I typically conjure up my silly season predictions around April or May of each year, but this season, there is an unprecedented amount of talent in the free agent pool. The ‘what ifs’ and ‘could happens’ are numerous, and I wanted to go ahead and see how accurate can be if I do this before the rumor mills begin to heat up.
Remember, this is all just pure speculation on part.
Roush Fenway Racing has two high profile free agents in 2011. Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle carried the banner for Roush in 2010, and both drivers gave Jimmie Johnson a scare in the first three quarters of the 2008 Chase for the Championship. Obviously, Jack Roush would like to secure both of his star drivers, but I have a feeling only one will stick around.
Greg Biffle will remain with Roush Fenway Racing for the duration of his career, which could be another five or more years. Sponsor 3M appears to be pleased with the arrangement with Biffle and Roush. It would be difficult to imagine Biffle and Roush ever splitting, but I thought the same about Roush and Mark Martin.
On the other hand, Edwards is going to cost more than Biffle, mainly because he is younger and considered more marketable. Aflac will likely remain in the sport, but may not be able to shell out as much dough as they did in the previous contract. So, can Roush afford to give Edwards a raise if Aflac is paying them less than before? Penske Racing and Red Bull Racing are going to pursue Edwards aggressively. I predict that Edwards and Aflac will sign a package deal with Penske Racing, as they offer a more lucrative deal for both parties. Imagine, Edwards and Brad Keselowski as teammates. Stranger things have happened.
Sticking with the Roush organization, look for UPS to remain with them despite flirting with Kasey Kahne and Hendrick Motorsports. However, look for Trevor Bayne to sport the brown and gold colors. Bayne has rapidly emerged as arguably the hottest young prospect in the sport. This means David Ragan will be out of a ride. Roush seems to think highly of the young driver, therefore, he may persuade the Wood Brothers into giving the Georgia native a part-time ride in the famed No. 21 Ford. Ragan could also return to the Nationwide Series with Roush or another organization.
Mark Martin’s contract with Hendrick Motorsports expires at the end of the 2011 campaign, and it is clear that Kahne is next in line for the No. 5. Nevertheless, Martin insists that his career will not end following the season. Martin does not have the aura that Red Bull looks for in a driver, so that pairing appears unlikely. Martin has spent over two decades in top-notch equipment and will not be willing to end his career with an also ran team such as Phoenix Racing. Martin has remained close friends with Roush, and with an open seat vacated by Edwards, you will see a popular reunion. Look for UPS to move to the No. 99 Ford with Bayne, while Martin returns to the No. 6. Despite the fact he is in his 50’s, Martin is still competitive, distinguished, and a great spokesperson for sponsors. Roush and Martin will attract a sponsor and sign a one-year deal with Roush allowing Ricky Stenhouse Jr another season to cultivate his talents in Nationwide Series before he replaces Martin in the No. 6.
Red Bull Racing struck out with Edwards, and did not actively pursue Martin. They begin to take a serious look at Richard Childress Racing driver Clint Bowyer. However, Bowyer is not leaving RCR. RCR is one of the top tier teams, and he would not depart that setting for a two-car team that is consistently inconsistent. RPM also tries to court Bowyer, only to strike out. RCR also retains veteran Jeff Burton.
Red Bull's search for a replacement for Kahne and much more is in part II