I've been doing some thinking about what is going to happen to the Shell/Pennzoil sponsored number twenty-two Dodge owned by Roger Penske now that Kurt Busch has been released. Who exactly is going to drive that car next year in the Sprint Cup Series?
The most obvious contender for the vacated seat is David Ragan, who has reportedly already met with Penske to discuss his options for next year. Ragan has been released from Roush/Fenway and has an agreement to race for Phoenix Racing next year unless something better comes along. Ragan is a likeable guy and has the skill to work with the media quite well, but with only one win to his credit in the last five years at the Cup level he may not be the Championship contending driver Penske is looking for.
(Editor's note: it has also been reported that the newly freed Kurt Busch has been in contact with James Finch, the owner of Phoenix Racing, asking if they'd be interested in him driving for them next year.)
Then there is the Red Bull-less Brian Vickers whose team just folded, but would he drive for Penske? He probably wouldn't say no if he were to be approached by the Penske organization, but will they ask him? I don't honestly know. Although Vickers has won at the Cup level he only has two wins to his credit and has never finished higher than twelfth in the standings. With these stats he certainly is not Championship material any more than Ragan is, but then again he has never had access to the type of equipment that Ragan had either when he was with Roush. And let's not forget that Vickers is well liked by fans and is very media savvy which certainly bodes well for Shell/Pennzoil.
With that being said, there still are many other contenders for the now Busch-less ride. You need to look no further than some of the younger drivers in the lower-tiered teams in the Sprint Cup Series, or about ninety percent of the drivers in the Nationwide and Camping World Series - there are a lot of good drivers in sub-par equipment that would jump at the opportunity to prove themselves in good equipment like the stuff Penske has to offer.
With the lack of quality rides in NASCAR at this moment Penske is in the right position to do something that would garner national attention for himself and his sponsor Shell/Pennzoil. Instead of going with a driver that already has had an opportunity at the Cup level, Penske could instead have seven top drivers from all sorts of NASCAR divisions (ie., Nationwide, Camping World, Canadian Tire, Whelen, etc.) and turn it into a competition between them to find the ultimate ‘Face of NASCAR'.
Each of the seven drivers would compete in the Shell/Pennzoil sponsored Dodge in a five race audition throughout the thirty-six race season with the ‘winner' of the competition driving in the last race of the year at Homestead. The driver with the best finishing average over the five races would be the winner, with a tie-breaking procedure similar to what NASCAR uses (i.e., most wins, most seconds, and so on).
The races that each of the drivers would drive in would be determined in a lottery held at Daytona during January testing with the drivers picking the order for the first seven races and so on, that way all of the contending drivers would be in the car at least once every seven races. The format for the draw would be similar to the one for the Bud Shoot-out, but instead of drawing beer cans they would draw oil cans.
Think of the marketing possibilities that this thing would generate. From television commercials to print media and everywhere in between this contest would be the talk of the stock car racing world. Similar to the Gillette ‘Young Guns' campaign the Shell/Pennzoil ‘Face of NASCAR' would be endorsed and supported by NASCAR in their press releases and in their web presence.
The one thing that this marketing campaign would have that the Gillette one didn't is a winner. In the Gillette campaign the young drivers were all featured and we got to know them, but there was no real competition between them.
This idea has the potential to be a great success, and if done right could be more than just a one season deal. This could be the new Rookie-of-the-year program for NASCAR. Let's face it, how many people can name even last year's Rookie of The Year? As I write this, I honestly can't but I could tell you at least thre of the Gillette Young Guns were (i.e., Newman, Earnhardt, Kenseth).
The idea of a Face of NASCAR competition for the number twenty-two Penske powered Shell/Pennzoil sponsored Dodge is something to think about anyway. It certainly would be interesting to watch, that's for sure.