This year’s Sprint Cup free agent pool could get smaller soon, but there are plenty of big-name drivers without contracts beyond 2011.
Roush Fenway Racing driver Greg Biffle said he hopes to get a contract extension done in the next few months.
His Roush teammate, Carl Edwards, isn’t as close.
Biffle and Edwards are among a list of drivers – including Clint Bowyer, Brian Vickers, Mark Martin and Danica Patrick – entering the final year of their contracts.
“The thing that I’m going to do is do whatever is best for me to go win the most championships I can win,” Edwards said during NASCAR Media Day at Daytona International Speedway Thursday. “That’s what I want to do. I would like to get it done as quickly and privately as we can so we can focus on racing.
“There’s no benefit to having a long, drawn-out, messy process. … My commitment to myself and my team is to focus on the racing and whatever stuff I have to do for contracts and stuff, I’ll do that away from the race track.”
Biffle was much more concrete about his situation and sponsor 3M in a deal that could be four years or longer.
“I honestly feel like our contract will be done in the first quarter of this year,” Biffle said. “I suspect it’ll be done maybe as soon as the break – four races in or something like that.
“I think we’re close. I feel like we’re close, and I think it’s going to surprise a lot of people [with its length].”
Edwards might have more to do than Biffle in his negotiations as Aflac reportedly paid $26 million for its sponsorship starting in 2008 and had hoped to sell off a significant number of races. That never happened, so whether Edwards needs to get two or more sponsors remains to be seen.
The negotiations might be more of a distraction for Edwards, who does all of his negotiations himself without the help of an agent. Having made the Chase For The Sprint Cup in five of the last six years and snapped a 70-race winless streak with back-to-back victories to end 2011, Edwards said he has some ideas – which he wouldn’t talk about – during the negotiations.
“I have had a great relationship with Jack Roush and I want to do whatever is most likely to win championships,” Edwards said. “The dream would be to do that at Roush in the 99 car with Aflac on board. That would be the dream.
“We just have to sit down and go through everything and see where everybody is at.”
Edwards and Bowyer might be the biggest free agents in the prime of their careers. Bowyer’s contract is up after this year but he said he has no plans of leaving RCR.
“I haven’t really thought about it,” Bowyer said. “What am I going to do? I’m going to race. As far as I’m concerned, I’m happy right where I’m at. I don’t want to change anything. Things are good. I’m looking forward to this season.”
Montoya, who enters his fifth year at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, said Ganassi is currently in an exclusive negotiating period.
“We talked about it a little bit, but we haven’t really got to sitting down to get a deal done, so we will have to wait and see,” Montoya said. “We have a very good relationship and I think if everything comes together and we can come to an arrangement, I would assume that I would stay here.”
The obstacle for drivers looking to move could be where to go? The most likely scenario would be additional teams at Joe Gibbs Racing, Penske Racing or Stewart-Haas Racing, which can all expand under NASCAR’s four-team cap.
“You look at ’08 and everybody was looking at musical chairs,” Biffle said. “Everyone was looking at going. I was looking at maybe doing something different. I was looking at this or that or whatever else, and Tony [Stewart] moved and guys were moving all over.
“I don’t see guys jumping all over the place now. We didn’t see a lot of big moves. A lot of teams are ending up with four teams. … In order for you to go somewhere, somebody has to get kicked out, so it’s not as easy as, ‘Hey, maybe I’ll go see what Hendrick has going,’ because they don’t have a spot. It’s a little more difficult. The field is getting narrower with options.”
Drivers also may have to accept pay cuts to sign deals, Biffle said.
“It’s going to get reset, there’s no doubt … just knowing the sponsor dollars are going down,” Biffle said. “The sponsor dollars go down, let’s say, 40 percent or 35 percent. That’s a significant number, so that’s got to come from somewhere.
“It’s going to be cut back at the team for engineering, personnel, driver salaries, all the way down. We’re going to have to economize what we’re doing to continue on.”
Some drivers refused to talk about their contracts. Vickers, who returns to Red Bull Racing this year after sitting out much of last season because of blood clots, would not discuss his contract status. It is believed he is in the last year of his deal.
Newman, too, has been coy, and his team owner Tony Stewart also said that he does not know the details.
Some of the drivers felt that talking much about their contract situation with an entire year left on them was a little excessive. Leading that group was Mark Martin, whose contract with Hendrick Motorsports is up at the end of 2011.
The veteran might not race full time beyond 2011 but he will race somewhere in 2012.
“I’m not looking ahead right now,” Martin said. “I’m not worried about it. Not all. No concerns. … I would be completely content for it to go down to the last hour.”
Patrick, who is in the second year of a two-year Nationwide deal with JR Motorsports, said she has an option for another year on her current IndyCar Series sponsorship.
“It’s about getting through this year,” Patrick said. “I’m sure silly season will come towards the later part of the year. Until then, I’m going to make the most of every weekend.”
Even Edwards, who didn’t want a long drawn-out process, said he was willing to wait until the right time to sign.
“I have a whole year to race,” Edwards said. “I’m not in any rush. And I don’t want to have this out in the media. The right thing to do is make your business deal in a normal manner, not through the media.”