Never too early to start Silly Season
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Here we are again in the big tent outside Daytona International Speedway for yet another preseason media day. All the questions that can be asked have been two or three times over the past three weeks. Drivers are tired of answering them and reporters are tired of thinking of different ways to disguise them.
Do you know how many ways there are to ask Jimmie Johnson if he can win a sixth straight Sprint Cup championship? Or what Dale Earnhardt Jr. remembers about the death of his father 10 years ago in Turn 4 only a few hundred yards from where we are located?
Heck, even Joey Logano was asked about Earnhardt's death and Logano was only 10 when it happened.
I did mix it up and ask Mark Martin why GoDaddy.com used Joan Rivers in its Super Bowl commercial instead of him. From his answer, it sounds as though he wasn't buying that was Rivers' real body, either.
So let's try something different.
Let's look ahead to next year and imagine what Carl Edwards might look like in a Red Bull Racing or Penske Racing uniform. Or what Clint Bowyer might look like in a Penske Racing Dodge or Roush Fenway Racing Ford instead of a Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet.
Let's start Silly Season early.
As many as nine high-profile drivers will become free agents after this season, which means there'll be almost as much to chase off the track as on it.
Chances are -- like last year when Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch and Jamie McMurray re-upped with their existing teams -- there won't be a lot of movement. Drivers are starting to realize the grass isn't necessarily greener on the other side.
And with the economy still down, there's not a lot of money for teams to get in a bidding war as there was a few years ago when Dale Jr. and Kyle Busch were free agents.
There's also not a lot of money for teams to throw at their own drivers, which translated means drivers will take cuts from what they got the last time around.
"A significant amount," said Greg Biffle, who expects to re-sign with Roush Fenway Racing over the next few months.
But since we have all the prospective free agents under one tent, it's raining outside and we have nothing else to ask, let's take a hypothetical look at where drivers might be a year from now.
Carl Edwards: Easily the top of the free-agent class from a competitive and marketing standpoint. Sponsors love his Hollywood smile and body-builder abs and owners love seeing his backflip after victories.
Edwards could fit the Red Bull image if Kasey Kahne makes the No. 4 championship caliber before moving to Hendrick Motorsports in 2012. Penske Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing could be looking to expand, and a driver of Edwards' talent with sponsor appeal would make it an easy sell.
Edwards was loyal to Roush Fenway Racing, as we saw three years ago when he re-upped. He doesn't sound as committed now.
"What I want to do is what is going to give me the best chance to win the most championships," he said.
If Edwards bolts it could start a domino effect that could take Silly Season from routine to, well, silly.
Clint Bowyer: Team owner Richard Childress has two free agents in Bowyer and Jeff Burton, and you can bet re-signing Bowyer will be a priority because of his age and potential.
If this were the NFL, Bowyer would wait to see what Edwards does before making a commitment. If Edwards stays at Roush Fenway, Bowyer's stock takes a big surge as the second-best talent available.
But what if Edwards leaves? Maybe Roush would offer Bowyer the opportunity to be his young star instead of the driver-most-likely behind Kevin Harvick at RCR.
Or maybe Bowyer would like to give Red Bull a try. He certainly enjoyed having a beverage as a sponsor with Jack Daniel's.
Danica Patrick: She might not make many lists, but from the ability to bring sponsorship she is No. 1. Whoever gets the IndyCar darling driving a part-time Nationwide Series schedule for the second straight season likely gets GoDaddy.com as the sponsor.
Who wouldn't be interested? New Richard Petty Motorsports financier Andrew Murstein said during last month's media tour that Patrick would be an excellent fit for his organization in 2012.
He also tossed out Bowyer.
Hate to tell him, but fat chance.
If Patrick goes to any team that doesn't have a Hendrick Motorsports engine, shock waves would go through the garage. That likely means turning JR Motorsports into a Cup team or Patrick signs with Stewart-Haas Racing.
Here's a hint.
"I think it's a darn good connection," Patrick said of HMS. "As things unfold throughout the year and opportunities come along, I listen myself and the rest of the team will listen to everyone.
"But definitely at this point there is obviously a good relationship with GoDaddy and JR Motorsports and Dale Jr. Being associated with JR Motorsports is quite a positive thing."
Earnhardt says the pieces are in place for JRM to move to Cup if a deal with Patrick and GoDaddy.com were to be offered as an option. He sounds excited about the possibilities.
"That's definitely something, if we're given that opportunity to consider it, we'll definitely consider that," Earnhardt said. "She's a lot of fun to be around and she brings a new energy to our company. I enjoyed last year a lot. I enjoy looking forward to working with her this year and seeing how much more she learns.
"If we can keep working with her it would be great. If we are given the right opportunity with the right deal, we would have to consider it."
Greg Biffle: No drama here. Biffle says he expects to have a new deal with Roush Fenway and sponsor 3M over the next month or so. He doesn't have the urge to look around as he did in 2008, and besides that, "Where would I go?"
Juan Pablo Montoya: Can you picture him driving for anybody other than Chip Ganassi? Probably not. The two are tighter than husband and wife. Montoya concedes they've already begun talks at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing about an extension, so it's not looking like we'll see the Target driver pushing another product next year.
Brian Vickers: Red Bull already has to find a driver to replace Kahne after this season. General manager Jay Frye doesn't want or need the headache of trying to find two new drivers, so something will get worked out here.
But just for the sake of speculation, what if after this season Red Bull were to fold its NASCAR operation and simply become a full-time sponsor for Kahne at HMS? Wouldn't that be silly?
Jeff Burton: With Harvick and Bowyer, Childress needs somebody a little more laid-back like Burton to keep things settled. But let's say Burton leaves. How about returning to Roush Fenway, where he left midway through the 2004 season because of a lack of sponsorship?
Even if Edwards and Biffle re-sign, there could be an opening with David Ragan in the No. 6 on not-so-solid ground.
Ryan Newman: First of all, Newman doesn't know when his current deal is up.
"Honestly," he said.
Honestly, Tony Stewart needs to keep Newman around so he can say he's the slimmest driver at Stewart-Haas Racing. No need to think Newman will go somewhere else, but he's had trouble attracting sponsorship for the No. 39 car and we know how that drives the sport.
And don't forget Patrick is out there.
Mark Martin: We know two things for sure: Kahne will replace Martin in the No. 5 at HMS in 2012 and Martin plans to continue driving next year.
The dream scenario would put him back in the No. 6 he drove at Roush for 19 years before splitting following the 2006 season. It could be the storybook ending to Martin's career, but don't count on it.
Roush, as it was put to me, wants you to walk to work barefoot in the snow. Martin just wants to have fun at this point in his career and he doesn't like the cold.
Perhaps Martin could trade places with Kahne at Red Bull. He doesn't quite fit the company demographics of being edgy, but he doesn't with GoDaddy.com either.
Likely Martin will end up somewhere like Turner Motorsports, with whom he is running a few Nationwide Series races this season. Nobody would be better to help that organization move into Cup.
"You know, I'm not even going to talk about it," Martin said of next year. "If I do, then you're liable to say I was wishy-washy about something. I'm not talking about 2012 until I have something to talk about. I'm not worried about it."
Well, that's no way to spice up media day. So let's return to the earlier question. Why didn't GoDaddy.com put Martin in the Super Bowl commercial instead of Joan Rivers?
"Joan looked a lot more natural with what they had below her head," said Martin, referring to the female body in the commercial that didn't belong to Rivers. "If they had put my head on that "
Let's not get that silly.
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2011 Daytona 500
The 53rd running of the Daytona 500 is on the horizon, with a new racing surface greeting competitors heading into a new season of hope. It all begins Feb. 20 at Daytona International Speedway.