Clint Bowyer is seriously considering offers from one or more Sprint Cup teams to leave Richard Childress Racing -- his home since making his series debut in 2005 -- following the 2011 season.
Bowyer talked openly of his desire to remain at RCR earlier this season, but negotiations have dragged and, according to multiple sources, deteriorated.
"They are at loggerheads right now," a source said.
Discussions between Bowyer and team owner Richard Childress have been complicated by the lack of a primary sponsor for the No. 33 Chevrolet. For the past three seasons General Mills brands Cheerios and Hamburger Helper have been that sponsor. Childress had expressed confidence that General Mills would return a month ago, but it's now believed the company is looking at other options.
Bowyer, 32, has made the Chase in three of his five full Cup seasons, finishing third in 2007 and fifth in 2008. He has only four wins in 203 starts, but is valued for his ability to consistently run in the top 10 (87 in his career) and make the Chase. Bowyer has slid out of the Chase in the past six races, falling from eighth in the points to 11th and, without a win, he's behind Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin for one of the two wild-card spots. But he's still in a good position to make the Chase this year, either by breaking into the top 10 in points or by winning a race and finishing in front of Hamlin. Bowyer trails Tony Stewart, in 10th place and also without a win, by 25 points and is eight points ahead of Hamlin, who has a win, with four regular season races remaining.
With Carl Edwards off the market, Bowyer is the top free agent available. In addition to Childress, Richard Petty Motorsports, Roush Fenway Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing are said to be interested in hiring Bowyer.
Petty has been pursuing Bowyer for several months in an attempt to expand to a three-car operation. Chief operating officer Robbie Loomis has been diligently working to put together a package for Bowyer that includes a Ford-backed deal similar to the Wood Brothers. Petty buys chassis from Roush Fenway and leases engines from Roush-Yates and the equipment may be attractive to Bowyer.
Waltrip also would like to expand to three cars and may have some support from Toyota to acquire Bowyer. The team has never made the Chase -- and won't this year -- since it began racing full time in Cup in 2007. With Red Bull Racing likely to shut down at the end of the season, Toyota is losing two entries and needs to replace at least one with a front-line driver.
David Ragan seemed safe at Roush Fenway after his win at Daytona in July. It put him in the Chase, but he's since fallen out. Ragan, 23rd in points, needs a second victory to make the Chase. He's under contract to Roush Fenway for next season, but the team could move him to Petty and sign Bowyer.
Gibbs president J.D. Gibbs has said that a fourth car for next season was a "long shot." Its earlier attempt to sign Edwards was financially backed by Toyota. The manufacturer would have to spend less money to land Bowyer, but it certainly could outbid the other offers.
Childress should not be counted out. He has shown the ability to be resourceful in retaining drivers and finding sponsors. Two years ago, in the middle of an awful season that saw the four RCR drivers miss the Chase, a disgruntled Kevin Harvick asked Childress to release him from the final year of his contract. Childress refused. The organization made huge improvements in its chassis and engines in 2010 and Harvick won three races and finished third in the championship. The team lost Shell/Pennzoil early in the year, but signed Budweiser and kept Harvick. Childress and Harvick moved forward with their relationship undamaged.
Negotiations between Bowyer and Childress are at a critical stage and the atmosphere isn't healthy. The overall situation regarding Bowyer's next contract is said to be "sensitive." Bowyer probably would like to make a decision as soon as possible to remove the uncertainty and distraction that comes with it. He'd much rather focus on making the Chase than worry about whom he'll be driving for next year.