Commentary

Silly Season off to slow start

Updated: June 27, 2013, 4:21 PM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Matt Kenseth had committed to Joe Gibbs Racing to put Joey Logano on the open market and AJ Allmendinger was about to fail a drug test that would spark a feeding frenzy for a top ride at Penske Racing when the Sprint Cup Series reached Kentucky a year ago.

[+] EnlargeBusch
Rob Carr/Getty ImagesKurt Busch could stay at Furniture Row Racing beyond this season, but you can bet he'll listen to pitches from other organizations.

Silly Season was in full gear.

So far this season -- silence.

OK, so Paul Menard has re-signed with Richard Childress Racing, but among the top-tier free agents, there has been no movement outside of Kevin Harvick going to Stewart-Haas Racing, which doesn't count since that came out late last season.

Why so quiet? It hasn't been entirely. Top drivers such as Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman are talking to people behind the scenes. When one of those dominoes falls, others should quickly fall into place.

There are also sponsor issues to work through.

And let's be honest, with Harvick off the market, there isn't really a driver move that is going to rock the NASCAR world like Kenseth's a year ago, such as Dale Earnhardt Jr. going to Hendrick Motorsports in 2008 or Carl Edwards re-signing with Roush Fenway Racing in 2011 after reports he was going to Joe Gibbs Racing.

But it is an intriguing market with a lot of subtleties that could change the landscape for 2014.

Let's break it down:

Kurt Busch

The 2004 champion is reminding us he is one of the top talents in the garage at Furniture Row Racing.

What Busch has to decide is whether Furniture Row Racing has the resources to make him a championship contender. If not, he has to find out if there's a sponsor at a stronger organization willing to accept past baggage for a chance to contend.

Busch is looking. He said so last Thursday during a media luncheon at San Francisco's Ghirardelli Square when asked what driver among a short list he would prefer to dine with.

"Maybe [Ryan] Newman and I need to have a sit-down, because we're both out there charging hard and trying to get into the Chase, and we're looking for rides," Busch said.

Busch's best option might be to stay where he is. He has an owner, Barney Visser, whom he likes and who likes him. He has a built-in sponsor in Furniture Row that doesn't require him to spend his offseason pushing the product. He has an organization that has access to most of the resources of Richard Childress Racing. He has been competitive with four top-5s and six top-10s.

The negatives: He's 17th in points and is winless.

So what are Busch's options outside Furniture Row? RCR would be a good fit if a sponsor can be found. He could automatically return that organization to the level it enjoyed with Dale Earnhardt.

There is an opening at RCR with Harvick leaving, and there could be two if Richard Childress decided to buy out the contract of Jeff Burton in the Caterpillar-sponsored No. 31. But would Caterpillar be willing to take Busch? And is there a sponsor for him with the No. 29?

There is also Childress' grandson, Austin Dillon, to consider. Dillon is set to move up to Cup in either the No. 33 or the 3 -- my money is on the 3. If Burton stays, with Menard re-signed, RCR would have to expand to four teams to get Busch.

Earnhardt Ganassi Racing also could be a good fit for Busch, but current sponsor McDonald's on the No. 1 -- driven by Jamie McMurray -- might not match with Busch's image, and it's hard to see the organization breaking up Target and Juan Pablo Montoya.

Michael Waltrip Racing could join the mix if Aaron's, the sponsor of the No. 55, doesn't approve of Brian Vickers.

Whatever Busch does likely will determine how the rest of Silly Season unfolds.

Ryan Newman

Childress told FoxSports.com on Sunday at Sonoma that Newman topped the list of candidates to replace Harvick in the No. 29. He said Quicken Loans, one of Newman's sponsors at Stewart-Haas Racing, would likely stay with the driver.

On Wednesday morning, Childress didn't mention any names for the 29 during an interview on SiriusXM NASCAR radio.

"We have talked to a lot of people about different scenarios for next year," he said. "Right now, we don't have anything solid in regards to the 29 team, and it's mainly up to what everyone else is fighting for -- sponsorship."

Quicken Loans doubled its commitment to Newman from nine to 18 races this season. If it is committed to Newman for next season, Newman could have several options.

One would be to stay at SHR, although that would require the organization to expand to four teams with Tony Stewart, Danica Patrick and Harvick already committed for next season. Stewart has been reluctant to do that in the past.

The other would be RCR, which is looking for additional sponsorship because Budwesier is expected to follow Harvick to SHR.

A return to Penske Racing has been rumored, although owner Roger Penske appears focused on getting Sam Hornish Jr. another shot in Cup if he expands to three teams.

After that, the options could range from Furniture Row -- if Busch leaves -- to Phoenix Racing, a team that needs sponsorship.

Jamie McMurray

He hasn't won a race since 2010 when he won the Daytona 500, Brickyard 400 and the October race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He hasn't finished better than 14th in points since 2006, and he's currently 21st.

With Kyle Larson turning heads in the Nationwide Series for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing -- he has four top-5s and nine top-10s in 14 races -- and with a driver like Busch available, owner Chip Ganassi might be forced into making a change.

Juan Pablo Montoya

Forget he's 23rd in points. Montoya has shown flashes of a breakthrough the past few months. He was fourth at Richmond, second at Dover and headed for a second at Sonoma this past weekend until he ran out of gas on the last lap.

That and the fact Chip Ganassi loves NASCAR's only Colombian-born driver likely means there won't be a change with the No. 42 car.

Brian Vickers

Michael Waltrip insisted once again on Sunday that Vickers is his choice to drive the No. 55 full time in 2014.

"He's our guy, and we're trying to get all the pieces of the puzzle put together so that he can drive the 55 and race for a championship next year," the owner of MWR said.

"We're very confident that our partners at Aaron's that have been with me since 2000 and this organization since its inception will be back with us and help us to fund that 55 car so that we can race for a championship with three cars next year."

Until Aaron's commits, though, it's not a done deal, and Vickers has to keep his options open.

AJ Allmendinger

This really is a feel-good story.

Since earning reinstatement into NASCAR, Allmendinger has gotten chances to drive for Penske Racing in IndyCar and the Nationwide Series, Phoenix Racing and JTG Daugherty Racing in Cup.

His stock is on the rise, particularly after Saturday's Nationwide win at Road America in Wisconsin.

"What happened in the past, I'm a whole lot better for it," Allmendinger said. "It's a chapter in my life that is over, and I'm better for it in all areas of life. That chapter is closed."

JTG Daugherty would be a good option for the next chapter if the organization opts to break full ties with Bobby Labonte. The team needs to give a young driver a shot, and co-owner Tad Geschickter likes Allmendinger, who will drive the No. 47 on Saturday night at Kentucky.

"He deserves a second chance," Geschickter said. "He's done the right things. He's gone about it the right way."

If JTG isn't an option, Allmendinger could be looking at anything from Furniture Row to a Nationwide ride at Penske to an IndyCar ride.

The good news is he has options, which didn't seem likely after violating NASCAR's substance abuse policy.

Mark Martin

The 54-year-old driver will step aside from his part-time role in the No. 55 at MWR next season, but is he ready to step aside from racing altogether?

It doesn't appear so, and he's still performing at a level better than more than half the field.

So what are his options? MWR could add a fourth team on a part-time basis if Waltrip still wants to drive in plate races. There has been speculation he could go to Kyle Busch Motorsports to drive in the Nationwide or Truck Series.

Or Martin could ride off into the sunset and nobody would blame him.

Bobby Labonte

The 49-year-old driver says there is a handshake agreement with JTG Daugherty to drive as long as he wants.

But with JTG replacing him for a handful of races this season, the want might not be as strong as it has been in the past for the 2000 Cup champion.

The good news for Labonte is there are mid- to lower-tier teams that could use his past champion's provisional to guarantee a spot in races. The bad news is those teams have little chance of winning, and Labonte still wants a chance to win.

Stay tuned. Silly Season will be cranking up soon.

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter

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