Roger Penske admits that his phone has been ringing off the hook from those wanting a shot in the No. 22 Sprint Cup car.
Now that AJ Allmendinger has been released, it is officially “game on” as far as who could drive that car in 2013.
Here is a list of people likely calling Penske about that ride and their chances.
Sam Hornish Jr.
Hornish probably feels like he doesn’t need to call. After all, Penske knows where to get hold of him, as Hornish still drives for the team. Sitting fourth in the Nationwide Series standings, Hornish is showing signs that he deserves another shot in Cup. He’ll get it as the replacement for Allmendinger the rest of the season. Combine that with a successful past relationship with Pennzoil, and he doesn’t really need to call Penske. He just needs to prove that Penske doesn’t have to answer the phone.
Logano and Penske already have talked, and it’s likely the talks started before Allmendinger was 23rd in the standings and before he ever was drug tested. Without a contract for 2013, Logano has shown signs of potential, as he is in the mix for a Chase wild-card berth. And while there are no guarantees, he has always been sponsor-friendly. But to hire Logano, Penske would have to figure out if he is a contender or a pretender.
Could Newman return to Penske? A month ago that would sound like crazy talk. But with each week, it sounds a little less crazy. There might be some feelings to smooth over from his departure following the 2008 season, but at least Penske would know what it’s getting with Newman, who would like to remain at Stewart-Haas Racing. But SHR must land significant sponsorship for that to happen.
Unsigned for 2013, Smith seems pretty dedicated to Furniture Row Racing. But that organization also has been looking to start a second car with Kurt Busch on the radar. Sitting 24th in the standings this year, Smith hasn’t turned many heads. But there are a lot of people who would like to see Smith get a chance with one of the elite teams.
Bayne is a Ford guy, so with Penske’s move to Ford, his name gets on this list even though he is a Roush Fenway Racing guy. Penske apparently had some interest in Bayne last year, but Bayne was under contract with Roush Fenway. Bayne said last week it looks like he’ll do a full Nationwide season for Roush Fenway with hopes of continuing the part-time Cup deal for the Wood Brothers next year. While a long shot, he’s probably on the radar, also because like Hornish and Logano, there should be no behavior issues that would make Shell/Pennzoil worry.
Vickers has shown he still can wheel a car, as he has been strong in his races for Michael Waltrip Racing this year. Unfortunately for Vickers, he must overcome the “what if” questions that have dogged him since he had to miss most of 2010 because of blood clots and ensuing open heart surgery. Shell/Pennzoil will want stability, and no matter how many doctors say Vickers is good to go with no greater chance of recurrence as the average person, there likely will be some doubt in people’s minds.
Martin Truex Jr.
We’ve been told he’s all but signed at Michael Waltrip Racing. Until he does, got to figure he’d be given a look.
He talked with Penske last year and didn’t get the job. He has done decent work at Front Row Motorsports as he sits 29th in the standings and also would represent a sponsor well. Long shot but probably on the candidate list.
Sadler would love to get another opportunity in Cup. He leads the Nationwide Series standings, which shows he can get the job done. But with several subpar Cup seasons in people’s memory, this would be a long shot.