Kenny Wallace Defends Lame Duck Cup Drivers
FORT WORTH, Texas – Veteran NASCAR driver Kenny Wallace has rallied to the defense of lame duck Sprint Cup drivers David Reutimann and David Ragan, whose sponsorship woes have them scrambling for fulltime rides in 2012.
“I’m just absolutely shocked with all these Cup drivers losing their rides, and they’re winning drivers,” Wallace said Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway, prior to making his record-setting 520th NASCAR Nationwide Series start in the seventh annual O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge.
Reutimann became a casualty in mid-week, when owner/driver Michael Waltrip signed ageless Mark Martin to share driving duties of the No. 00 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota Camry through the 2013 season. Reutimann, 41, and a second-generation racer, has driven fulltime for MWR since 2007. He has two career victories, 12 top-five and 25 top-10 finishes in 168 career Cup starts.
Martin will compete in 25 Cup events in 2012 and 2013, sharing the ride with Waltrip, who will wheel the car in five events each season. MWR plans to run a combination of drivers and sponsor partners to fill the six races not driven by either Martin or Waltrip.
Ragan, meanwhile, started today’s AAA Texas 500 Cup race aware that his tenure at Roush Fenway Racing could be over in two weeks with the season-ender at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“You know, David Reutimann flat-out won Chicago (Chicagoland Speedway in 2010),” Wallace said.
“That was not a rainout like the Coke 600 (2009 Coca-Cola 600, Reutimann’s first career Cup win), so for Reutimann to lose his ride as the only Michael Waltrip Racing driver _ it just goes to show you that it’s not even about winning anymore. It’s about financial warfare _ not welfare _ warfare. It’s all war out there.
“Roger Penske taught me this and I’ll never forget it. He said, ‘We don’t race unless we have a sponsor,’ and I learned that at an early, early age and I took that to heart. So the key to this is to keep sponsorship intact because it’s a really expensive sport.”
Ragan’s tenure in the No. 6 Ford Fusion became tenuous when primary and very-high profile sponsor UPS announced it was moving its funding to the No. 99 Aflac Ford of teammate Carl Edwards as an associate in 2012.
“David Ragan…I mean, he just won Daytona,” said Wallace, referring to the native Georgian’s first Cup win in the Coke Zero 400 night race at Daytona International Speedway on July 2. “I’ve got two drivers that I’m thinking about that have won Cup races as late as 10 races ago, and are officially out of rides.”
Ragan’s sponsor search took him to Las Vegas earlier this week for the annual Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show, the ultimate venue for corporate schmoozing.
Nineteenth in points on the strength of four top-five and eight top-10 finishes through 33 events, Ragan’s world was rocked last month by UPS’ decision.
Asked to clarify his status with Jack Roush’s juggernaut beyond this season, Ragan said, “I’d say it’s 100 percent contingent upon sponsorship. You know, the world that we live in you’ve got to have sponsors to help put the funding together to make this deal work. NASCAR’s a great sport but the economy as a whole has taken its toll on every major league sport. So we’ve just got to work harder, we’ve got to be more creative and see what we can find.”
That was part of the impetus for Ragan’s walking tour of SEMA, the aftermarket industry’s version of a candy store. First up were personal appearances on behalf of current sponsors UPS, Sherwin-Williams Paints and Ford Motor Company.
“We unveiled a new Roush Mustang at the Sherwin-Williams display,” Ragan said. “They’re calling it the Premier Edition; they’re only making about 25 of them next year. We had a few things to do pertaining to this year. But at the same time, I’m a big ‘car-guy.’ I like cars, I like aftermarket add-ons. I didn’t take my checkbook but I do like to browse around. And there were some friends and different partners that I’ve been in contact with over the last year/six months and we stopped by and chatted about deals for next year.”
Ragan, 26, admitted he is not fully up on the details of his contract with Roush Fenway. “I signed a very long one several years ago with Jack when I first got started,” said Ragan who secured a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series ride in 2005 during one of the infamous Roush “Gong Show” tryouts. “To tell you the truth, I haven’t read one sentence of it. Jack and I had a deal. I let my manager and his guys read through all the fine print. I looked at the last page when I signed my name and that’s all that I know.
“But I do know that Jack’s told me that if they can’t give me the opportunity to go racing that I can go look elsewhere and talk to some other teams. I’ll have to see if there’s anything interesting out there.”
Ragan – who has that one win, 12 top-five and 30 top-10 finishes in 179 career Cup starts – reiterated he is willing to hang with Roush through the final three races of 2011. “We need to finish in the top-15 in points,” said Ragan, who is teamed with crew chief Drew Blickensderfer. “We need to win another race for our UPS team. So we’ve got a lot of goals that we want to finish up this year.
“We’ve come to three great tracks for us _ Texas, Phoenix and Homestead _ so our concentration is still on this year. But we’re working hard to sell some sponsorship, to find the partners for Roush to make the No. 6 car go. But at the same time I’m not blind to the fact that the No. 6 car may not be here next year, so I’m also talking to some other teams to see what’s out there.”
Ironically, 52-year-old Martin is the driver Ragan replaced in the No. 6 Ford at Roush Fenway in 2007. “Mark still wants to race,” Ragan said of a driver who will bring 40 wins, 266 top-five and 438 top-10 finishes in 827 career Cup starts to MWR. “I thought he was retiring a few years ago. That just shows you Mark’s still got a lot more drive in him. And it’s encouraging to see someone like Mark get a deal to do what he wants to do _ a part-time schedule. But it’s also sad to see a friend like Reutimann that’s a good racer get booted out. That’s the world that we live in.
“Things change with time. We (he and UPS) may cross paths again. But UPS wanted to scale back a little bit and we kind of ran out of time to put a deal together for the No. 6 car. It means a lot that they stayed at Roush, and we still got a good relationship with them.”
– John Sturbin can be reached at email@example.com Comments