Start­ing flag drops on the Silly Sea­son

The Hamilton Spectator - - RACING 2017 - GE­ORGE DIAZ

Matt Kenseth and Carl Ed­wards are team­mates again, lead­ing the pa­rade of spec­u­la­tion other­wise known as NAS­CAR’s Silly Sea­son.

Could Kenseth pos­si­bly fill the slot left by Dale Earn­hardt Jr. over at Hen­drick Mo­tor­sports?

Could that slot have Ed­wards’ name on it, as­sum­ing he wants to re­turn to rac­ing af­ter a one-year hia­tus?

Will there be a wild card thrown into the mix if Brad Ke­selowski de­cides to leave Penske Rac­ing to join Hen­drick Mo­tor­sports? (Hint: Not likely.)

And what will be­come of the sec­ond seat at Fur­ni­ture Row Rac­ing now that Erik Jones has left the build­ing?

All of these ques­tions stir pure spec­u­la­tion and ru­mours. It is also the stuff that drives much of our sports land­scape. Ev­ery ath­lete is driven by op­por­tu­ni­ties, and plenty of those will arise in the 2018 Mon­ster En­ergy NAS­CAR Cup Se­ries.

“It’s def­i­nitely one of the most in­ter­est­ing Silly Sea­sons,” said Larry McReynolds, Fox Sports An­a­lyst. “And I think what’s mak­ing it is just the change in land­scape.”

We’re talk­ing money. Ev­ery­thing in­volv­ing ev­ery­one comes down to con­tracts and spon­sor­ship dol­lars and which driver can de­liver spon­sors and cover ex­penses for the long-haul of a 36-race sea­son.

The trend does not favour vet­eran drivers who com­mand big­ger salaries. That ob­vi­ously puts 2003 sea­son champ Kenseth in the ca­reer crosshairs as his con­tract ex­pires and gives Jones an op­por­tu­nity.

Jones is mov­ing from Fur­ni­ture Row Rac­ing to Joe Gibbs Rac­ing, a de­ci­sion that wasn’t easy for owner Joe Gibbs. The team had to find room for Jones, a driver with ris­ing po­ten­tial. So thanks for the mem­o­ries, Mr. Kenseth. At 45, and with spon­sor­ship ques­tions, your ser­vice is ap­pre­ci­ated but pay­ing bills su­per­sedes emo­tional ties.

“We didn’t want to be here, but we wound up here and then we had to make a de­ci­sion,” Gibbs told re­porters last week­end.

But the up­side is that it is trad­ing salaries — undis­closed in the sport — of a vet­eran for a tal­ented younger guy who comes at a cheaper price. Look at it from an owner’s per­spec­tive.

“I’m go­ing to throw out hy­po­thet­i­cal num­bers,” McReynolds said. “I can put a vet­eran who is very tal­ented and won a lot of races — maybe even won a cham­pi­onship — but he’s go­ing to cost me $8 mil­lion to $10 mil­lion a year.

“Or I can take a young driver who has proven he’s very tal­ented, looks like he has the po­ten­tial to win races and has won races and cham­pi­onships in an­other se­ries, and I can put him in my car for maybe a third of what that vet­eran is go­ing to cost me.”

JEFF SINER, TNS

Matt Kenseth and team owner Joe Gibbs talk in the garage at Charlotte Mo­tor Speed­way.

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