Originally created 09/07/00

Personnel shakeups continue



The first tremors, in what seems to be a never-ending quake of personnel shakeups on the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, came last March 10.

The season was only three races old when Bill Elliott announced his intentions to change teams for the 2001 season. Job-swapping that used to start two months before the season-opener now gets up to speed 11 months in advance.

Long-term contracts have as much legal traction as a set of used tires. Drivers are always looking for better rides; car owners are always looking to please their sponsors; sponsors are always looking for a perfect balance of success on the racetrack and with the bottom line.

Elliott's decision was a no-brainer. He could keep the family operation going - probably continuing the litany of mediocre finishes that's already stretched to a sufferable six years - or take a ride with Ray Evernham's new Dodge Interpid.

Everything Evernham has touched in the previous six years has turned to gold. He turned the wrenches for 47 of Jeff Gordon's victories and has an incredible attention to the kinds of details that separate winners from also-rans.

With Elliott closing his doors the day after the season finale at the Atlanta Motor Speedway on Nov. 19 and moving to Evernham Motorsports, the first of many dominoes started to fall for the 2001 season. Silly season gets sillier and sillier every year.

Since then, Casey Atwood announced he was moving up from the NASCAR Busch Series circuit to be Elliott's teammate.

Roush Racing said it will cut Chad Little loose at the end of the season - if not sooner - and that ride remains one of the plums tantalizing a large group of drivers who never seem to stay at one place very long.

Little has talked with Petty Enterprises about driving a third car on the Winston Cup Series in 2001, while Jack Roush seems intrigued by NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series driver Kurt Busch as a possible replacement for Little.

If Busch takes the job, chances are Roush will dump Little mid season is over so Busch can get some seat time in a stock car before embarking on a rookie of the year campaign in 2001.

Kenny Wallace received a release from Andy Petree Racing last week to take a job with Eel River Racing. That leaves Mike Bliss out of a job.

What makes that move more interesting is the fact Eel River Racing doesn't have a sponsor since Viagra decided to move its considerable dollars to Mark Martin's car.

Martin's sponsor, Valvoline, will move to Johnny Benson's car.

Darrell Waltrip will retire at the end of the season, and that leaves his seat open for 2001. The job has been offered to Robby Gordon, who must decided whether to drive for Travis Carter or keep his own race team afloat.

Geoffrey Bodine is out of the No. 60 Power Team Chevrolet. Race team owner Joe Bessey also will lose sponsorship from Power Team - which has to be a shock since his wife is the president of the Power Team's parent company. The Bessey team may wind up folding.

Joe Nemechek's contract expires with Andy Petree Racing's second car at the end of the year, and there's been no significant progress in extending the relationship.

Silly season also includes sponsors. Ford Quality Care will likely move its colors off Dale Jarrett's Ford Taurus and re-appear on the Wood Brothers Ford. Citgo, which currently sponsors the Wood Brothers, will move to Roush Racing - perhaps as a replacement for Exide Batteries, which announced it won't be back with driver Jeff Burton or to Kevin Lepage's car, which will lose sponsor FamilyClick.com at the end of the racing season. Atlanta-based UPS will become the new sponsor for Jarrett.

Cal Wells had a job open aboard a new car in 2001, but that was filled last week by truck racer Andy Houston.

Chip Ganassi Racing, which bought controlling interest in SABCO a month ago, will likely keep Sterling Marlin next year, but the team's second car is wide open. Ted Musgrave, filling in for the late Kenny Irwin during the rest of the 2000 season, is one candidate, while Bobby Hamilton is another.

Derrike Cope, who rocked the stock car circuit with a victory at the 1990 Daytona 500, has been away from the series for a year. But he's scheduled to re-appear in 2001 with a new team.

Cale Yarborough's race team, missing from the series all year, has been sold. It will make its comeback for a race or two this year with driver Jeff Fuller.

Official vacancies currently exist at Chip Ganassi Racing (Musgrave), Andy Petree Racing (Wallace), Travis Carter Racing (Waltrip) and Roush Racing (Little). Probable vacancies could materialize at Morgan-McClure (Hamilton), Roush Racing (Lepage), Andy Petree Racing (Nemechek) and Junie Donlavey Racing (Hut Stricklin).

Gordon and Steve Park solidified their futures earlier this year by signing new contracts with their current employers, Hendrick Motorsports and Dale Earnhardt Inc., respectively. That should lock those two young drivers into a long-term commitment with two of the most-powerful race teams in the business.

Or until a better offer comes along.