Cup teams doing a lot of shifting
NASCAR fans might need a program this year to get accustomed to a flurry of offseason driver changes by teams.
It’s common for some Sprint Cup Series drivers to switch rides in the winter, but the amount of shuffling ahead of the season-opening Daytona 500 on Sunday was unusually high. Several crew chiefs also moved.
A look at the how the major Cup teams shape up for 2012.
Kasey Kahne becomes the fourth driver in Hendrick’s stable, as planned, after the departure of veteran Mark Martin. Kahne earlier agreed to drive last year for the now-defunct Red Bull team until Martin’s contract expired. Now Kahne will drive the No. 5 Chevrolet and join Hendrick stalwarts Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Michael Waltrip Racing
Now 53, Martin moved to Waltrip to share driving duties in the No. 55 Toyota after the team said goodbye to David Reutimann at the end of last season. Waltrip will drive the car in some races. The team also hired Clint Bowyer, who left Richard Childress Racing and now drives the No. 15 car. Waltrip’s third driver is Martin Truex Jr.
Roush Fenway Racing
Roush Fenway drops to three Fords from four after David Ragan was cut loose when primary sponsor UPS scaled back its involvement. UPS remains an associate sponsor on the No. 99 car of Roush Fenway’s Carl Edwards, who narrowly lost the Cup title last year to Tony Stewart.
Matt Kenseth, the 2003 Cup champion who finished fourth in the standings in 2011, and Greg Biffle remain with Roush Fenway. Ragan, meanwhile, landed a ride with Front Row Motorsports, for whom he will drive the No. 34 Ford and join David Gilliland.
Joe Gibbs Racing
Gibbs’ driver lineup stays the same – Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano – but Gibbs shook up its crew-chief duties after the entire team had a disappointing 2011 season.
Darian Grubb, who left Stewart-Haas Racing, took over for Mike Ford on Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota. And Jason Ratcliff is the new crew chief for Logano’s No. 20 car in place of Greg Zipadelli, who left to rejoin Stewart at Stewart-Haas Racing.
After cutting ties with a disgruntled Kurt Busch, Penske hired A.J. Allmendinger to drive its No. 22 Dodge and join Brad Keselowski, driver of Penske’s No. 2 car. Busch, who won the 2004 Cup title, in turn signed with the one-car team of Phoenix Racing, for which he will drive the No. 51 Chevrolet.
Richard Childress Racing
With Bowyer’s departure, Childress becomes a three-car team with Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton and Paul Menard, although the team also is set to field Elliott Sadler in the No. 33 Chevrolet, Bowyer’s former car, in the Daytona 500.
Childress also brought on Shane Wilson to replace Gil Martin as crew chief for Harvick, who was frustrated about finishing third in the Cup standings for the second consecutive year. Drew Blickensderfer took over as Burton’s crew chief.
Richard Petty Motorsports
It was a tumultuous off-season for Petty’s Ford team, first with Allmendinger leaving for Penske and then electronics retailer Best Buy, which sponsored Allmendinger’s car, shifting its dollars to Edwards and Kenseth at Roush Fenway.
So Petty signed Aric Almirola from NASCAR’s second-tier Nationwide Series to replace Allmendinger in the No. 43 car that Petty made so famous. His crew chief will be veteran Greg Erwin. Almirola’s teammate is Marcos Ambrose.
Its two main drivers remain Stewart, now a three-time champion, and Ryan Newman. But the Chevrolet team, via an alliance with Tommy Baldwin Racing, also is backing Danica Patrick in 10 Cup races this season, starting with the Daytona 500.
Stewart also hired Steve Addington as crew chief to replace Grubb on his No. 14 Chevrolet. Addington had been Kurt Busch’s crew chief at Penske but left after last season.