Drivers’ silly season gets early start

NASCAR drivers and owners start looking to 2014.

Some drivers and teams will have vacancies in the Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck series next year.

It was curious when Kurt Busch slipped last Thursday when asked about who he would prefer to have dinner with when given a list of drivers.

His focus turned to Stewart-Haas Racing’s Ryan Newman. Busch and Newman are former Penske Racing teammates. Busch and Newman experienced a not-so-friendly feud on and off the track as the two free agents searched for rides last year.

“Maybe Newman and I should sit down, because we’re both out on the track charging hard and trying to get into the Chase for the Championship, and we’re looking for rides,” said Busch, who immediately regretted the last few words.

Busch, 34, signed a one-year deal with Furniture Row Racing last year.

Although his team owner, Barney Visser, attempted to extend the contract with Busch after he posted three consecutive top-10 finishes to close out last year, the driver believed it was best to hold out.

And as Busch learned last weekend – before he made the error of speeding down pit road and dropped in the running order to 38th but battled back to a fourth-place finish – his team can produce cars capable of winning. That’s a prospect not lost on his rival Newman, who has inquired about the possibility of a second team at FRR for 2014.

Yes, Busch is accustomed to competing with high-profile teams, but those coveted seats are few and far between in the Sprint Cup series now days.

Busch has been talking with Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing and Richard Childress Racing, but the driver landscape remains in flux.

On Sunday, Childress admitted that Newman, who will likely have the support of his current primary sponsor Quicken Loans, is topping his list of candidates for the No.29 ride being vacated by Kevin Harvick.

Harvick is moving over to drive for Stewart-Haas next year.

Michael Waltrip has acknowledged that Brian Vickers “is our guy.”

“The team is trying to get all the pieces together so he can drive the No. 55 and race for the championship next year,” Waltrip said.

Mark Martin will not return to the team in a full-time capacity in 2014. Martin may drive a selected schedule for MWR or some other team, if a viable offer presents itself.

Furniture Row Racing has no issues with Busch testing the market, as long as it doesn’t disrupt the team’s performance this year.

Silly Season is kicking off earlier than expected. New sponsor and driver combinations will be divulged in the coming weeks.

Hold on tight, it could be a wild ride.

Contact Eddie Thomas at ethomas@newsandsentinel.com