Red Bull's exit upends free agency

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. --- Carl Edwards had top-secret meetings with Joe Gibbs. Clint Bowyer has all but signed a contract with Red Bull. Interested car owners are blowing up Juan Pablo Montoya's phone.

Red Bull, which owns and sponsors a struggling two-car team, plans to pull out of NASCAR after this season, people familiar with the situation revealed Monday.   File/Associated Press
File/Associated Press
Red Bull, which owns and sponsors a struggling two-car team, plans to pull out of NASCAR after this season, people familiar with the situation revealed Monday.

It's "Silly Season" in NASCAR, and the rumors are swirling through the garage as fast as the cars are circling the track. Each day brings a whisper of a new meeting between driver and car owner, or rumblings of scenarios that will force the dominoes to fall for several top drivers.

It officially heated up Monday when The Associated Press reported that Red Bull plans to leave NASCAR at the end of the season. That took the two-car organization out of play for an A-list driver, right when talk had picked up that Bowyer was ready to jump from Richard Childress Racing.

Word is Bowyer was seriously considering an offer to replace Kasey Kahne, but just as he made up his mind, Red Bull officials cooled off.

Now Red Bull's departure turns the entire free agency process on its head.

It's quite possible that Red Bull general manager Jay Frye will line up an investor to purchase the team's assets, and he has experience doing that. It was Frye who masterminded Mark Martin's retirement reversal, creating a partial schedule for Martin that got him running up front again.

But sponsorship is so critical, and Frye learned that twice before: Regardless of how strong his programs were, when the money grew tight, the race team suffered. Frye might be able to continue next season with the bones of Red Bull intact, but no big-name driver can consider joining the team at this point.

So that sends Bowyer back to the drawing board and Brian Vickers, who left Hendrick Motorsports in 2007 to be Red Bull's first driver, on the market.

They'll all be waiting to see what happens with Edwards, who seems intent on exploring every free agency possibility. His Roush-Fenway Racing teammate Greg Biffle inked a new contract extension in April, but Edwards has yet to come to a new agreement, despite a 20-point lead in the standings and wins at Las Vegas and the $1 million All-Star race.

It's no secret Joe Gibbs Racing has been trying for years to add a fourth team, but the right situation has never developed. Longtime sponsor Home Depot must be frustrated by Lowe's-sponsored Jimmie Johnson's run of five consecutive championships, and a pairing with Edwards might be enough to appease the company.

That would, of course, make Joey Logano the odd man out at JGR, which still would have to find a sponsor for the driver many believed would be the next superstar.

Montoya certainly has suitors, but the list of quality open rides is shrinking. There's allegedly been interest from Michael Waltrip Racing, a two-car team with room to grow and a satellite branch at JTG Daugherty Racing.

But Montoya has a strong bond with current team owner Chip Ganassi, and it would take a very strong offer to lure him away from the guy who gave him a NASCAR job when the Colombian walked away from Formula One in 2006.

There's a handful of wild cards that also must be considered: Where will Danica Patrick go when she moves full time to NASCAR as expected at the end of the IndyCar season? She could go to a full Nationwide Series ride, but any move to NASCAR would be with the intent of joining the Sprint Cup Series as her advisers might think racing at the junior varsity level is a waste of time.

And what's going to happen to Martin when Kahne takes his Hendrick Motorsports seat at the end of this season?

There's far too many what-ifs to keep track of right now, but the next few weeks will certainly be intriguing.


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