" Martin
6 - David Ragan
7 - Robby Gordon - but only plans to run a part-time schedule
9 - Kasey Kahne
09 - Aric Almirola - but not in top 35 and has already lost his sponsor before the season even began
11 - Denny Hamlin
12 - Brad Keselowski - using David Stremme's points from last year
13 - Max Papis
14 - Smoke
16 - Possum
17 - Matt Kenseth - with new Crown Royal colors
18 - Rowdy Busch
19 - Elliott Sadler - with new sponsorship from Stanley Tools, Air Force, Hunt Brothers Pizza, etc.
20 - JoLo
21 - Bill Elliott - still part-time with Wood Brothers
24 - Jeff Gordon
26 - Boris Said - with 2009 points transferred from Roush
29 - Happy Harvick
31 - Jeff Burton
33 - Clint Bowyer
34 - John Andretti - FRR team #2 - points from RCR #07 team in 2009
38 - FRR team #3 - driver TBD - points from Yates #98 team in 2009
39 - Flyin' Ryan Newman
42 - Juan Pablo Montoya
43 - A.J. Allmendinger - with 2009 points from Reed Sorensen's #43 team
47 - Marcos Ambrose
48 - The 4x Champ
51 - Michael Waltrip - in part-time schedule and with new number (inverse of #15 from DEI years)
56 - Martin Truex, Jr. - with 2009 points from Michael Waltrip's #55 team
71 - Bobby Labonte - using 2009 points accumulated by David Gilliland and Labonte
77 - Sam Hornish Jr.
78 - Regan Smith - FRR team #1 with his own points from 2009
82 - Scott Speed
83 - Brian "Kris Kringle" Vickers
87 - Joe Nemechek - who has gone from Front Row Joe to Start/Park/Collect The (Neme)chek
88 - Dale Jr.
98 - Paul Menard - with 2009 points from A.J. Allmendinger's #44 team
99 - Carl Edwards
Driver/teams who now appear to be gone or off-the-radar for now:
- #08 team with Terry Labonte
- #96 Hall of Fame Racing - though I think they have points of their own that may end up being sold to someone
- David Stremme (now reduced to wrecking on NASCAR for XBOX 360 from his couch)
- Casey Mears
- Reed Sorenson
- David Gilliland