Based upon how it's turned out, this has been a pretty mild and tame Sprint Cup season in terms of driver movement and drivers entering the series -- the so-called silly season.
Nobody has bolted in from Formula 1, like Juan Pablo Montoya did three years ago. It has lacked the drama of Dale Earnhardt Jr. moving from DEI to Hendrick and of Kyle Busch moving from Hendrick to Gibbs. Last year, the major story was Tony Stewart embarking from Gibbs to form his own team in association with Gene Haas and hiring Ryan Newman. That's an A list of drivers to write and talk about.
We've had Danica-watch to get our motors running this year. There were hundreds, maybe thousands, of stories written on the possibility of her leaving for Cup, or maybe moving to Chip Ganassi's IndyCar team and driving part time in the Nationwide or Truck Series in preparation for a full fledged NASCAR career down the road. Danica Patrick deserved the attention -- she's a prize for any racing team or series -- but she decided to stay with Andretti Green Racing in IndyCar. It was an anticlimatic conclusion to a potential blockbuster story. It doesn't even seem she'll go with plan B, which was to run some Nationwide or Truck races after the IndyCar season ended, in preparation for 2010.
What we have been left with is Martin Truex Jr. moving to Michael Waltrip. He's a former Chase driver and a winner of one Cup race, Dover in 2007, and a two-time Nationwide Series champion. At 29, Truex has a promising future and is a major upgrade over Waltrip, who is retiring.
Brad Keselowski, a Cup winner at Talladega and, with four wins this season, the top prospect coming out of the Nationwide Series, will replace David Stremme at Penske, starting this weekend at Texas. Jamie McMurray, squeezed out at Roush Fenway, is thought to be moving to Earnhardt Ganassi to replace Truex; Stremme is probably going to the small Furniture Row team. TRG Motorsports, a start-up this year, is hoping to retain Bobby Labonte, who has driven part time for Kevin Buckler's team this season. Casey Mears is a free agent and hoping that Richard Childress can strike a deal that will allow him to stay at RCR. Reed Sorenson seems headed for a full-time Nationwide season, probably with Braun.
This silly season has been an anomaly. Don't worry, it's not going to continue into 2010. How do I know? Because it's already started.
Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick will be free agents next season. They're frequent Chasers and established race winners. The only unknown is the amount sponsors can afford in this economy. Their timing isn't good -- a couple of years ago, the sky would have been the limit -- but somehow, several teams should be able to put together lucrative deals for them.
Gibbs already has a competitor for Busch in US F1, the Charlotte, N.C.-based team that will begin competing in Formula 1 next season. Peter Windsor, the team's sporting director and co-founder, went public a couple of weeks ago in a USA Today article, admitting that he'd like to sign Busch for 2011.
Windsor is serious. It's not a publicity ploy. He's had several meetings with Busch's representatives at Cary Agajanian's Motorsports Management International and they're willing to listen. Are they sold on the idea? Sources say no, but they want him to do some testing next summer to see if he likes the cars. The door is open for Busch to move into F1.
US F1 will undoubtedly test Busch and make its own evaluation. Remember when Jeff Gordon drove a F1 car, swapping his Cup car with Montoya, on the road course at Indianapolis? It sparked speculation that Gordon might be headed for F1, and that was put together for fun and to sell tickets. Imagine the interest when Busch drives a F1 car with a chance to drive it for real.
The Gibbs reaction to Windsor's comments was to put a lid on it. Busch didn't speak out on the subject at the race that week at Martinsville. A Gibbs' spokesman announced that it wouldn't address the issue beyond what Busch had said in February, when his name surfaced during US F1's launch announcement.
"It's definitely something I wouldn't shoot down," Busch said then. "If I could win a championship in the next two or three years, I wouldn't mind doing [F1] for a few years. I'd still be young enough to win a [NASCAR] championship by 25, run Formula One for a few years and be back here by 28."
Meanwhile, Harvick, according to multiple sources, had hoped to leave RCR this year, but is being held to the final year of his contract. He has made only one public comment about it, hinting he would be leaving in a television interview several weeks ago.
Before the race at Lowe's Motor Speedway a few weeks ago, teammate Jeff Burton acknowledged Harvick's desire to change teams in 2011.
"It is a stressful situation for he and Richard [Childress] to deal with and for he and his team to deal with," Burton said. "There's no question about it. At the same time, I think the hard part is over. I think going through what was gone through last summer and all that makes now easier. Sometimes, you are better off going to the dentist and getting it over with.
"I think everybody is behaving in a very professional manner and everybody is understanding that Kevin has a year left on his contract and he's going to do everything in his power to do the best job for RCR. RCR is going to do everything in their power to do the best job for him. Things change. Kevin may look around in eight months, 10 months from now and say you know what, things have really changed here and this is the place that we're going.
"By his [television] interview, he [Harvick] indicated that wasn't going to happen, but you never know. The reality of it is, if you lose a driver the caliber of Kevin Harvick, we have to have a seat available that a Kevin Harvick-caliber driver wants."
The foundation for an interesting off-track summer is there. Let's see: Harvick to Stewart-Haas and Busch with offers from US F1 and RCR. Maybe none of it will happen in the end, but it sure looks interesting.