Kasey Kahne got a jump-start on the 2012 edition of NASCAR “Silly Season” about this time LAST year.
It’s ironic that the team where Kahne landed as a holding pen before making the move to Hendrick Motorsports next season continued the 2012 proceedings this week.
The announcement that Red Bull would withdraw its support of NASCAR racing triggered a flurry of speculations and rumors about what the Sprint Cup Series garage would look like next year.
It was already known that Kahne was gone and holdover Brian Vickers would more than likely have to find a new address for 2012 before word leaked that the energy drink giant had decided it would no longer support an organization within NASCAR’s top division.
After nearly five years of trying, all TRB has to show for its effort is a win with Vickers at Michigan in 2009 and a Chase berth that same season.
A trail of failures and a merry-go-round of drivers including A.J. Allmendinger, Scott Speed and Casey Mears among others will be the legacy of the organization.
Certainly team General manager Jay Frye is a respected figure in the NASCAR world and the organization’s lack of success has not been for lack of trying. However for a company like Red Bull who expects to be the kingpin in any sport the company chooses to participate, stumbling around since 2007 finally became unbearable.
Red Bull’s wild success in Formula One with superstar Sebastien Vettel definitely didn’t help the NASCAR’s team cause. While Vettel is winning races on a regular basis while competing for championships on the F-1 world stage a Top 10 finish Sprint Cup Series finish has been reason to celebrate.
Frye plans to try and keep the team’s infrastructure intact and pursue investors to pump the much-needed finances into the operation that will vanish once Red Bull ceases its involvement at season’s end.
That won’t be an easy task.
Frye can look no further than to Richard Petty for advice after “the King” found himself in a similar situation last year when the George Gillett House of cards finally collapsed around Richard Petty Motorsports.
After a long and arduous journey, Petty was able to land the financial support of new investment blood in the form of Medallion Financial and DGB Investments.
But the transition did not come without casualties. RPM’s four-car operation was cut in half and hundreds of people lost their jobs including driver Elliott Sadler, who was forced to retool his career from the Sprint Cup Series to the Nationwide Series this season.
Frye understands the nature of his quest and what he’ll face just trying to maintain the very existence of the operation.
"We have talked to some people who have great enthusiasm about what we're doing," Frye said on a media conference call held Tuesday. "We believe we can put something together rather quickly in 30 to 45 days. But the process has just started. We had a lot of inquires yesterday. The goal is to keep the Red Bull team continuing on the path it's on."
Should Frye be able to pull off the hunt for new money and keep the team’s doors open, he’ll next have the challenge of finding sponsors for the two-car stable. Red Bull’s involvement was the unique combination of a company that both owned and sponsored the team.
Other more successful Sprint Cup Series teams are finding it difficult to attract the necessary sponsors to stay on track competitively. Roush Fenway Racing and even Hendrick Motorsports continue to look for dollars and have multiple race wins and championships in their portfolios to dangle in front of prospective sponsors.
Unfortunately at this point Frye does not have that luxury and in fact is missing a key component in the sale pitch – drivers.
There was speculation only a few weeks ago that free agent to be Clint Bowyer was ready to jump ship at Richard Childress Racing and in discussions to potentially join Red Bull.
Obviously this week’s turn of events will end that talk and over the weekend in Michigan team owner Childress expressed confidence Bowyer and sponsor General Mills would return to his fold next season.
Other high profile names like Juan Pablo Montoya or Mark Martin would come at a cost even a restructured TRB team probably couldn’t afford. And the biggest fish in the free agent pond - Carl Edwards - is in the middle of a bidding war between current employer Roush and Joe Gibbs Racing so the likelihood of landing him is remote at best.
That leaves one of two options for the team if its able to continue; hiring a middle-tiered veteran or trying a more unseasoned young driver along the lines of current truck series phenom (and Red Bull-sponsored) Cole Whitt.
But first things first. Frye and company have to pull a financial rabbit out of their hat to keep things afloat.
It will be a challenge to be sure and one that might make landing sponsors and drivers easy by comparison.
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