NASCAR‘s silly season will not start for many months, but as rumors begin to swirl, it is becoming clear that the desired seat in NASCAR is the one currently occupied by Kevin Harvick for Richard Childress Racing. The three-car operation is going through a period of transition with its longest tenured driver leaving for Stewart-Haas Racing at season’s end.
Already secured for next year is Paul Menard, who is cooling off after a hot start that put him in chase contention but is still outperforming teammate Jeff Burton. However, both of them have consistent sponsorship; Menard with his father’s hardware chain and Burton with Caterpillar.
It had been rumored earlier in the season that team owner Richard Childress would not only lose veteran Burton but would also lose Menard and the stability of his sponsor, leaving the team in a position it hadn’t seen since the death of Dale Earnhardt.
“My contract is not up,” Burton told News/Talk WSB Thursday. “One of the things I find humorous at times with the media is that they assume facts. My contract is not up – I will be driving for RCR next year.”
Well with that out of the way, who exactly is the favorite for the open seat? According to Fox Sports, Childress is interested in Ryan Newman, who is currently driving for Stewart-Haas, about becoming the team’s primary driver. “Of all the opportunities that there are out there, he’s got one of the best opportunities — as far as the 29 being vacated. But I don’t know what the family tree is going to look like over there.”
Newman has been running well this season with an average finish of 18.0 while boss Tony Stewart has only mustered an average of 17.5. This is still better than Newman’s competition: Childress’ grandson Austin Dillon, who has mustered an average finish this year of 24.5 in six races.
Dillon’s performance in the evolving NASCAR Nationwide Series has also been down from two years ago when he finished third in the championship standings. “Austin [Dillon] has proven he is ready to make that step,” said Jeff Burton, “He is the logical choice. He has proven he is ready to drive a Cup car.”
So, with this competition now set, what should Childress do? Rumor — for a long time – was that Dillon would have the seat in 2014 as soon as Harvick announced his departure. But many drivers have been rushed into the driver’s seat, and Dillon is only 23 years old and has a long career ahead of him.
The period of transition for Richard Childress Racing is beginning, and in my opinion, Dillon still deserves the open seat. Ryan Newman is now far past his prime as “The Rocket Man” and hasn’t won a pole since 2011.
With regards to a fourth team, that is especially not what RCR needs. All previous attempts to expand have led to the team’s struggles, and despite the amount of talent that could be present on a team with both Newman and Dillon or another free agent driver in a fourth car, the time isn’t right for expansion, even with a cheaper generation-six car.
Dillon would offer a breath of fresh air to a team with dropping stock. No longer able to consistently compete with Hendrick Motorsports or Joe Gibbs Racing, Dillon is the driver the team needs. To pursue Newman would be a huge mistake – one that could drop the team off the level of competition Dale Earnhardt and his No. 3 worked so hard to achieve.
Follow Mike Guzman on Twitter @Mike486