It’s only May, roughly three months into the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, and the jockeying for 2015 free agents might begin soon. Hendrick Motorsports announced that Nationwide Insurance would sponsor Dale Earnhardt, Jr. starting in 2015 on Friday and it’s a move that impacts two teams at minimum.
Nationwide Insurance will move from Roush Fenway Racing, where it has sponsored Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. the past two years. Stenhouse already has glaring holes in his sponsorship for 2014, this will just add to that issue for 2015 and beyond. Looking at RFR as a whole, both Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle are unsigned beyond the 2014 season.
At Hendrick Motorsports, bringing in Nationwide brings up questions about what happens to Kasey Kahne. Currently he has Farmers Insurance as his sponsor, their contract expires at the close of 2014, and not many could picture two rival insurance companies sponsoring cars coming out of the same shop.
Having rivals sponsors has happened in the past, a good example is found at Richard Childress Racing where they are sponsored, as a team, by Lucas Oil. At the same time driver Paul Menard has Quaker State on his car and is featured from time to time because of the connections between his sponsor, Menards, and Quaker State. This was also the case when Kevin Harvick drove a Shell/Pennzoil sponsored car with Menard as a teammate.
If Farmers does not return and a replacement is not found, does Hendrick look elsewhere? It’s no secret that Kahne has not lived up to expectations so far this season and honestly, has come up short on what many thought to be a dream pairing with him and Hendrick Motorsports. His contract runs through 2015, but could he be bought out a year early to make room for another driver with sponsorship?
Could that other driver be Hendrick developmental driver Chase Elliott? He has backing from NAPA and has been shocking the Nationwide Series with two wins and a second place finish in the last three races. The plan seems to have Elliott replace Jeff Gordon when he retires, but there is no timeline to when that could be. I think it would be a mistake to bring Elliott up too fast, as in next season or even the year after, but if the sponsor requests it, it could happen. That’s what got Joey Logano into the Sprint Cup Series before he was ready. The Home Depot wanted him in the car and Joe Gibbs Racing obliged.
An off the wall scenario could find Carl Edwards in play for the Hendrick ride if they decide to go in another direction. Edwards made it known he wants to be top dog at Roush Fenway Racing, which played into Matt Kenseth’s departure, but the team hasn’t performed how many expected. They have improved this season, but sponsorship questions continue to linger year after year and Edwards might want to jump ship.
It might be too early to get a good feel on how this might all shake out, but it will keep things entertaining for the rest of the season. I can’t see Hendrick bailing on Kahne just yet, but if he continues to be so far behind his teammates it will lead to some serious discussions. For Edwards, I can’t believe Ford or Roush would let him walk to another team, especially a Chevrolet back team, so look for them to throw a lot of money at him to keep him locked up. All this excitement and we still have Talladega to look forward to this Sunday.