So with the off week giving us a chance to stop and think, let's look at the big driver moves from 2008, and evaluate how each one of has worked out. Considering history tends to repeat itself, this is a retrospective drivers like Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and even superstar Danica Patrick should take a look at before making their own decisions on the future:
Tony Stewart: from Joe Gibbs Racing to buying into Haas CNC Racing. After Stewart spent 10 years with JGR, more than a few jaws dropped when he left for a team that went winless in six previous years of existence. With former drivers Jack Sprague, Ward Burton, John Andretti, Scott Riggs and others, Haas CNC had been stuck toward the back of the Cup ranks for years. But looking back, it's clear Stewart's time with the now Toyota-powered team at JGR had run its course; and with Stewart's buy-in at Haas came instant funding from Chevy combined with the experience and the know-how of a two-time champ. What's amazing thus far is Stewart's patience with the Hendrick-affiliated program, insistent on putting the right people in the right places to allow him to do what a driver/owner needs to do best: drive the race car. And with two wins already under his belt and a 175-point lead atop the Sprint Cup standings, Stewart, rest assured, is doing a mighty good job of that.
Mark Martin to Hendrick Motorsports. Who would have bet that 19 races into the season, Martin would be leading the Sprint Cup Series in wins? At 49, he looked to be winding down his career at a team that was struggling to keep him running at midpack. One year later, he's armed with an AARP card and is slicing apart the competition in a car that didn't even challenge for the Chase last year at Hendrick Motorsports.
Martin's choice to jump back to full-time after two seasons of part-time work can be traced to Rick Hendrick, who's given Martin every opportunity to succeed. That has built confidence, which has translated to immediate on-track success. Sure Martin's still plagued by the mountains of bad luck that left him as the Sprint Cup Series' version of Charlie Brown (mechanical failures have left him 11th in the Sprint Cup standings). But when possible, he's now armed with the courage to fight back and has learned to cope with the short green flag runs that now accompany the end of most of these races. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Hendrick sure knows how to pick 'em.
Ryan Newman from Penske to a second team at Stewart-Haas. After Newman won the Daytona 500 in February, most thought Penske Racing's No. 12 would jump back into contention after years of puzzling inconsistency. But by July, a return trip to Daytona brought a 36th-place finish, a drop to 16th in the points, and no chance of making the Chase for the third straight year after several months of struggle. It was then Newman chose to jump ship from the only team he'd ever known, eventually aligning with fellow Indiana native Stewart over at his new two-car operation.
The move came with tremendous risk, considering the millions in resources that Penske has at its disposal each week. But it turns out that SHR had a few tricks of its own, increasing an alliance with Hendrick Motorsports in a year in which its chassis reign supreme.
No, Newman doesn't have a win yet, but at 7th in the points race, the way his No. 39 team is knocking on the door is noteworthy. And mark my word, the team will be standing in Victory Lane well before the year is out. As Sheryl Crow might say, sometimes a change will do you good ...
Joey Logano replacing Stewart at Gibbs. After Stewart's shocking departure from JGR, Gibbs' decision to bring up Logano came with a bit of a risk. Just 18, the driver tabbed as Cup's next big superstar had spent less than a season at the sport's "AAA" level, the Nationwide Series, before being asked to move up. It looked like that could be a tragic mistake early on, as Logano finished last at the Daytona 500 and followed it up with no finish better than 13th through April.
Yet just when vultures started circling the gangly teen in the garage -- there were even some who thought Logano would be fired -- things started turning around. A 9th at Talladega was followed by two more top-10 finishes in May. From that point on, it's been nowhere but up for a rookie who celebrated a surprising hometown victory at New Hampshire at the end of June. Now 20th in Cup Series points, Logano won't make the Chase this year, but he has put himself in position to win Rookie of the Year in a landslide, easily cementing his place in the sport for decades to come.
A.J. Allmendinger to Richard Petty Motorsports. After a shocking release from Team Red Bull following a refusal to renew his contract, the open-wheel convert was a free agent before getting picked up by now-Richard Petty Motorsports last October. Signing the 'Dinger looked like a steal when he followed his strong '08 finish with a third-place finish in this year's Daytona 500. But in the past few months, the chemistry's started to falter over at the No. 44 (no top-5 finishes since Daytona), with the car still facing the ugly prospect of no sponsorship past the night race at Richmond this September. With a contract that carries him through 2010, though, the 'Dinger has a good relationship with owner Richard Petty and will likely be given a chance to keep going ... at someone else's expense.
Reed Sorenson to Richard Petty Motorsports. Choosing to leave Chip Ganassi Racing for a full-time ride over at then-Gillett Evernham, Sorenson was given the seat in the legendary No. 43 car when the merger with Richard Petty's team happened in January. A chronic underachiever, Sorenson was supposed to have found his ticket to long-term success in the series. Instead, you wonder if things would have been better at CGR. Twenty-eighth in points and with just one top-10 finish, he may find himself on the sidelines by the end of the season at only age 23.
Childress expanding to a fourth team. When Childress snagged big-time sponsor General Mills last April, a jump up to a four-car team was right around the bend. Considering all three of his cars made the Chase in 2008, you'd think there'd be no better time to expand. But in failing to anticipate the testing ban this December, Childress found himself behind the curve at the most critical time for the organization's future success.
He also made a second mistake, signing journeyman Casey Mears to round out the driver lineup instead of installing a proven Chase veteran or even former champ Bobby Labonte. The team is winless on the year, Mears has yet to score a top-5 finish and, for the first time since '05, it looks like none of Childress's cars will make the Chase. As a result, two of the team's four primary sponsors (Shell and Jack Daniel's) may be looking to bail along with Kevin Harvick, leaving them in jeopardy of actually losing two cars just one year after expanding by one. Whoops.
Scott Speed to Team Red Bull. Setting unbiased journalism aside for a second, it's hard not to root for this rookie. With an aggressive on-track style, a weird flair for fashion (painted toenails!) and a confidence that's left him always saying exactly what he thinks, Speed's a fresh face for a series in need of some pizzazz. But after rifling through the competition at the Truck and ARCA Series levels, Speed's struggled to stay competitive after being brought up by Team Red Bull a year too early.
Falling out of the top 35 in owner points after a rough start, he's failed to qualify three times while collecting more DNFs (six) than top-25 finishes (three). While, the man he replaced -- A.J. Allmendinger -- isn't lighting things on fire over at RPM, he's done enough to make this team wonder what might have been if it simply kept him around. The irony in all this madness is that Speed and the 'Dinger were former rivals during their days together in open-wheel; how wonderful would it have been to see their competitive fire light up on the same team? What a tough reminder for all how patience is a virtue.
Penske picking up David Stremme. With Ryan Newman leaving Penske a little late in the game last year, the options for a replacement in the No. 12 were few and far between. In the end, the team settled on Stremme, a Rusty Wallace recommendation who impressed in a limited schedule of starts behind the wheel of RWI's No. 64 in the Nationwide Series. But just like a lifelong AAA player who never seems to get it together in the majors, Stremme just doesn't seem to have what it takes to run in Cup.
Nineteen races without a top-10 finish will leave him looking for work at the end of the year, with primary sponsor Verizon looking for a younger, hipper driver. Considering whoever got this ride was simply keeping the seat warm for Penske's up-and-coming star Justin Allgaier, you wonder why this team didn't give Mike Wallace a one-year reprieve instead. A 40-something veteran, he's still highly competitive and drove the No. 12 to a handful of top-5 finishes earlier this decade following Jeremy Mayfield's release from the ride.
Paul Menard to Yates Racing. Money doesn't always buy success. That's the case with Menard this season, who's struggled without a top-10 finish despite plenty of support from his father's collection of home improvement stores. Considering where the driver was headed at DEI (a second-place finish in the Fall race at Talladega in 2008), he might have been better off staying there and working with the newly-infused support that came straight from Chip Ganassi's shop. Considering how Juan Pablo Montoya is challenging for the Chase, who knows if Menard would have been able to grab on and ride those coattails? That risk sounds heck of a lot better at the moment than being part of a sixth or seventh option in a Ford camp that's struggling to keep up.