With the NBA's free agent frenzy dominating the headlines, it seems a good time to revisit NASCAR's own Silly Season. This year has been quieter than most, with many top drivers choosing to stay with their current teams rather than risk a move during a rocky economic time for the sport.
But as the series hits the halfway point this weekend, plenty of questions still remain concerning 2011 -- most of them on the sponsorship front. Let's take a look, team-by-team, at the big issues left unresolved and where they stand:
Chances are at least two of those sponsors will head Hendrick's way, as where Kahne lands will need funding to remain competitive for the year he's in the driver's seat. There's also the issue of Martin's future; he'll remain in the No. 5 car, but might have possible ownership opportunities come his way with the Kahne deal. That was supposed to be finished this month, but getting the financials on the No. 24 squared away appears to be a higher priority. Once that's resolved, expect the rest to fall into place rather quickly.
With that said, at this point it'd be a shock to see Budweiser go anywhere else. Whether Harvick or 31-year-old Clint Bowyer gets the nod, switching the Cheerios sponsorship to the No. 29, this team is in position to remain intact with funding to stay competitive for 2011.
And then there's the issue of Ragan. Roush Fenway has repeatedly claimed he's back in the No. 6 car for 2011, finishing out his contract despite an ugly track record: three top-10 finishes in the last year-and-a-half. Sources claim sponsor UPS is unhappy, but there's conflicting reports as to how much, really, they can do about it. Multiple sources have told me their contract is near-impossible to wriggle out of, but there's some ugly limitations for Roush, too. One source told me he's prevented from making a driver change, forcing him to keep Ragan in the seat amidst fears the delivery company will trigger an option-out clause without a big-name free agent to replace him.
Kahne has already left for greener pastures (Hendrick), and the team's already tried to divorce itself from an underachieving Sadler -- wriggling out of his contract in 2009 before the threat of a lawsuit brought them back together. That pending divorce is imminent, leaving 'Dinger the lone key to their future. The best-case scenario here is he re-signs for 2011, a recent surge up the standings enough to keep Best Buy around to sponsor the No. 43. If Menard's convinced the team can still make it, you'll see a two-car Cup operation here for 2011. The problem is, debt rumors run wild behind the scenes, worries mounting too much red ink could drown them in an offseason filled with mass departures.
The bottom line they're all suffering from is the cost of doing business -- it's enough to keep them at the mercy of the big teams, if they're not getting lapped by them. Until that bottom line gets lowered by the series' elite, we're going to see the little guys have no choice but to park their cars early or close up shop altogether -- leaving less than 35 fully-funded teams at this point ready to tackle a 43-car grid in 2011.