Reed Sorenson, a championship contender in the Nationwide Series and a race winner earlier this season at Road America, is out of Turner Motorsports' No. 32 car in a move that could herald more departures from the NASCAR team.
Sorenson stands third in the Nationwide standings, 49 points behind leader Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Turner has also notified employees of a potential downsizing following this season due in part to the impending loss of sponsor Dollar General, which backs the No. 32 car. Tuesday, Turner announced that Brian Vickers would be in the car Saturday at Kansas and next weekend at Charlotte, with drivers for the final three Nationwide events decided upon at a later date.
"I'm not really sure what's going on," Sorenson said when reached by phone. "It's not good, though."
Vickers was equally surprised.
"It was completely sudden," Vickers told Sporting News on Tuesday, during a break in Sprint Cup testing at Phoenix International Raceway. "I wanted to run a Nationwide race before the year was over. Red Bull hadn't been letting me run Nationwide this season, for whatever reason.
"A week or two ago, I asked [Red Bull team owner] Dietrich [Mateschitz] -- first time I'd asked him; I'd been dealing with middle management -- if I could run a Nationwide race, because I wanted to have past champion's for next year. He was like, 'Yeah, of course, no problem.'
"I reached out to a lot of owners, ones I knew, and the ones that had Nationwide programs. Obviously, driving for Turner all the years at Braun, I reached out and said, 'Hey, I'd love to run a race before the end of the year, if anything comes up. ...
"I was thinking like maybe they'd add a fourth car for the last race, and then [Turner Motorsports general manager] T.J. [Puchyr] called me [Monday] afternoon and said, 'Would you consider running sooner than Homestead?' I said, 'Yeah, of course.' And they let me know [Tuesday] morning. They asked me if I'd run the next couple of races, and I said 'Sure.' So it was kind of a last-minute deal."
Trent Owens will remain crew chief of the No. 32 car, according to the team. Vickers competed for Turner on a part-time basis from 2007-10, compiling 15 top-five finishes in 41 starts with the organization. Sorenson had recorded top-10 finishes in his past three starts in the car, including a seventh-place result Saturday at Dover.
"We are continuing to evaluate our racing program as we look to the 2012 season," team owner Steve Turner said in a release. "Brian Vickers is a proven winner at NASCAR's highest level in addition to being a driver at Turner Motorsports over the last four seasons. He has worked with Trent Owens in the past which will allow us to immediately focus on the task at hand. We are confident Brian can help assess where we are, as a company currently, and the direction we are going as we build our programs for 2012 and beyond."
The driver swap continued a tumultuous day at Turner, which is based in Mooresville, N.C., and fields a total of seven vehicles on the Nationwide and Camping World Truck circuits combined. Earlier Tuesday, the team announced that it had notified employees of potential layoffs in order to comply with North Carolina's Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, which requires employers to provide 60 days' notice of possible mass layoffs. "It is hopeful," the team added, "the action will become unnecessary as the team continues to work with potential marketing partners for their Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series teams."
A Turner spokesperson said the organization would have no further comment beyond the release. The Turner news comes a week after another team, Germain Racing, also served notice of potential layoffs under the WARN Act. Germain's primary sponsor, Geico, plans to expand its Sprint Cup schedule to 22 races in 2012, a decision that puts its Truck Series program in jeopardy. Earlier this season, Germain partnered with Randy Moss Motorsports to keep reigning Truck Series champion Todd Bodine on the track.
Also last week, the Red Bull team on the Sprint Cup level notified employees of potential layoffs under the WARN Act. The energy drink company is pulling its ownership of the two-car operation after this season, leaving executives to try and cobble together a potential new ownership group and sponsor package for 2012.
Founded by Texas native Turner in 2009, Turner Motorsports underwent an expansion prior to this season and emerged as a force on the race track despite its relatively low-profile name. Turner driver James Buescher is currently second in the Truck Series standings, three points behind leader Austin Dillon. Sorenson's victory is one of three on the Nationwide tour this year at Turner, along with those by Justin Allgaier at Chicago and Mark Martin at Las Vegas. Other full-time drivers in the Turner fold include Ricky Carmichael in the Truck Series and Jason Leffler on the Nationwide tour.