Batten down the hatches, NASCAR Silly Season is getting set to rev-up again.
Michael Waltrip confirmed late Friday what we told you earlier that day; that he has offered Jeremy Mayfield a seat in his third Nextel Cup Toyota next season. Mayfield has made no secret of his unhappiness with the performance of his Evernham Motorsports team this season, and Waltrip said he has a car for Mayfield, if he wants to make a change.
In his words, "The ball's in his court. Hopefully it will all come together, and as soon as it does we'll let the world know."
Mayfield did not comment directly on the move this weekend, but said enough to leave little doubt that there is a change coming. Asked to autograph a pair of driving gloves in the NHIS garage area Saturday, Mayfield signed, “Jeremy Mayfield -- #19” on one, and “Jeremy Mayfield -- #00” on the other.
“That ought to get them talking,” he laughed.
Mayfield’s departure will open the seat in Evernham's #19 UAW/Dodge Dealers Dodge. Based on conversations Sunday in the Nextel Cup garage, I believe that seat will soon be filled by Elliott Sadler, who is set to exercise a performance clause in his contract to leave Robert Yates Racing. Sadler continues to deny having any conversations with Evernham – since those conversations would technically qualify as a violation of his contract with RYR -- but admitted having “a long talk” with Robert Yates this week in Indianapolis.
Yates has not yet commented on the situation, but crewchief Slugger Labbe admitted Sunday, "Where there's smoke, there's fire."
Sources say that M&Ms may accompany Sadler to the Evernham camp, if the United Auto Workers and the Dodge Dealers Association are willing to relinquish primary sponsorship of the car. That move would leave Yates needing to replace both drivers and both sponsors during the off-season, though plans are reportedly in place to promote developmental driver Stephen Leicht to the #88 Nextel Cup Ford next season, with possible sponsorship from Citi Financial.
In addition to shuffling the lineup at both Evernham and Robert Yates Racing, Sadler’s move may serve to put veteran Bill Elliott back in the game. “Awesome Bill” admitted last weekend that he might be interested in returning to full-time competition next season, if the right opportunity were to come his way. Red Bull Racing General Manager Marty Gaunt is reportedly determined to make Elliott that kind of offer, in an effort to sign him as a teammate to Brian Vickers.
And finally, from the "Totally Unconfirmed Rumor" department, an interesting tidbit floating through the Nextel Cup garage Sunday had Waltrip attempting to accelerate the start-up of his three-car Cup operation by buying out another team; lock, stock and barrel. MB2 Motorsports has been mentioned as a possible buyout target, though a source close to MB2 dismissed the story as ludicrous.
"There are some things coming up at MB2 that nobody knows about yet," said my contact, on condition of anonymity. "The team is set to get a whole lot better, which makes me doubt any of the rumors going around about partnerships with DEI, or selling out to Michael Waltrip."
There is a clear consensus of opinion in the garage, however, that Waltrip has bitten off all he can possibly chew, and will be hard-pressed to honor the commitments he has made to four different sponsors by having three competitive Nextel Cup Camrys (and at least one Busch Series entry) on track in time for SpeedWeek in Daytona Beach next February.