The late-season driver shuffling is underway, as teams begin to set the stage for 2009. Three NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams will make driver changes this weekend at Lowe's Motor Speedway, just a week after Red Bull Raciing released AJ Allmendinger in favor of a split schedule featuring veteran Mike Skinner and newcomer Scott Speed.
Mike Wallace will drive the Gillett Evernham Motorsports No. 10 Dodge at Lowes, just days after a confrontation between former driver Patrick Carpentier and Team Director Mike Shiplett at Talladega. Shiplett reportedly confronted the Canadian driver after the team failed to qualify, accusing him of running too low on the final straightaway, causing the car's front splitter to bottom-out, scrubbing off valuable speed.
Carpentier called that accusation, "bulls__t," and "a complete lack of respect," pointing out that the driver has little to do with the car's performance in a single-car run at Talladega. Shiplett was unavailable for comment, but reportedly apologized to Carpentier early this week.
A.J. Allmendinger will assume the driving duties of the #10 Dodge at Martinsville in two weeks, and for the remainder of the season. Allmendinger could theoretically help Gillett-Evernham bump his former team -- Red Bull Racing -- out of the Top-35 in owners' points. The #84 Red Bull Toyota is currently 34th in points, with GEM's #10 Dodge 39th.
Reed Sorenson has signed to drive the #10 for GEM next season.
Bryan Clauson will make his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut at Lowe’s Saturday night, driving Chip Ganassi Racing’s #40 Dodge, with sponsorship from the new computer game MotorStorm Pacific Rift. The 19-year-old Clauson has been driving Ganassi’s #40 Fastenal Dodge on the NASCAR Nationwide Series this season, with one pole, one top-five and two Top-10 finishes. He will have to qualify on speed, since the #40 team is outside the Top-35 in owners points, after suspending operations earlier this season.
Bill Elliott will be back behind the wheel of the Wood Brothers Racing U.S. Air Force Ford this weekend, and for the remainder of the season. Marco Ambrose was scheduled to drive the #21 Ford at Texas and Phoenix, but recently announced plans to race for JTG-Daugherty Racing full-time next season, in partnership with Michael Waltrip Racing.
The late-season driver swaps are not confined to the Sprint Cup ranks, either. Three-time NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion Jack Sprague will pilot the No. 60 Wyler Racing Toyota Tundra for the remainder of the season, after being released by Kevin Harvick, Inc earlier this week.
Sprague, who currently sits eighth in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship standings, replaces Terry Cook, who was released by the team despite ranking 10th in points.
“This has been a crazy last few days,” said Sprague. “This has been a very tough year, and I welcome the opportunity to be back in the #60 truck for the rest of the season. This is a nice opportunity for Wyler Racing and me to get back together, (but) I hate it for Terry, as he has done a great job for Wyler Racing this year.”
Sprague and Wyler Racing ran 55 races together from late 2005 through the end of last season. They visited Victory Lane three times – including the 2007 season opener at Daytona – with four poles, 18 top-five and 27 top-ten finishes. Their reunion is only for the final races of this season, but efforts are underway to secure sponsorship for 2009.
Cook is reportedly working on a deal to finiish out the season with another team, and he will join us later today (Wednesday) on Sirius Speedway.