The NASCAR silly season is about to begin: A look at who might go where

USA TODAY Sports

As the NASCAR silly season kicks into high gear, here is a look at the drivers involved and which teams they might sign with for 2014.

It begins as a faint noise in the distance and then as each week goes by grows a little louder. It is the NASCAR rumor mill and it will soon be churning at full power.

Although it may seem unusual for drivers and teams to begin jockeying for rides while in the middle of the season, this is just business as usual in NASCAR.

At this time last year, Matt Kenseth had already stated his intention to leave Roush Fenway Racing for Joe Gibbs Racing. He followed the path of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne, who in years previous were among those who cemented their future plans well before July.

And sometimes drivers give even more advanced notice, as Kevin Harvick did last October when he made it known he would be leaving Richard Childress Racing at the end of 2013.

So as silly season begins to kick into high gear, here is a primer on the players prominently involved and where they are most likely to end up when the game of musical driver seats comes to an end.

Kurt Busch

Were it not for his past transgressions, the No. 1 free agent would have a multitude of teams clamoring for his services.

Regardless, Busch is still in demand. Richard Childress has long been a supporter and the two nearly came to terms a year ago until the deal fell apart when sponsorship couldn't be secured. Busch would be an ideal replacement for the departing Harvick.

Another option is for him to stay with his current team, Furniture Row Racing, as owner Barney Visser would eagerly welcome Busch back for another year.

The issue with this scenario is Furniture Row, while receiving cars, motors and having a technical alliance with RCR, is still a single-car team with a glass ceiling on what it can achieve. And for a driver who possesses the talent of Busch, he needs to be aligned with a team that can give him the equipment to contend for a championship yearly.

Although Furniture Row is capable of winning races, claiming a title is a bit farfetched.

One potential sleeper to keep an eye on is Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, where Jamie McMurray is a pending free agent and the team holds an option on Juan Pablo Montoya. It's a long shot, but the organization does have the pieces in place to provide Busch with what he needs to be competitive.

Best fit: Furniture Row Racing

Probable destination: Richard Childress Racing

Ryan Newman

Where Newman ends up has a lot to do with what happens with Busch.

If Busch stays with Furniture Row, then Newman immediately becomes a viable candidate to join RCR. Whereas Busch leaves his current team to go elsewhere, Furniture Row would view Newman as an alternate.

Newman could theoretically stay with Stewart-Haas Racing. But for this to happen, additional sponsorship would have to be drummed up. Not to mention the arrival of Harvick would force the team to expand to four cars and sponsorship dollars are already in short supply at SHR. Alas, this doesn't seem realistic.

The likeliest scenario for Newman sees him signing a one-year deal somewhere and then reassessing his options next year.

Best fit: Stewart-Haas Racing

Probable destination: Furniture Row Racing

AJ Allmendinger

At this time last year, AJ Allmendinger was on the verge of being suspended by NASCAR for a failed drug test, ultimately costing him his ride with Penske Racing. Fast-forward 12 months and he has put his assorted troubles behind him and resurrected his career.

To his credit Roger Penske has given Allmendinger a second chance and he has responded accordingly. He nearly won the Indianapolis 500 and two weeks ago drove one of Penske's Nationwide Series cars to victory at Road America.

The next step, though, is for Allmendinger to find a full-time ride instead of these piecemeal deals he's been putting together from week-to-week.

He would be a good candidate at JTG/Daugherty Racing, where he has been running part-time in place of Bobby Labonte. The team would prefer a young, hungry driver, and Allmendinger fills that description perfectly.

Another option, and one that hasn't been discussed, is Penske putting something together that would allow Allmendinger to run full-time for the team in Nationwide accompanied with a limited Cup schedule. But like everything else, this comes down to sponsorship.

Best fit: Penske Racing

Probable destination: JTG/Daugherty Racing

Jamie McMurray

Though McMurray hasn't won a race in almost three years, it's hard to envision Earnhardt Ganassi not re-signing the veteran.

McMurray's struggles the last few years have more to do with organizational issues than a lack of competence behind the wheel. Although the results haven't consistently been there this season, he has shown enough that he's deserving of an extension -- including a runner-up Sunday at Kentucky.

But with much-hyped prospect Kyle Larson continuing to impress in Nationwide, EGR may not see the need to keep McMurray around long-term.

The best approach for both parties would be for EGR and McMurray to sign a one-year extension. This would give the team a stopgap and not rush Larson before he's ready, allowing him another season to continue his development.

Conversely, with his options limited McMurray, like Newman, can then explore the market a year from now where he might find himself in more demand.

Best fit: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing

Probable destination: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing

Juan Pablo Montoya

Entering 2013, it seemed a certainty that Montoya's foray into NASCAR was going to come to an end after seven seasons of brief moments of wonderment filled mostly with disappointment. Moving on to race sports cars seemed to be the career arch the former Indy 500 winner was taking.

That has changed, however, after Montoya has had near wins at Richmond, Dover and Sonoma along with the revitalization taking place at EGR. And considering the long history he has with car owner Chip Ganassi dating back to their time together in open-wheel, Montoya is all but a lock to be back in the No. 42 car next season.

Best fit: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing

Probable destination: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing

Brian Vickers

Michael Waltrip has all but said -- pending approval from sponsor Aaron's -- Vickers will assume the driving duties for the No. 55 car next season. There is no evidence to suggest this won't become actuality.

Best fit: Michael Waltrip Racing

Probable destination: Michael Waltrip Racing

Mark Martin

Not wanting to retire but also not wanting to run a full schedule, what Martin ends up doing in 2014 is anyone's guess.

Perhaps he drives select races for Joe Gibbs Racing/Kyle Busch Motorsports in either Nationwide or the Truck Series? Maybe MWR adds a fourth car and Martin continues to dabble in Cup? Maybe the Wood Brothers bring in the longtime Ford driver to end his career with the manufacturer who he enjoyed his greatest success with?

Best fit: Michael Waltrip Racing

Probable destination: ???

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