The “Silly Season” dominoes continue to fall.
Wednesday, Hendrick Motorsports confirmed that they have given Brian Vickers permission to look for a new ride next season. Just 48 hours later, Casey Mears announced that he will leave Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates at year’s end, to replace Vickers in Hendrick’s #25 ChevroletenrdickH. Those announcements came just weeks after Dale Jarrett finalized plans to leave Robert Yates Racing for a 2007 ride with Michael Waltrip Racing and Toyota.
Driver changes are nothing new in NASCAR, they happen every year. But in the month of June? Totally unprecidented. And to my way of thinking, extremely dangerous, as well.
Vickers said his decision to seek alternative employment is due to the lukewarm performance of the No. 25 GMAC Chevrolet. "For whatever reason -- and this is just as much my responsibility as it is anyone else's at Hendrick Motorsports -- me and the 25 car have not performed to the standards we're capable,” he said. “So I feel it's best to start looking at other options."
The 2003 Busch Series champion made the requisite statement of continuing commitment to Hendrick, saying, "I'd love nothing more than to win in the GMAC car." He admitted, however, that he is disappointed in the performance of the #25. "I didn't come into this sport to have a job. I didn't come here to ride around. I came here to win." Those words will do little to salve the hurt feelings of Vickers’ team, who now have to finish the season with a “lame duck” driver who doesn’t want to be there.
A year ago, the Jamie McMurray and Kurt Busch’s teams came unglued under identical circumstances, with Busch ultimately being removed by car owner Jack Roush after a run-in with Sheriff’s Deputies in Phoenix. Now, tied to “lame ducks” of their own for the final two-thirds of the 2006 campaign, it is reasonable to expect the Ganassi and Hendrick operations to struggle, as well.
Personally, I can’t image them making it.
Donnie Wingo, crewchief on Mears’ Texaco Havoline Dodge, admitted that it’s difficult working for a driver who is preparing to jump ship. “It’s tough,” he said. “When you sit down and think about it, you get pretty upset, but there’s really nothing you can do. Bottom line, you’ve got to put aside all this other stuff and do your job.”
Wingo has been through this before, having lost McMurray to Roush Racing last year. Despite that experience, however, he is unsure what the rest of the 2006 campaign holds. “I’m not sure,” he said. “We’ve been through this before, but you never know what to expect. It’s just one of those deals. You’ve still got to do your job. We’re all racers, and we want to win races, but it’s tough on everybody.”