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From the Marbles

Offseason Hot/Not: Red Bull’s Unfortunate NASCAR Goodbye

Geoffrey Miller
From The Marbles

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Typically, in this space, we'd be talking about the most recent on-track NASCAR dramas (thanks, Busch brothers!) from the previous weekend's racing. However, the very nature of the offseason isn't very good about giving us material. And since I'm so dedicated to you, my three loyal readers, I'm not even going to take vacation while guys like Jimmie Johnson send Twitter pictures from far-flung, palm tree-laden destinations.

So we're going to change it up a bit until Daytona, and use this space to review the most pressing (and occasionally irrelevant) NASCAR news of the past week. Ready? I am. Jump in:

NOT: Not to depress you in the midst of the holiday season, but there's a lot of families with NASCAR ties hurting after the typical ebb and flow of sponsor issues and team direction changes led to many layoffs.

The most recent negative shift was last Thursday's closing of Red Bull Racing. It wasn't exactly a shock after the Austrian energy drink-maker announced early in 2011 that it wouldn't be supporting its five-year old NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team past this season. Investors or sponsors were never found to continue the team past Red Bull's departure, and now roughly 150 people working in and around Brian Vickers' and Kasey Kahne's Toyotas are looking for what's next.

For a sport we all love so much as a refuge from real life, it's tough to handle when it crosses into negatively affecting those who work in and around it — regardless of the level.

NEUTRAL: Thinking of the Red Bull closure, it's an interesting time to think about the hypotheticals for Brian Vickers. The 2003 Nationwide Series champion left his ride at Hendrick Motorsports (where he had accumulated a single win at Talladega) to join the new Red Bull venture in 2007.

His first season, the team struggled and Vickers failed to qualify for 13 races. He would eventually earn a win at Michigan in 2009 and go on to qualify for the Chase. In five seasons with Red Bull, Vickers posted 11 top 5s and 34 top 10s, despite missing all but 11 races last year due to a life-threatening blood clot issue. {ysp:more}

But I've always wondered: Where would Vickers have ended up had he stayed with Hendrick Motorsports after the 2006 season? He wasn't exactly setting the world on fire in the No. 25 for Hendrick, but he was showing steady progression as a young driver.

There's no guarantee he would have lasted past 2006 at Hendrick, really, but it's interesting to wonder the what-ifs — especially now that he's without a job for 2012.

HOT: It's not a surprise that Tony Stewart won this little go-karting deal in Indianapolis, is it? And, by the way, when does his insane hot streak end? Remember — and Smoke fans don't need this reminder — Stewart has yet to win the Daytona 500.

ODD: (Yeah, it's different. That's what happens in the offseason.) I still can't seem to figure out just how AJ Allmendinger — now apparently witout a ride in 2012 thanks to sponsorship woes and Kurt Busch — was the best driver in the final 10 percent of races this year. I'm going to crowdsource it. Anyone have any tips as to how he did that?

Was it a phenonmenal drive late in the going of just a few events? Did he just routinely beat other drivers late? Was there a jet pack involved?

And, now, we're learning that even being the best closer in NASCAR won't let you keep your ride for the next season. Ah, Silly Season.

HOT: Jeff Gordon visited Africa during an off-week in July, and if you're a follower of his Twitter feed (@JeffGordonWeb) you saw he returned last week.

It wasn't about vacationing for Gordon, as instead it was part of his philanthropic work with his foundation to end pediatric cancer there. That, friends, is just impressive.

HOT: We should all thank Penske Racing and Kurt Busch for adding a new phrase to the racing world's lexicon with Busch's departure, er "mutual agreement, last week.

NEUTRAL: Scott Speed and Leavine Family Racing announced Tuesday that the former Formula One driver will drive 15 Cup races for the team in 2012. The Tyler, Texas-based team is sure a long way from his time in the F1 paddock, but it at least seems to be an effort that's about more than being a start-and-park team.

HOT: Good for Darian Grubb signing on as Denny Hamlin's crew chief. Winning the title as an outgoing employee undoubtedly has its perks in finding future employment, however odd it seems.

NOT: Alternatively, Mike Ford was fired as Hamlin's crew chief just before Grubb's hire despite Hamlin giving Ford a pretty extensive vote of confidence twice late in the season. It makes you think that maybe, just maybe, a vote of confidence isn't exactly a good thing for someone to have in NASCAR.

LAST: One of the joys of the NASCAR offseason is getting to take in other forms of racing. In January, that category falls to the France Family-owned Rolex Sports Car Series' 24 Hours of Daytona.

I'll be attending this year for the first time, and I'm going to certainly brag about how excited I am. However, I can only imagine what the other teams in the series thought Tuesday when Chip Ganassi rolled out his two-car driver lineup. The pairings for racing twice-around-the-clock for Chip will include car No. 01 with Scott Pruette, Memo Rojas, Graham Rahal (IndyCar) and Joey Hand, while car No. 02 will feature Scott Dixon (IndyCar), Dario Franchitti (IndyCar), Juan Pablo Montoya (you know him) and Jamie McMurray (NASCAR's resident Big Race winner).

They'll drive in the faster Daytona Prototype class again this year, trying to defend Ganassi's title from last year. Any takers?

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