Contract Year Drivers

by Fred Moore on February 8, 2008 @ 15:32:02 PDT


In every season, <a href="/team/408/nsc">NASCAR</a> Sprint Cup, goes through a situation that is commonly referred to as, “silly season”, which is the ter

In every season, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series goes through a situation that is commonly referred to as, "silly season." This term is used to describe the domino effect that occurs when one driver announces he has signed to drive for a new team the following season. When this happens, it opens up a spot on that team the driver is leaving. That spot is then filled, normally, by a driver currently competing on the circuit for another team, which then opens another spot and the domino effect continues.

There are two main causes for this:

  • The driver's contract has expired and he has looked to drive for a team he feels will be a better fit, or more competitive.
  • The driver has been released from his contract, or fired.

When a driver has announced the change, the team he is moving to normally has a driver in the car, who now becomes aware that he will not be in that car the following year. This creates what NASCAR calls a "lame duck" driver.

Take for instance last season. Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced in mid-season that he would drive for Hendrick Motorsports, in 2008. Rick Hendrick announced that he was releasing Kyle Busch to make room for Earnhardt. Busch then became the "lame duck," and his need to perform and remain attractive to other team owners became great. He continued posting top-10 finishes and was eventually signed by Joe Gibbs Racing, who then released J.J. Yeley, and the domino effect was on!

This season will be no different, as no less than 18 drivers are in a contract year, meaning their existing contracts end this season. Some will surely stay with their existing teams, some will not.

Below is a list of drivers, who are in a contract year, they are listed by their group ratings, A, B, or C. A plus next to the drivers name indicates the driver has final say on contract options to stay with his current team. The ones without a plus, the team will make the decision. One point to consider is that some team sponsors have contracts with the drivers; hence driver and sponsor go hand in hand.

Carl Edwards | No. 99 Office Depot Ford | Roush Fenway Racing | Group A

Edwards has made the chase two of the last three years. His success on the track continues to be solid. However, he will need to get along with teammate Matt Kenseth if he is to continue to have success.

Greg Biffle | No. 16 3M Ford | Roush Fenway Racing | Group B +

Biffle has been on the cusp of making the Chase the last two years. After finishing second in 2005, Biffle could be inline to make another attempt at the championship if he can avoid the DNFs.

Ryan Newman | No. 12 Alltel Dodge | Penske Racing | Group B +

This is an important year for Newman. He has a new crew chief and teammate, which should improve upon the last two years that he has missed the Chase.

Jamie McMurray | No. 26 Crown Royal Ford | Roush Fenway Racing | Group B +

McMurray is in the same boat as Newman. However, his best finish is 11th in Cup points. Expectations are lower for McMurray, who has a total of two wins in his six-year Cup career. 

Juan Pablo Montoya | No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge | Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates | Group B +

The reigning Rookie of the Year is in no jeopardy of going anywhere. Montoya should only get better during his sophomore season.

Dave Blaney | No. 22 Caterpillar Toyota | Bill Davis Racing | Group B +

The strong showings by Toyota cars at testing sessions are all the reason to be optimistic about Blaney. He was the best driver behind the wheel of a Toyota and could be in line for a better than average season.

Bobby Labonte | No. 43 Cheerios/Betty Crocker Dodge | Petty Enterprises | Group B

LaBonte's finish last season was his best since finishing 12th in 2005. Petty Enterprises has been hard at work to better their chances at winning. Labonte should be a good complement to all that work this season.

Elliott Sadler | No. 19 Best Buy Dodge | Gillett Evernham Motorsports | Group B

Sadler struggled in his first full season at Gillett Evernham last season. The team will have to improve on his 13 finishes where he placed 30th or higher if he's to have success.

David Ragan | No. 6 AAA Ford | Roush Fenway Racing | Group B

Ragan's should improve in his sophomore season with one year of working with championship winning crew chief Jimmy Fennig under his belt and all of Rousch Fenway's resources.

Reed Sorenson | No. 41 Target Dodge | Chip Ganassi Racing | Group B

Sorenson showed significant improvement in his second season and could be in line for a breakout season working under a stable base at Chip Ganassi.

Jeremy Mayfield | No. 70 Chevrolet | Haas CNC Racing | Group B

Mayfield is getting one year to prove that the last two were just a fluke. A new team should result in Mayfield finding his championship form.

Dario Franchitti | No. 40 Dodge | Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates | Group C +

If Franchitti fails to win, he could be one and done with Chip Ganassi. Look for Franchitti to push hard early on as he is guaranteed a spot in the first five races.

Paul Menard | No. 15 Menard's Chevrolet | Dale Earnhardt Inc. | Group C +

Menard was directly affected by the merger with Ginn Racing. He's guaranteed a spot in the first five races thanks to additional owner points and will be looking to make an impression in his first full season.

J.J. Yeley | No. 96 DLP HDTV Toyota | Hall of Fame Racing | Group C

Yeley has the opportunity to build this team from the ground up. However, there will be high expectations for the driver that was dumped by Joe Gibbs Racing.

Scott Riggs | No. 66 State Water Heaters Chevrolet | Haas CNC Racing | Group C

Riggs made the move to another team and in an attempt to jumpstart his career. He will have help, after being reunited with former teammate Mayfield and crew chief Robert Barker.

Travis Kvapil | No. 28 Ford | Yates Racing | Group C

Kvapil takes over the ride on a full-time basis after the retirement of Ricky Rudd. He is guaranteed a spot in the first five races and will need all the help he can get. He is winless in 70 career Cup races.

David Gilliland | No. 38 Experian Consumer Direct Ford | Yates Racing | Group C

Gilliand will look to improve on what was an overall disappointing season. The addition of family friend Cully Barraclough as his pit boss should help to eliminate those mechanical issues. 

Patrick Carpentier | No. 10 Valvoline Dodge | Gillett Evernham Motorsports | Group C

The deck is stacked against the rookie, who will have to qualify for the first five races if he has any chance at competing for the Cup. His limited experience weighs heavily on his value.

When the "silly season" for 2008 begins it's anybody's guess, but there are some very competitive drivers and teams involved in a contract year. Rarely does a driver leave a team during the season unless they are just not competitive, then of course something has to change. With all the top 35 teams being guaranteed a starting spot at each event, expect the first driver moves to occur in the lower third in owner points. For fantasy owners who have drivers on their rosters that are on this list, this could be a positive. As noted earlier, a driver looking for a new team becomes much more attractive when they are running up front, and that equals points scored for your fantasy team.

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About Fred Moore

Moore has been a KFFL contributor since January 2008.

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