Tag: Jeff Burton

Who Will NOT Be Filling In For Tony Stewart

News came out earlier this week Tony Stewart was involved in a “non-racing” accident (because that makes it better for us to take? Weird emphasis on “non-racing” on nearly every press release) and will miss significant time after sustaining a burst fracture of his L1 vertebra. This will take a substantial amount of time to heal, thus opening the door for a replacement driver in the #14 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR).

And with any opening in NASCAR, fans go crazy with off the wall suggestions for who should take over. With those in mind, here is a list of drivers who will NOT be driving for Tony Stewart in 2016.

Jeff Gordon: Recently retired and signed up to call races on FOX, Gordon WILL NOT drive for Stewart. Not it’s not really the FOX deal, as they would love for someone to call a race in a race, it’s the fact Gordon owns half of the #48 and part of the #24 cars for Hendrick Motorsports. NASCAR rules prohibit someone from owning part of a team that has four cars to then drive for another organization, never mind the Hendrick to Stewart-Haas connection. This is the same reason why JR Motorsports will never go to Cup nor Kyle Busch Motorsports. That is unless Dale Earnhardt Jr or Kyle Busch drive for their own teams. That aside, there is no way Gordon is selling his stake in Hendrick Motorsports to drive half a year or even just the Daytona 500.

Mark Martin: Martin already has filled in for Stewart before, but he WILL NOT drive for Stewart in 2016. He has retired and has no desire to drive anymore, saying as much on Twitter earlier this week. Poor Martin, he has bombarded with so many fan inquiries I would blame him from never logging on Twitter ever again.

Jeff Burton: Burton, like Martin has filled in for Stewart before. And like Gordon, has a TV deal that he’s currently working on. Like Martin again, he took to Twitter to tell fans he WILL NOT drive for Stewart.

John Hunter Nemechek: Not sure where this originated from, but John Hunter Nemechek WILL NOT drive for Stewart. Nemechek just turned 18 last season, which means he can finally run on large tracks, and I’m pretty sure there’s a large one to start the season. I can’t imagine SHR would want to rotate through a handful of drivers while Stewart recovers. And given Nemechek’s lack of experience, even in the Truck Series, and that is not a winning recipe.

Jeremy Mayfield: Even weirder than the Nemechek push has been the one for Jeremy Mayfield. Sorry folks, but Mayfield WILL NOT drive for Stewart. The driver who is better known for meth and burglary has been a heartwarming story of redemption trying to fight his way back into racing. That said, never mind “meth” and “burglary” being synonymous with his name (right or wrong), he hasn’t driven in the Cup Series since they had the Car of Tomorrow. Too much of a learning curve for him to try and make up for, plus that and still being suspended by NASCAR will hold him back.

Brian Vickers: Vickers is an interesting case because he when given good equipment, he can excel. That being said, Vickers WILL NOT drive for Stewart. One year removed having to stop racing while on blood thinners, not much has been heard from Vickers outside some studio time at NBC. Given his name came up exactly zero times this offseason as a driver who could go into an empty ride, I believe his racing career has come and gone. Add to that the unknown of if he has to step away again due to the blood clots and we’re back to SHR not wanting to flip-flop drivers every week.

Alex Bowman: Alex Bowman finds himself in an odd place in NASCAR, Cup Series owner Tommy Baldwin showed now faith in him and dumped him a week ago for Regan Smith. On the other side, Dale Earnhardt Jr sees potential with Bowman and inked him to five Xfinity Series races this upcoming season. One could argue that Stewart could see something in Bowman that Junior sees, but reality says Bowman WILL NOT drive for Stewart.

Clint Bowyer: While Bowyer will drive for Stewart, as his successor, in 2017, this year he WILL NOT drive for Stewart. Too much was done to get him over to HScott Motorsports for one year to then nix that deal to run him half of this year. If they knew Stewart was out for the full year, maybe, but with sponsors involved this one is a no go.

David Ragan: Ragan WILL NOT drive for Stewart. This isn’t so much because Ragan signed with BK Racing, it’s more because no one seems to want Ragan. He was spurned by Team Penske, Richard Petty Motorsports (twice!), Front Row Motorsports didn’t want him back after he left last year, and no other team had a fleeting interest in Ragan. That said, he does have one big fan who assumes every open seat is Ragan’s…good thing this guy isn’t in the media.

Parker Kligerman: Kligerman WILL NOT drive for Stewart. No talk of him doing it, just trying to justify using his image for the article. While he did work as a backup plan if Kurt Busch was late coming back to the Daytona 500, Kligerman has hitched his wagon on the NBC train while dabbling in the Truck Series. With no Cup experience, he would be very far down the list. He ran for Swan Racing, which everyone has since forgot about.

Ryan Ellis: Bwahahahaha.

Ty Dillon: Dillon’s name has gotten a lot of steam as a replacement, but he WILL NOT drive for Stewart…in the Daytona 500. He already has a deal with Leavine Circle Family Sport Racing (whoops, Leavine Family Circle Sport Racing…or is it Circle Sport Leavine Family Racing?) to run the 500 with Cheerios as a sponsor. You could argue they could move primary driver Michael McDowell to that ride and let Dillon go, but I don’t see that happening. After Daytona, however, I could see him being a good substitute for Stewart. And it’ll be fun to see him paired with Kevin Harvick as a teammate.

The Paradigm Shift In NASCAR

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Much was made last November about a changing of the guard in NASCAR when we ran the season finale at the Homestead-Miami Speedway. Mark Martin and Ken Schrader made it be known it would be their final Sprint Cup Series race. For Jeff Burton and Bobby Labonte it represented their final full-time race in the series, although Labonte did not make the trip south as his finale was a week prior at Phoenix.

Beyond those four drivers there are a few more veterans who might be shut out of the Sprint Cup Series in 2014, making a landscape of drivers whom diehard fans know, but the casual fan might not. David Reutimann, an eight year veteran has been let go from BK Racing and it’s not looking good for him securing a new ride. Dave Blaney, with 16 years, has said he will focus more on sprint cars than the Sprint Cup Series in 2014. And signs are not good that Travis Kvapil, a nine year veteran, will have a ride in 2014 either.

There always comes a time in NASCAR when it seems the whole landscape shifts to a new crop of stars. In the late-80s drivers like Bobby Allison, David Pearson, Richard Petty, and Cale Yarborough got out of the way for the new crop. That crop included Bill Elliott, Terry Labonte, Dale Earnhardt, Rusty Wallace, and Mark Martin among others.

Those drivers have slowly retired along the way, handing off the baton to the likes of Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, and others. With rides being at a premium in the Sprint Cup Series, this will be the first time in a very long time we will have a deep rookie class coming into the season. That comes at the cost of veterans who have been hanging on, for good or bad.

This rookie class has, officially, Austin Dillon, Kyle Larson, Parker Kligerman, Cole Whitt, and Michael Annett. Unofficially Justin Allgaier should be joining them in the Phoenix Racing entry and most recently it looks like Alex Bowman should as well with BK Racing.

While it is unfamiliar times for some NASCAR fans, this time should be embraced with excitement. While we wish all the veterans can hang on, I for one believe it’s time for change and to get new faces into the sport.

More Than A Season Finale

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When the checkered flag flies in Sunday’s Ford 400 from the Homestead-Miami Speedway, more than just the 2013 season will come to a close. For some drivers it will be the end of tenures with their current teams and for others the end of their careers.

The most prominent driver to be hanging it up at the close of the season is Mark Martin. While the retirement word hasn’t been used, his talk with reporters is one that indicates the driving aspect of his career is over. “It is hard to believe that I’ve lived this dream. I’m so fortunate. I got two chances at it. I got a chance at it and had success and failed, and had to go and start my career all over again and spend several years getting back up on my feet and getting a second opportunity in NASCAR. It is really hard to believe. I am still – deep down inside, I’m still the kid from Arkansas that got the huge thrill the first time I went to Daytona as a spectator to watch the Daytona 500. I wasn’t even a teenager yet. I never dreamed I would be able to do the things that I’ve done and to have the success that I’ve had. It’s been a dream. Living a dream.”

Coming into the race under the radar of his final Sprint Cup Series start is Ken Schrader. The 29 year veteran has been running off and on the past few years, but has said that this will be it. Odds are he still might make a random Camping World Truck Series or appearance in another series, it won’t be the Sprint Cup Series. While not one of the more successful drivers on the track, off the track he’s earned the respect of fans and competitors alike.

Another driver stepping away from the Sprint Cup Series, but could possibly be back in a one off race scenario is Juan Pablo Montoya. After seven years in the Sprint Cup Series, which saw two career wins, Montoya is going back to his roots in the IndyCar Series. He will be driving there for Roger Penske, so coming back for a road course race will always be a rumor. “It’s hard to believe that seven years ago I raced in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for the first time. This race is special to me in a lot of ways; its home, my family and friends will all be there and it’s the last time I will race with Earnhardt Ganassi Racing and Target. To be honest with you, it’s bittersweet and I’d like to have a good weekend for Target and the team. Nothing would mean more than a win this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway.”

While not retiring, just yet anyways, Jeff Burton will be stepping away from the full-time side of things in the Sprint Cup Series for a yet to be determined part-time ride in 2014. He will leave the Richard Childress Racing team after just over 9 years with them. During that time he was able to re-ignite his career with four wins from 2006 to 2008. He has struggled as of late, but that should not be a true reflection of his career. “I’ve been really blessed to do it for as long as I’ve done it to do something that you love and to be able to do it as long as I’ve done it really is a blessing.  When I was seven years old I wanted to be a race car driver.  I’m 46 and I’m a race car driver.  I’ve just been really blessed.  The cool thing is I’ve met so many people and experienced so many things that I never would have been able to do.  To have a chance to compete for a living is really is a cool thing.  You know what your job is and go out and try to do it.  Competing to me means something.  To be able to do it this long has been really cool.”

After helping Furniture Row Racing become the first single car team to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Kurt Busch will be leaving at year’s end to join the Stewart-Haas Racing stable. Busch helped set marks for the teams with top-5s and top-10s, but was never able to get a victory. “This is our last chance to take the Furniture Row Chevrolet to Victory Lane. There’s nothing I want more for these Furniture Row guys who have worked so hard all year to give me a fast race car. Though we have a bunch of top-fives (11) and top-10’s (16) we don’t have that W.  A victory would cap off an already successful season for our single-car team. It’s been a great ride with a great bunch of guys and with an outstanding organization led by team owner Barney Visser. Each year when we close out the season at Homestead there is that nostalgic feeling of what happened in 2004 — winning the championship in the first year of the Chase. It was a magical time for me and I am looking from some more magic this weekend in my final ride with the No. 78 flat-black Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet.”

The man he’s replacing at Stewart-Haas Racing will be Ryan Newman. Newman is moving on to the Richard Childress Racing team after five years with SHR. In that time he’s won four races and qualified for the Chase three times. “I really look forward to Homestead. It’s a really fun racetrack for all of us. For us to go down there and end the season on a racetrack that is very raceable is something I’m happy about. They really did a great job the third time around on redesigning that racetrack. It’s a great place to have a championship weekend for all three series. I’ve not had the best record there, but we did finish third in this race last year. I’d like nothing more than to end the season on a high note and end the season on a good note for everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing.”

Also joining Stewart-Haas Racing is Kevin Harvick, who leaves the Richard Childress Racing team after 13 interesting years. It started off as Harvick being pushed into replacing the late Dale Earnhardt. Through squabbles and tribulations along the way, Harvick and his team were able to win 23 times. They finished in the top-5 in the driver standings five times and find themselves as one of the final three for this year’s title. “Homestead (Miami Speedway) has been a great race track for us, whether it was flat or banked. It’s been a race track where we’ve run well. It would be nice to close out my career at Richard Childress Racing with a win there and go out on the right note. RCR is where I got my start and it’s been a great career so far.”

Unplanned at the start of the year, Martin Truex, Jr. will be moving on from Michael Waltrip Racing after this race. He will go to the Furniture Row Racing team after four years with MWR. “I believe this NAPA team has nothing to prove. All we want to do is end on a high note and this track can certainly be the place that we can win. My guys have worked so hard for me over the last four years and I know they really want to close out our time together with a victory. To be honest, it’s been sad to see it end this way. We had such high expectations for all of us. If you really think about it, this year is only our second full season as a team for this group of guys and that’s impressive. We are really just getting started and moving in the direction that we always wanted to go. This NAPA team is such a great group of guys. It’s just unfortunate that we are not going to realize the full potential of this amazing team. All we want to do is go down swinging at Homestead. We want to use this race as a way to show everyone just how good we are and to thank NAPA Auto Parts for supporting and believing in this team. They deserve another visit to victory lane and it’s our plan to get them there on Sunday.”

While it is the end there is excitement for what the future might hold for all of these drivers. They’ll reflect on the season or career that was, but then get focused for what lies ahead.

Could Phoenix Be Labonte’s Last Cup Race?

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With no plans announced for 2014 and not being scheduled to run at Homestead in two weeks, Sunday’s race at Phoenix could be the last race for Bobby Labonte in the Sprint Cup Series.

It has been a rough 2013 season for the 22-year Sprint Cup veteran. His consecutive races started streak was broken when JTG-Daugherty Racing decided to put AJ Almmendinger in the #47 Toyota for a few races. Add to that he broke a few ribs during a bicycle accident, which meant more races missed.

There have been no rumors as to where Labonte could end up next season at any NASCAR level. If he does stick around the Sprint Cup Series, it would probably be in a start and park effort or very underfunded team. With that in mind, I could see him dipping down to the Nationwide or Camping World Truck Series for the next season. Or it wouldn’t be that farfetched to see him walk away, although comments earlier in the season indicated he was not done racing.

As the 2013 season comes to a close we might see many veterans run their last races. Ken Schrader has already announced he will no longer compete in the Sprint Cup Series after Homestead. Mark Martin and Jeff Burton have yet to announce 2014 plans, although Burton is thought to be running at least a partial schedule next season in preparation of retirement in 2015. Martin is a wildcard who has run a partial schedule the past two years and could just drive off into the sunset once and for all.

The world of NASCAR is definitely changing and a new guard of drivers will have step up to assume the veteran roles that are leaving us this season.

When To Walk Away

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Jeff Burton and Bobby Labonte talk at Talladega in 2008. Neither has been to victory lane since that year and might be out of NASCAR next season.

An issue that plagues any athlete is when to call it quits. They’ve spent their entire lives doing one thing, be it play football, hockey, or drive a race car. It’s a tough call to make, deciding when to stop doing the one thing you’ve ever done.

What usually happens is the athlete holds on a little too long and they can’t walk away on their own terms. Sometimes injury forces them away or it gets to a point that no organization wants them.

NASCAR drivers are in a bit of a unique situation, in that they can continue to perform into their 50s or even 60s if they so desire. Because they’re not putting their bodies into harm’s way as a football or hockey player, their careers can go longer.

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Dale Jarrett walked away to work in television in 2008

“Fortunately for most race drivers, you still have the ability to do this at 50 years old, and perform very well, Mark Martin is a perfect example. I went until I was 51, Rusty (Wallace) was close to 50, and so you have that ability to do that, so that gets you through a lot of your life. Unlike in other sports, where football players are seldom after 35 years of age, or a lot of baseball players don’t make it to 40 and still performing at a high level. So we’re fortunate in that respect, but that is a lot of it: what do you do? Because this is what you’ve done pretty much your entire life. And I think this next generation is going to show us more of that because I don’t know that we’ll see a lot of them go till they’re 50 and so trying to make that decision as to when they get out because this is what they’ve done their entire life,” says Dale Jarrett, the 1999 Sprint Cup Series champion who walked away after the first five races in the 2008 season.

The problem with that logic though is usually a driver holds on way too long and tarnishes their legacy during their declining years. Darrell Waltrip is the textbook example of a driver who held on much too long.

Waltrip won his final race in 1992. He would race eight more years until retiring following the 2000 season. Beginning in 1998 was a steady decline, as his own team ran into sponsorship issues that forced him to sell the team hastily. He was able to drive for Dale Earnhardt Inc., where he scored a top-5 and top-10 finish and showed glimmer of what he used to be.

After that brief stint, as he was subbing for an injured Steve Park, Waltrip joined ISM Racing and finished out the season. Waltrip had to rely on the past champions provisional rule to make the majority of the races after going to ISM Racing. That rule allowed a past champion who’s time was not fast enough to make the race, get into the race in the 43rd and final starting spot.

He used the rule so much that for the 1999 season, NASCAR made a rule to cap the number of times a driver can use it. That resulted in Waltrip missing 12 races over his final two seasons. He never finished better than 11th over those two seasons and his legacy was tarnished in the eyes of many fans.

NASCAR’s record books are filled with drivers who have done the same to varying degrees. Richard Petty, winner of seven Sprint Cup Series championships and 200 races, struggled his final three seasons. Dale Jarrett had a disastrous final full season, missing 12 races after going 12 years without missing a single race.

Ward Burton, winner of five Sprint Cup Series races, including the 2002 Daytona 500, disappeared after the 2004 season. No one signed him for the 2005 season and he tried a comeback in 2007 with Morgan-McClure Motorsports. He qualified for 16 races, did not qualify for 19, and had a best finish of 14th. It took that kind of season for him to walk away from NASCAR in  order to focus on his son Jeb’s racing career.

Currently, we see Bobby Labonte has been bumped by his team as a part-time driver after making 704 consecutive races. The move was done to see if it was Labonte’s driving that is holding the team back or the team itself. Considering that they’ve elected to go with AJ Allmendinger in 2014, it’s easy to connect the dots to them thinking Labonte has lost it. As of this article, there have been no rumors of what Labonte might do in 2014. All we know is Labonte has said he won’t be retiring.

Former driver Rusty Wallace now works for ESPN
Former driver Rusty Wallace now works for ESPN

Former driver and current ESPN analyst Rusty Wallace disagrees with those who think Labonte should walk away. “I don’t believe that Bobby Labonte’s time has come to hang it up. I think he’s gotten himself involved in some situations where it just hasn’t been good for him. In my opinion, Bobby needed to be super hyper-focused on the car itself, and he needed to be more vocal on what he didn’t like about the car. And we all know Bobby’s a champion, we all know he’s a good driver, but for whatever reason, he hasn’t been able to, yet, get up on top of it and command what he needs, in a boisterous way.”

Another driver left in limbo is Jeff Burton, Ward’s brother. Burton has made 685 Sprint Cup Series races and has won 21 of them, his last coming in 2008. He will walk away from his current ride with Richard Childress Racing a year early after this season.

“I still love racing.  I still have a passion for it.  You know, part of the realities are what opportunities are going to be there?  I’m just going to have to see what comes in front of me.  I don’t anticipate doing something that I don’t think will be competitive.  I don’t mind building something.  Actually, I enjoy that.  But at 46, that’s probably not something I look forward to.” Burton said when his decision to leave was announced.

Since then Burton has hinted that he has something lined up for the Sprint Cup Series for 2014, but no one is sure what that might be. Rumors also indicate that he will start doing television in 2015 when NBC re-joins NASCAR, so he has a backup plan as to what to do next.

Having that plan for the future is something that made Rusty Wallace, the 1989 series champion and winner of 55 races, walk away after the 2005 season. “It was a very, very tough situation to walk away. And if I hadn’t had a very, very nice offer from ESPN at the time, I might not have hung it up that quick,” said Wallace on his decision.

Wallace is the only driver who, I have been able to find that, walked away while not only still competitive, but on an upswing. After a disastrous 2003 season that saw him finish 14th in points, the first time in 10 years he was not in the top-10, and 2004 where he won a race, but finished 16th in points, it didn’t look good for his final run. While he did win in 2005, he captured eight top-5 finishes (more than 2003 and 2004 combined), 17 top-10 finishes (best since 2002), and finished eighth in points.

“I had my crew chief Larry Carter telling me daily, ‘what are you doing? What is wrong with you? We’re running great, we’ve done all this and now you want to quit?’ And I told him, ‘Larry, I don’t like watching people that go on too long that just don’t look good on the racetrack, and I do want to go out on my terms, to go out on top,’ but the nice thing I had, I had my dealerships, my offer from ESPN, and my son started racing so I wanted to watch him too, I did plan for my departure but one thing I was never going to let myself do was let my performance go to hell and ruin the image I had created,” continued Wallace.

If a driver lingers too long, it can become painfully obvious they might be the issue. As Jarrett explains that was part of his decision process. “It’s different for everybody and that’s the hard thing. It’s one of the, if not the hardest decisions you make in a professional life is when is that time. You don’t ever really want to stay too long, but on the other side of that, that competitive desire and spirit that you have in you, you want to make sure that you get all of that out of you. And I think that’s the determining factor, it was for me, anyway, that I just didn’t have that desire to go every single week and try to perform. I still loved to race and loved to compete but not everything that it takes to be a Cup driver on a weekly basis. It just takes so much of your time and you start losing that desire. Once you start losing that, then it’s time to go. You need to get out and be away and let someone else take that spot in the race.”

As the 2013 season winds down, we might be at a point where we are witnessing the final runs for some drivers. Mark Martin, Bobby Labonte, and Jeff Burton have no plans announced for next season. Burton is close to something for next season, but if these drivers walk into the sunset then the sport will really begin yet another shift in culture.

It could end up being Jeff Gordon, who began his career in 1993 as “The Kid,” who would become the most seniored member of the garage, should those drivers not return. He will be the next driver who will have to make that tough call of when to walk away.

Making that call is very difficult, but can be made easier if you have something else lined up to do. For those who don’t and still need that paycheck, it becomes very sad for fans to have to watch their heroes ruin their legacy in front of their eyes.

Furniture Row Racing Trying To Get Blaney?

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With how silly season has been going, anything might be possible, especially when you start talking about the Furniture Row Racing team. Their season within the season has had more twists and turns than a road course.

First they acted a bit too late in trying to re-sign current driver Kurt Busch. With Busch the team has made the Chase for the Sprint Cup for the first time in their history. Loose conversation didn’t lead anywhere and Busch jumped at the opportunity to sign with Stewart-Haas Racing for 2014.

The driver Busch is replacing, Ryan Newman, was the next talked about candidate for the ride. The all of a sudden it was announced that Richard Childress Racing (whom has a technical alliance with FRR) was parting ways with driver Jeff Burton. That opened the door for Newman to go to RCR for the 2014 season.

With less chairs available and somehow less drivers, Juan Pablo Montoya was the next hot rumor. The two sides began talking and Montoya even went out to visit the Furniture Row shop. Within a week Montoya had signed with Penske Racing. Not for NASCAR, but for IndyCar.

Now Furniture Row is at a cross roads, what’s available is a mix of older veterans and younger unproven talent. Sure a veteran can get them through this year or next season, but then they’ll be right back where they currently are. If they go with a young talent, they might not be in the Chase or compete for a win for a couple of years, but you’d have that potential there.

Whether they want him or not, but Sam Hornish, Jr. has been trying to sell himself to the team. Hornish has been in the thick of the Nationwide Series points battle all season long and is trying to prove he deserves another chance in the Sprint Cup Series. The problem with the 34-year old driver is he hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire when he’s been in the Sprint Cup Series. 130 starts have yielded three top-5 finishes and nine top-10 finishes.

Rumor has it that they are interested in a Penske driver, just not Hornish. Ryan Blaney is a driver whose name has been kicked around as of late. Currently he drives full-time in the Camping World Truck Series for Brad Keselowski Racing and part-time for Penske in the Nationwide Series. The 19-year old driver has two Truck wins and has shown potential. It’s just a question of if he’s prepared for the jump right to the Cup Series or if Penske will let him walk.