Silly season starting?

Published 6:53 pm Friday, April 1, 2011

Although the 2011 NASCAR season is only five races old, it is never too early to start looking at drivers who could potentially change teams next season.

The Silly Season of drivers and teams making changes seems to start earlier and earlier.

The list of drivers with expiring contracts at the end of this year is impressive. Included among those drivers are Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, Mark Martin, Clint Bowyer, Brian Vickers, Jeff Burton, Ryan Newman and Juan Montoya.

That list represents a lot of wins and a lot of marketing power, the power to attract and keep sponsorship dollars. These drivers also represent the best-of-the-best team owners in NASCAR.

Rarely does a driver leave a Jack Roush or a Richard Childress. But, stranger things have happened and, although I expect that most of these free agents will stay with their current teams, a couple could be on the move.

Biffle is currently deep into contract negotiations with Roush Fenway Racing to remain in the No. 16 Ford, but teammate Edwards said last week that he had put on hold working on a new contract until later in the year.

While Edwards reasoned that he would rather concentrate on holding on to the top spot in the standings, where he currently resides, he could be putting together a deal with another team next season.

Where could Edwards go that gives him as competitive equipment and a shot to win a championship than he has now? Not many places offer what Roush does in terms of equipment and knowledge, but there have been whispers over the last several years that Joe Gibbs was waiting until the right situation to add a fourth team to his current three-team stable.

Imagine that, Edwards becoming teammates with the guy that has become his archenemy, Kyle Busch. Stranger things have happened.

I don’t see Vickers or Montoya signing with anyone other than their current rides. Vickers is pretty much the cornerstone of the Red Bull program and with the team losing Kasey Kahne to Hendrick after only a one-year deal, they couldn’t afford to let Vickers leave.

Montoya is loyal to team owner Chip Ganassi and primary sponsor Target. He was with both in the Indy series before coming to NASCAR and I don’t see him moving.

While it is still early, we should hear some rumbles in the coming weeks about who will end up where. The Edwards situation will gain steam as long as he hasn’t re-upped with Roush, and I think this one deserves watching.

At a track that typically produces yawn-inducing racing, the race at California last week was outstanding. Not every day do you see Jimmie Johnson leading on the final lap and not win the race. Kevin Harvick passed Johnson on the final lap to win the race.

The half-mile of Martinsville is next on the schedule. The oldest track on the circuit usually produces old-fashioned racing with dented fenders and damaged cars. Look for Dale Earnhardt Jr. to finally win again this Sunday at Martinsville.