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On the same day Richard Petty Motorsports signed an extension with manufacturer Ford for the 2013 season, driver Marcos Ambrose said he plans to stick around next year, too.
"We are all squared away as far as what the expectations are on both sides and it is just a matter of finishing it off at this point," Ambrose said in quotes released by Ford. "I can't see any reason why I wouldn't want to be a part of Richard Petty Motorsports in 2013."
Ambrose said he wants to sign a contract extension "as quickly as we can," but indicated RPM had to "get their own house in order" by re-signing with Ford first.
RPM said it will field two Cup cars next year – the No. 9, with sponsorship from Stanley and DeWalt, and the No. 43, with sponsorship from Smithfield Foods. However, the team did not say which drivers would be in those cars (Ambrose currently drives the 9 and Aric Almirola is in the 43).
The team will continue to field a Nationwide Series entry for Michael Annett, who brings sponsorship from Pilot/Flying J.
Kurt Busch has agreed to drive the No. 78 car for Furniture Row Racing in 2013, replacing Regan Smith, the team announced Monday.
"Furniture Row Racing has the commitment, talent and resources to compete at a high level in the Sprint Cup Series," Busch said in a statement released by the team. "I have watched with admiration on how this team has grown over the years and that is why I am excited about the opportunity as I eagerly look forward to a new chapter in my racing career."
Busch, 34, is the 2004 Sprint Cup Series champion and has amassed 24 wins and six Chase appearances in 471 career starts. This past season, he has driven the No. 51 car for Phoenix Racing, with a best finish of third at Sonoma.
But with Phoenix Racing not able to attract suitable sponsorship and provide Busch with consistently competitive equipment, the 2004 Cup champion was actively pursuing a new team for 2013. According to a tweet posted by Busch's girlfriend Saturday, Furniture Row was one of a "few" teams who had offered Busch a contract for next year.
And although Furniture Row, like Phoenix Racing, is a single-car team, part of the allure of joining the Denver-based team is the technical alliance the team shares with Richard Childress Racing, as RCR supplies Furniture Row with engines and chassis.
"Though we have made strides as a resourceful single-car Sprint Cup team, we are not where we want to be, which led us to the difficult decision of making a driver change as we move forward," said Furniture Row Racing general manager Joe Garone. "Kurt's exceptional driving talent has the capacity to take a team to another level. We look forward to having Kurt join our Denver-based organization and feel his racing experience will play an important role as we plan ahead to 2013."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. will have the National Guard on his car for 20 races in 2013, but what company will sponsor the other 16 events?
That question remains unclear as of Friday, and Earnhardt Jr. said current sponsor Diet Mountain Dew is "going to back off a little bit" next season.
"That makes it a bit of a challenge to fill that small of a gap," Earnhardt Jr. told reporters at Chicagoland Speedway. "If It were a bit larger gap, it would be easier to fill."
So is there a chance Earnhardt Jr. might have some unsponsored races for next season? That remains unlikely for NASCAR's most popular driver, who said it's a matter of getting companies to share their space. With Diet Dew still wanting some races, Earnhardt Jr. might have three primary sponsors in 2013.
"Every sponsor on the car wants to be the top guy," he said. "It's a bit hard to have a top guy when you are trying to work with multiple sponsors. It's just a little bit of a balancing act."
Hendrick Motorsports has "a lot of irons in the fire," he said, and is just deciding which company would be a good fit for the 88 car.
"We just got to kind of decide which one is going to work out, which one we want to work with," he said.
Despite four victories and sitting atop the NASCAR Nationwide Series point standings, Elliott Sadler confirmed he will not be returning to Richard Childress Racing in 2013.
"We'll probably go our separate ways at the end of the season," Sadler said Friday at Richmond. "...It looks like I will not be a part of RCR next year."
Sadler cited the "stars not being able to line up" as the reason for his decision to leave RCR, but wouldn't go into specifics when asked.
As for which team Sadler lands with for next year, that has not yet been decided – at least officially – as the points leader said he has yet to sign "anything with any team." The rumor mill, however, has him headed to Joe Gibbs Racing to drive one of its Nationwide Series cars full-time, along with making limited starts in the Sprint Cup Series.
Sadler's services being in high demand is a far cry from how different things were the last time he was a free agent following the 2010 season. Then, few teams were willing to take a chance on the veteran driver who had struggled badly on the track after a disappointing and frustrating stint at Richard Petty Motorsports.
But now, after having successfully resurrected his career, Sadler says he has options – and plenty of them.
"I was at the bottom of the barrel when all this stuff happened at RPM," Sadler said. "... My stock and what people think of me as a race car driver is way different than it was two or three years ago. It's back to how it was when I drove the 38 car and we were successful being a part of the Chase and winning races."
Despite his uncertain future, Sadler is intently focused on winning his first NASCAR championship of any kind. And he is unconcerned his status as a lame duck will affect the chemistry within his current team.
"Richard promised me anything and everything to get this deal (championship) done," Sadler said. "... We both made a helluva commitment to each other for these last nine weeks to do everything we can to put our best foot forward and try and win this championship.
"We both want it and we both have the same common goal."
In a perfect world, Sadler knows exactly how he would like to see his tenure at RCR come to an end.
"I would love nothing more than to bring a championship to Richard," Sadler said. "He's a good man who has been great to me.
"... If I can look into Richard Childress' eyes at Homestead and give him that trophy, that will be the coolest."
Ryan Newman will return to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2013, he said Thursday. But it's unclear exactly which companies will sponsor the driver's No. 39 ride when it hits the track next season.
Newman, speaking to reporters at Richmond International Raceway, said SHR has yet to sign any sponsors for his car in 2013.
When asked if SHR was taking a gamble by re-signing the driver without sponsorship, Newman acknowledged "there's a certain amount of risk that they have." The U.S. Army is leaving NASCAR at the end of the season, and it's unclear what Newman's other sponsors – such as Outback and Quicken Loans – will decide to do.
"I feel fairly confident we'll have good branding on the car," he said. "I can't sit here and say who it's going to be and how it's going to lay out and what race it's going to be."
Newman said his focus "never left SHR" during the free agency process, though the driver did consider his options with other teams. Out of respect for his current team, though, he said he never seriously chased another offer.
"I never pursued it, never put anything on paper," he said. "It's like fishing in a pond – every once in awhile, you cast in different directions to try to get a bite.
"There's rides out there. There's opportunities out there. It wasn't my goal to go out there and knock every door down and get a written proposal from every team."
Newman, who can make the Chase by winning Richmond and hoping teammate Tony Stewart stays in the top 10, said he's simply going for a victory on Saturday night.
"We still have the potential to have that dream come true, but you can have it all abolished in one lap or one corner," he said. "There's a lot of emotion that gets carried with that. It's the do-or-die moment on Saturday night."
When Kurt Busch parted ways with Penske Racing and its No. 22 car last season, team president Tim Cindric placed a call to Joe Gibbs Racing at the urging of Brad Keselowski.
Keselowski, it seems, has a big influence on the day-to-day decision-making at Penske and thought Joey Logano would be a good fit as his teammate.
But when Cindric called JGR, he was told Logano wasn't available. Although Logano's contract was set to expire at the end of 2012, JGR wanted to do everything it could to keep him in the fold and didn't plan to release him early.
Seven months later, when AJ Allmendinger tested positive for a banned substance and was fired from Penske, the No. 22 ride was suddenly open again.
This time, with interest from both Penske and Logano – whose ride at JGR had been taken by Matt Kenseth – a deal was struck to pair the driver with Keselowski and form a duo of young, talented drivers who are also friends off the track.
"Brad and I kind of started our Cup careers around same time," Logano said. "We've been able to grow and go through a lot of similar things. ... We already had a relationship where we could talk and call each other, see each other at the racetrack and talk about whatever.
"Those relationship with driver teammates are more important than most people think."
That background was part of several interesting nuggets revealed during a Wednesday morning conference call in which Cindric and Logano discussed the driver's new multi-year contract with Penske.
Among the other notes:
• Sam Hornish Jr., who is currently driving the No. 22 car, will remain in the ride for the rest of the season before Logano takes over in 2013. Hornish will likely drive a full-time Nationwide Series schedule again next year, along with a few Sprint Cup Series races. Cindric said his preference was to have Hornish in a third Cup car on a full-time basis, but it was "pretty late in the year" for sponsorship to come together.
• Though JGR offered Logano an opportunity to stay with a full-time Nationwide ride, Logano "made it clear to them I wanted a full-time Cup ride and I felt like I was capable of winning races," he said. He wasn't scared of being left without a job, he added, and was confident all along he'd land with a quality Cup team. Logano also had other options, he said.
• All the questions about his job and future weren't as much of a distraction as people think, Logano said. But in the past, the rumors regarding his possible release from JGR affected his confidence level because he didn't know how to deal with them. Over time, Logano said he learned how to be tougher and remain confident despite being in the rumor mill.
• Logano will drive a No. 22 Shell-sponsored car, and Cindric said the team worked closely with its sponsor to make sure it found a talented driver who also had the right character. Over the last nine months, Shell has been embarrassed by Kurt Busch's antics and Allmendinger's failed drug test. "We've had to be more in concert than we've ever been with a sponsor, trying to ensure we get it right," Cindric said.
• It's unclear whether current No. 22 crew chief Todd Gordon will be paired with Logano. Cindric said Logano needs time to get to know Gordon and other personnel at Penske to evaluate the chemistry before the team makes a decision on how the No. 22 team will look in 2013. Cindric said Logano's involvement in the Nationwide Series next season was yet to be determined.
• Logano is unlikely to start driving a No. 22 car before the season ends, Cindric said. With Penske moving to Ford in 2013, the team would rather have a fresh start at Daytona than try and get Logano in a car with a few races left this year.
AJ Allmendinger's loss turned out to be Joey Logano's gain.
After Allmendinger tested positive for amphetamines and was indefinitely suspended by NASCAR, Penske Racing released the driver and had to make a decision as to who would drive its No. 22 Shell-sponsored car next season and beyond.
Penske announced its answer on Tuesday afternoon: Logano, the 22-year-old driver who has spent his entire career at Joe Gibbs Racing. Logano has two wins and 37 top-10 finishes in 136 career races, plus four full seasons of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series experience at a still-young age.
"I am very excited to join Penske Racing and begin the next phase of my career," Logano said in a statement. "I am looking forward to the opportunity as it will be an honor to drive for Roger Penske and race for wins and championships. I am also proud to represent Shell-Pennzoil as they are a respected global brand that does a great job of activating in the sport on and off the track."
Logano now enters a world where white button-down shirts and a corporate image are the norm. But he should fit in well with Penske's mission, both on and off the track.
Though he could have stayed at JGR, it would have been in a diminished role – as a Nationwide Series driver instead of a Cup driver – due to Matt Kenseth's arrival with the team. Logano and his father (who handles the driver's business) felt Cup was where they needed to be, and Penske provided that opportunity.
Paired with Brad Keselowski, Logano gives Penske an exciting duo of talented, winning drivers for its move from Dodge to Ford next season. His hiring is an upgrade over Allmendinger, who had yet to win in NASCAR competition.
Penske picked Logano over rumored names like Brian Vickers, Ryan Newman and Sam Hornish Jr., who currently drives the car on an interim basis and could still end up in a third entry for the team – though he wasn't mentioned in Tuesday's press release.
A conference call with reporters is scheduled for Wednesday morning, when the team will release more details.
Though his departure from Roush Fenway Racing was announced in June, Matt Kenseth couldn't officially reveal his future ride for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for months.
Everyone knew it was Joe Gibbs Racing, but Kenseth wouldn't bite on questions from reporters and fans about where he was headed next – and the team wouldn't make it official.
But on Tuesday afternoon – 10 weeks after the news of his breakup with Roush was made public – Kenseth finally announced his plans for 2013 and beyond to reporters gathered at JGR's race shop in Huntersville, N.C.
"Surprise!" Kenseth said as he walked in, wearing a red-and-white striped JGR shirt.
Kenseth will drive the car formerly occupied by Joey Logano and will have sponsorship from The Home Depot and Dollar General (the team would not say specifically how the race sponsorship broke down). Logano is headed to Penske Racing's No. 22 car, JGR president J.D. Gibbs confirmed, a move which could be announced later today.
Now 40 years old, Kenseth will become the veteran driver on a team with Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch. The 2003 Cup champ has talked about his reasons for the move before, but said Tuesday he felt his future at Roush was "cloudy" and said it had been weighing on him in the early part of this season.
He was approached by JGR in late May about the chance to drive for the team, and it only took him a few weeks to decide JGR was where he wanted to be.
"At the end of the day, it was a really unique opportunity," Kenseth said. "As a driver, you want to put yourself in a position that's going to be the most competitive to achieve your goals, and I felt like this was it."
Kenseth will team with current Logano crew chief Jason Ratcliff and drive a No. 20 car.
"It's a big deal for Joe Gibbs Racing," J.D. Gibbs said. "Unless you have the right guys behind the wheel, you're kind of wasting your time. We think he's the right guy for us and our future."
Team owner Joe Gibbs wouldn't reveal how long Kenseth's contract is for, but joked that at a team with three star drivers, "they just tell me how long they want to drive."
And as for the mystery was to why Kenseth wouldn't reveal his destination earlier? The driver said it was up to JGR to determine when the announcement was made, and J.D. Gibbs indicated they wanted to have Logano's situation settled first.
Gibbs wanted Logano to run a full-time Nationwide Series car and "regroup" for a year while running a partial Cup schedule, then move back up to NASCAR's premier series in 2014 as the team hopefully expanded to four cars.
But when AJ Allmendinger was released from Penske and the No. 22 ride opened up, Gibbs said he realized Logano was likely gone for a more tempting opportunity.
As for Kenseth, this year's Daytona 500 champion won the 2003 Cup title and has 22 career victories – all with Roush, which had been the only team he'd ever known since entering Cup full-time in 2000.
But Kenseth vowed to try and win the championship with Roush before he leaves the No. 17 car in the hands of incoming rookie Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
"I'm 100 percent committed to that and only that," Kenseth said, noting he's only been in JGR's building twice. "There hasn't been any kind of transition yet, and there won't be until this season is over."
Two more pieces of NASCAR's Silly Season puzzle will fall into place Tuesday as Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano will officially make their future racing plans public.
In essence, one driver is arriving at Joe Gibbs Racing while the other is leaving.
Ever since Roush Fenway Racing announced Kenseth's departure in June, there's been little secret the Daytona 500 champion was headed to JGR to fill the seat currently occupied by Logano. For some reason, though, Kenseth was unable to talk about his plans until now – an explanation we could get on Tuesday afternoon when JGR holds a press conference at its shop.
Though it was obvious where Kenseth was headed, it was unclear until late August whether Logano would accept JGR's offer to stay with the team – albeit in a reduced role as a full-time Nationwide Series driver – or find another organization.
When AJ Allmendinger was suspended for failing a drug test and Penske Racing's No. 22 car suddenly became available, Logano and his father worked feverishly to try and secure that ride for 2013 and beyond. It worked, and Penske is set to announce it will hire Logano to team with Brad Keselowski.
Office Depot, which served as the primary sponsor for Tony Stewart's No. 14 car in 22 races this season, announced Sunday it will not return in the same role next season.
The decision leaves a major hole in the sponsor lineup at Stewart-Haas Racing, as Stewart has Mobil 1 for 14 races in 2013 but now needs to find another company to support his racing efforts for the majority of the season.
"The decision to significantly curtail our relationship with Stewart-Haas Racing was very difficult and one that we did not take lightly," said Mindy Kramer, senior director of communications for Office Depot. "However, the changing business landscape warrants a realignment of priorities and resources.
"That being said, Tony Stewart has been an exceptional ambassador for our brand, and he has gone above and beyond in everything that he has done for our company. Being a part of his legendary 2011 championship run was a moment of tremendous pride for everyone at Office Depot."
Team spokesman Mike Arning said SHR is in "continued discussions with Office Depot regarding possible future roles the company could have with the team."
The departure of another major corporation is a blow to NASCAR, and it's even more alarming that the defending series champion wasn't able to keep his sponsor.
SHR had already been looking for funding to keep Ryan Newman in the No. 39 car next year after the U.S. Army announced it was leaving. With Stewart now needing a sponsor (and presumably more of a priority than Newman), it seems even more unlikely everything could come together for a three-car team. Danica Patrick will drive the team's No. 10 car full-time next season with the support of Go Daddy.
Stewart is obviously attractive for sponsors – he's never finished lower than 11th in the point standings and is 14th on the Sprint Cup Series' all time wins list – but September is late in the game to find a big-money sponsor for next season.
Michael Waltrip Racing confirmed what has long been rumored on Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway: Both Martin Truex Jr. and Napa Auto Parts have signed three-year contract extensions to stay together.
The announcement marks a culmination in what has been a career year for Truex. With two weeks to go in the regular season, he finds himself fifth in points and is all but guaranteed a spot in the Chase for just the second time in seven full seasons in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
"... I think the key thing about today is Martin's attitude toward getting it done," said team co-owner, Michael Waltrip. "He came to Rob (Kaufmann, team co-owner) in April and said, ‘I want to drive this car next year. Y'all figure it out. I'm your guy.' That's the kind of guy you want driving your race car."
In his first two years with the organization,Truex finished no better than 18th in the final championship standings and as such, entering 2012 his future at MWR was in doubt.
But a commitment by the team over the over the offseason – which included bringing in Clint Bowyer and Mark Martin, along with crew chief Brian Pattie and competition chief Scott Miller – has paid dividends. Not only is Truex a virtual lock to make the Chase, but so is Bowyer (and the third car shared by Martin, Waltrip and Brian Vickers has consistently been competitive).
"... It's been a lot of work, a lot of ups and downs," Truex said. "But Michael and I got together last year at Texas in April and he said, ‘Look, we're going to get our cars better, but I need you to help me.' Ever since, we've been on an awesome road to improvement.
"With those guys integrating me into the team and giving me some say and making me feel like I'm part of something has probably been one of the coolest and proudest moments of my life. It's been a lot of fun and I just want to keep it going."
According to Truex, both deals are for three years and what is a rarity in NASCAR nowadays, NAPA will be the lone sponsor on the No. 56 Toyota for all 36 races. That fact prompted a rare appearance from NASCAR president Mike Helton, who normally doesn't attend driver-sponsor announcements, but wanted to show his support for a sponsor who is a firm believer in what NASCAR offers.
Now that the deal is done, Truex's attention is focused solely on winning. And although that is something he has yet to do during his tenure at MWR, he has come through this year with a runner-up result at Kansas and third-place finishes at Bristol and Pocono.
"We're right there," said Truex. "We've been close - we've been capable of winning races all year long, we just haven't finished the deal. We've run second a bunch of times and we've had the car to beat two or three races and we didn't do everything right.
"... For now, it's just a matter of getting that first one out of the way and quit worrying about it and go after a bunch of them. Maybe this will help - it will be great for the guys on the team to not have to worry about where their job is going to be next year and we're very excited about that and are looking forward to what we can do together."
Trevor Bayne will return to a full-time NASCAR ride for the first time since 2010 – before he became a Daytona 500 winner – if all goes as planned with Roush Fenway Racing next season.
Bayne reiterated Friday that team owner Jack Roush intends to run him full-time in the Nationwide Series next season – with the team Ricky Stenhouse Jr. uses now – and said "it sounds like (the plan) is in concrete."
If it happens, it would be Bayne's first-ever full-season ride with a single team. Even in 2010, his Michael Waltrip-backed ride ran out of sponsorship and he was forced to switch to Roush before the year was over.
"I never ran that one full season all the way through with one team and one group of guys, and that's what I'm looking forward to next year," he said.
Bayne said he was "a little bit bummed" at first because he wanted Roush to put him in a Cup car (the team isn't currently running four cars due to a lack of sponsorship). But he eventually realized the experience of running a full Nationwide season would "be good to get under our belt."
As of now, Bayne said he will also continue to run a partial Cup schedule for Wood Brothers Racing next season.
Tonight's Nationwide race at Bristol will be the 21-year-old's first event in the series since March, and he said it could be his last one of the year unless he can convince Roush to let him run a few races toward the end of the season.
Has Joey Logano inquired about the possibility of driving Penske Racing's No. 22 car next year?
Logano was asked that very question on Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and he didn't exactly deny his interest if the ride becomes available.
"Obviously, right now we have to look at all our options out here trying to do what's the best opportunity for my future," Logano said. "And that's talking to as many people as we can and seeing what's available."
With Matt Kenseth likely joining Joe Gibbs Racing for next season, Logano is under pressure to perform. He needs to show that he continues to deserve a ride with JGR – whether that continues to be in the No. 20 car or a fourth team created by JGR specifically for Logano.
If not, Logano is likely out of a Cup car at JGR and would need to decide on his next move.
The best way for Logano to demonstrate he belongs with a top-flight NASCAR team – be it JGR, Penske or another organization – is by winning races. And if the 22-year-old driver can win another race in the next eight weeks, it might be enough to secure himself a spot in the Chase for the first time in his career.
Add everything together and it's easy to understand why this is a stressful time for Logano.
"I feel pressure from both ends," Logano said. "You want to be able to focus 100 percent on what you're doing right now, trying to make the Chase. During the week we're trying to figure out what my future is gonna be. And when I get here on the weekend, I try and put all that stuff in the back of my mind and try and focus 100 percent on what I having going on this weekend and trying to win a race."
As it often does, winning tends to be a cure-all, and that is Logano's approach as he attempts to balance the immediate pressure with trying to determine what his future may hold.
"On the race track you can only control so much of your destiny, but if I can control it on the race track, I then can control it on the other side as well," Logano said referring to his uncertain future.
"I say it all the time: 'Winning races will make all the other stuff come along a lot quicker.' We're getting there, slowly but surely."
The U.S. Army will no longer be a NASCAR sponsor.
Stewart-Haas Racing announced Tuesday that the Army, which currently is a part-time primary sponsor of Ryan Newman's No. 39 car, is ending its presence in NASCAR after this season due to a reallocation of its marketing budget.
The decision makes Newman's tenure at SHR even more questionable, as his return to the team next season was already said to be dependent on sponsorship.
The Army had been a NASCAR sponsor for 10 years and was at one time a full-season sponsor. It had steadily reduced its involvement in recent years.
"The sport, our drivers and the passionate NASCAR fans embraced the Army's participation and created a tremendous opportunity for Americans to learn more about the profession of the Army Strong Soldier," Army marketer John Myers said in a statement.
SHR will still work to get sponsorship for Newman in 2013, and it has said he is the only driver it is currently considering for the No. 39 car – if that car exists. With Danica Patrick likely going full-time in the Sprint Cup Series next season, the organization would need to expand to three fully-sponsored teams to bring back Newman.
Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), who had co-sponsored legislation with a Republican Congressman to ban military spending at NASCAR events, praised the Army's decision to cut back.
"By ending its sponsorship of NASCAR, the Army made the right move to eliminate a wasteful program and protect taxpayer dollars – which has been my goal all along," McCollum said. "Congress is facing a very difficult budget environment, and I want taxpayer dollars protected – even at the Pentagon.
"I applaud the Army's decision to terminate its funding of NASCAR. The Army now joins the Navy and Marine Corps in terminating its NASCAR partnership."
According to McCollum's office, the Army spent $16 million on professional sports sponsorships this year. Total spending by the Pentagon on all sports sponsorships – including motor racing, bass fishing and ultimate fighting – is over $80 million, her office said.
Martin Truex Jr. and Napa are close to a contract extension with Michael Waltrip Racing, team owner Michael Waltrip told SBNation.com on Tuesday via phone.
Both Truex and Napa had deals that were set to expire at the end of this season, and Truex was under pressure to perform heading into the year.
But with MWR's continued improvement and Truex's strong showing – he already has as many top-five finishes this year than in the previous two seasons combined – it seems all parties wanted to stay together.
Waltrip said Tuesday a new deal with the driver and sponsor was "imminent."
"We're right on the edge of putting it all together," he said. "We're just working through some details."
The team owner said everything might wait to be completed until after the July 4th holiday week, but added, "We'll have a deal done with Napa and Martin here before much longer."
Before the season, Truex was confident about improved performance and said he wanted to stay at MWR if the team was as good as he thought it could be.
So far, it has been. Truex is eighth in points and on pace to achieve career highs in every major statistical category.
"I mean, I want to be here next year," he said in January. "We both have to wait and see how all that goes. But I feel good about this year. I really do. Time will tell."
If Truex re-signs with Waltrip, it would mean one less quality ride available for other free-agent drivers like Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch. Former free agent Matt Kenseth already signed a new deal – likely to drive Joe Gibbs Racing's No. 20 car – and Denny Hamlin just re-upped with JGR's No. 11.
Amid news of a contract extension for Denny Hamlin and speculation swirling around Matt Kenseth's possible arrival at Joe Gibbs Racing next year, team owner Joe Gibbs said Saturday at Kentucky Speedway that his top priority was re-signing Joey Logano.
Logano, 22, who is in a contract year, has five NASCAR Nationwide Series victories and one Sprint Cup win to his credit this year and has begun to blossom in his pairing with first-year Cup crew chief Jason Ratcliff.
"We're working real hard right now on extending him and his relationship with us," Gibbs said Friday after the drivers' meeting for Saturday night's Quaker State 400. "We've had a great relationship -- signed him when he was 15. We've got a lot invested in Joey. I think right now he's stepping up, and we want him to be with us."
Asked whether sponsor Home Depot would continue to be part of the equation, Gibbs told the NASCAR Wire Service, "I think part of what we've got going on with us right now -- there's a lot going on. So the things I talked about . . . Joey, we want to get that done. Everything else is kind of up in the air for us right now."
It's fair to say that sponsor alignments are in a state of flux at JGR. Gibbs said that inking a new deal for Hamlin was a separate issue from extending the deal of Hamlin's sponsor, FedEx.
"It doesn't have anything to do with FedEx -- it's just Denny," Gibbs said, but that doesn't preclude the possibility of FedEx returning to Hamlin's car.
Gibbs was mum on the Kenseth rumors, but he left the door open for a future announcement.
"I don't think I should spend time talking about that right now," Gibbs said. "The timing's not there for us to talk about that. We've got a lot of decisions that need to be made, and we're working through that right now."
Kenseth, the Cup points leader, announced earlier this week that he would not return to Roush Fenway Racing and already had a new deal in place for 2013, with JGR the clear front-runner for the role of Kenseth's new employer.
Hamlin is eighth in the series standings with two Cup wins this season. The driver of the No. 11 Toyota confirmed on his Twitter feed at 6:51 p.m. ET that the extension was a done deal.
"Happy to know where my future is," Hamlin wrote. "Excited for tonight and beyond with my team."
After speaking with Matt Kenseth via phone on Wednesday afternoon, I feel like I have a better grasp on why he made the decision to leave Roush Fenway Racing for a yet-to-be-named team (likely Joe Gibbs Racing).
While Kenseth can't or won't say everything that led to his decision, he was very forthcoming about the details he felt he could talk about.
Here are some common questions from you and a few answers that might help you understand the move:
Kenseth doesn't have a full-time sponsor at Roush this year and might not have had one next year. Was stability the reason he left?
The stability of just having a job and staying in the sport ranks "almost on the bottom" of his priority list, Kenseth said.
"Winning races and trying to race for championships is on the top of my list, because you never know how long you can do this stuff," the 40-year-old said. "You never know when your last race is or your last lap is or your last win is or any of that."
Reading between the lines on everything that's happened, it seems like the decision to leave was Kenseth's -- though it certainly doesn't hurt Roush to move one of its younger, cheaper drivers in Ricky Stenhouse Jr. up the ladder into the Sprint Cup Series.
If Kenseth is having such a solid year and leading the points, why did he go looking for another team?
He didn't. Other teams knew Kenseth was a free agent who was unsigned past this season, and the driver said he was approached by one who had an opportunity that intrigued him. As recently as a month or two ago, Kenseth planned on being at Roush for his entire career -- just as team owner Jack Roush said he did.
When he got the initial phone call expressing interest, Kenseth said he didn't think, "Yeah, that's what I'm going to do for sure."
"But after some talking and getting to know some people and some things that were happening, I think it just felt like it was the right thing to do," he said. "You look back and you're like, 'Oh man, I hope this is right.' But I felt really strongly it was the right thing to do and that was the place for me and the time to go do that. And I still feel like that."
Was there a behind-the-scenes argument at Roush that we don't know about?
Not according to Kenseth, who said he knows the lack of "one great reason" makes it harder for reporters and fans to understand his decision.
"It's a combination of a lot of things and timing," he said. "There's nobody that was mad. There wasn't a fight, there wasn't a disagreement or somebody not doing something. There wasn't really any of that. I know that doesn't sound like a good answer, but that's really the truth."
Kenseth said there was "no resistance from anywhere," and that it felt like all the pieces just fell into place for his move to happen. It certainly helped Kenseth to know Roush wanted to get Stenhouse Jr. into a Cup car.
"I really think things happen for a reason and things line up like that sometimes," he said. "When they do, that's how it was meant to go – and that's what happened here."
OK, but this is all about the money, right?
Kenseth has always been sensitive about his contract situation and won't discuss financial details. And this year, it's worth noting, Kenseth wouldn't even publicly acknowledge his free agent status.
If he was going for a big payday, he perhaps could have used the media to gain leverage -- either with Roush or potential suitors -- but instead, he kept quiet about it the whole time.
Sources told SB Nation that Kenseth might actually be taking a pay cut with his new team rather than scoring a bigger deal. If he'd remained at Roush, though, he may have gotten even less due to the sponsorship situation there.
Roush will save millions per year by signing Stenhouse Jr. instead of Kenseth, which will lower the price point for sponsorship.
Why can't Kenseth and his new team (again, likely JGR) just announce their deal now? Are there sponsorship concerns still to be worked out?
Kenseth said he simply couldn't talk about the details of where he's headed in 2013, even the reasons why an announcement can't be made yet. He said the news will be made public "hopefully sooner than later" and all sides had already reached an agreement, including his new sponsors.
"Everything is set; everything is in place," he said. "I think we're good there. I feel good about '13 and beyond. I don't think it's any of that."
The driver said his new team -- which he called "another very winning organization" -- is a good fit for him and he believes he can be successful there.
Isn't Kenseth getting kind of old to start over with a new team?
Not at all. Though Kenseth is 40, that's not old for a race car driver. Tony Stewart just won the championship at 40 last year, and Mark Martin is still racing competitively at age 53.
Kenseth said Wednesday it's impossible to say right now how much longer he plans to race.
"I just don't know," he said. "And by saying 'I don't know,' I feel like that means I'm so far away from the end or when I want to walk away that I can't even fathom when that is. I sure hope to be driving for a long time."
Why can't the media just respect Kenseth's decision and leave him alone?
Kenseth knew there were questions about his move and wanted to fulfill interview requests for as many reporters as possible. It was his decision to talk for so long.
He spent three straight hours on Wednesday afternoon doing phone interviews with 13 different reporters and answering mostly the same questions the entire time.
I'm still confused. Will all the details about Kenseth's decision come out eventually?
Not if the driver has his way. Kenseth, who has always been a private person, said there's nothing to be gained by talking about some of the specific conversations or factors that led to the move.
"There are a fair amount of closed-door things or feelings or circumstances or whatever that will probably never get talked about, just because it doesn't do anybody any good at the end of the day," he said.
That said, once Kenseth and his new team make their announcement, everything might make more sense.
Rarely is there a transaction in NASCAR that's favorable to both parties. However, in the case of Matt Kenseth's decision to leave Roush Fenway Racing for Joe Gibbs Racing (reportedly), that's exactly what it was.
For whatever reason, Jack Roush wasn't able to find a company willing to sign on and sponsor Kenseth long-term this season. Instead, Kenseth has had a revolving door of sponsors footing the bill and even then, it still wasn't enough as the defending winner of the Daytona 500 still had to run several races unsponsored.
This happened in spite of the fact Kenseth is a former series champion, has twice been victorious in the Daytona 500 and is a 22-time race winner. All the while, his two teammates at RFR – Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle – each had full funding despite the lack of a championship on either of their respective résumés.
For Kenseth, JGR offers him the stability which RFR cannot.
JGR will find a full-time sponsor for Kenseth (an area which they excel in, as all three of their cars have sponsorship for the full season) and more important, Kenseth will be able remain competitive and do what he does best – consistently win races and make the Chase on an almost yearly basis.
On the other side of the coin, while it's never a good thing to say goodbye to a driver who has done so much for your organization, RFR in the long-term will be just fine.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is a talented driver who should develop into a winner and, with time, perhaps a future Cup champion. It also doesn't hurt that he already has a contract with the team and one that pays him far less than what Kenseth was making. That's not an unfavorable proposition for team devoid of sponsorship dollars and one that was forced this past offseason to cut back from four cars to three.
Kenseth's departure also resolves an issue that has been developing at RFR for quite some time.
With Edwards and Biffle having both recently inked new deals with RFR and not going anywhere anytime soon, along with Stenhouse Jr. and Trevor Bayne waiting in the wings, there were too few seats to accommodate all the talent Roush has under contract.
Something had to give. There isn't an owner out there who wants to give up on a young driver unless they absolutely have to; especially drivers who have the talent that Stenhouse Jr., 24, and Bayne, 21, each possess. Even though Kenseth still has some good years left in him, the fact is he's on the wrong side of 40 and in the long run, it's more advantageous for Roush to cut bait sooner rather than later.
RFR frees up a much-needed seat and saves some money in the process, while Kenseth gets a new contract that properly reflects his stature as one of the sport's best and with a team which has the resources needed to win a championship.
All the way around, this has all the makings of a win-win deal.
Martin Truex Jr. knows it will take a trip to Victory Lane in order to keep sponsor Napa – and perhaps in order to keep his job at Michael Waltrip Racing.
Truex enters the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season faced with increased pressure to perform, in perhaps a now-or-never situation with a contract that expires at the end of the year.
He wants to stay at MWR – hopefully with Napa sponsorship – and he's up for the challenge to prove he deserves the ride.
"I'm not here to float along and hang around if I'm not competitive," Truex said Monday night. "I know what I can do in a race car. Michael knows what I can do in a race car, and everybody here knows what I can do in a race car. And that's all that matters to me.
"This year is obviously very, very important with Napa – keeping them happy and hopefully keeping them here. For now, it's just about getting it done. We can do it. There's no doubt in my mind."
Truex pointed to the last five races of 2011 as evidence he and his team are capable of running up front and winning races. He had four top-10 finishes in the final five events, which coincided with a change in how MWR built its cars.
Now, with MWR on the same tier as Joe Gibbs Racing in the eyes of Toyota, Truex believes the improvement will only continue.
"If we can perform as well as we did the last six or seven races of the year, there will be no question (about re-signing)," he said. "Our goals are obviously to do that right out of the box. I know my team is capable of winning races and making the Chase, and if we don't do that, I'm not going to be happy, either. So it doesn't really matter what else happens."
Truex made the Chase in 2007 while driving at Dale Earnhardt Inc. and also won his only career Cup race that season. The two-time Nationwide Series champ figured he'd be a perennial contender. But that hasn't happened.
DEI nearly fell apart in 2008, then merged with Chip Ganassi Racing. His 2009 season with Earnhardt-Ganassi wasn't good, and he left for greener pastures at MWR.
But it's taken longer to get up to speed at MWR than he anticipated, Truex said.
Still, Truex said he's never doubted his ability because he knows what he's capable of doing in a race car and believes in himself. He's improved since making the Chase, he said – not regressed.
"I'm a better driver than in 2007 by leaps and bounds," he said. "You can ask anyone who's ever been around me since then. ... There's a lot of lessons you can't learn unless you have a tough year or things aren't going good. I've learned a lot of those. Hopefully, I can put them all to good use."
Truex refused to call 2012 a "make-or-break season" because, he said, every season is that way. There's always pressure to perform, always expectations.
But the 31-year-old driver acknowledged this season is crucial in deciding the future for both himself and MWR.
"I mean, I want to be here next year," he said. "We both have to wait and see how all that goes. But I feel good about this year. I really do. Time will tell."
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