DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – No fewer than seven big-name Sprint Cup drivers are in the final year of their contracts with their current teams, and for some the timing couldn't be worse.
With the economy still lagging, sponsorship dollars aren't what they used to be. That, says free-agent-to-be Greg Biffle, means some drivers are in for a pay cut.
"I think it's gonna be a significant amount just because I think sponsor programs are going down," Biffle said. "A lot of us had some pretty rich deals in the heyday. It's gonna get reset, there's no doubt."
Here's the list of drivers in the final year of their contract, along with where they could potentially land in 2012:
• Carl Edwards: Roush Fenway has the inside track, if only because Edwards says his "dream" is to maintain the status quo and because there aren't many options out there.
Edwards' No. 1 criteria is winning a championship. He says wherever he ends up will be the team he believes will give him the best shot to win.
A year ago, that wouldn't have been Roush. But RFR appears to be a contender again after Edwards won the final two races of 2010. Those wins likely saved Roush from exclusion in the sweepstakes that's sure to surround Edwards as this year's Silly Season plays out.
As for whom else will pique Edwards' interest, the list is short and will be contingent upon several teams adding a car to its current roster. Joe Gibbs, Penske and Stewart-Haas all have room and can be considered championship contenders. Red Bull Racing will have an open slot, too, with Kasey Kahne moving on to Hendrick Motorsports.
"I want to get it done as quickly and privately as we can so we can focus on racing" said Edwards, who serves as his own agent. "There's no benefit to having a long, drawn out proposition."
• Greg Biffle: He's not going anywhere. Expect Biffle to re-sign with Roush Fenway Racing within the next month or so as part of a package deal with primary sponsor 3M. Biffle said negotiations are going "very well" and he expects his deal to "surprise" people. What will the surprise be? Potentially a four-year deal in a world that's used to two- and three-year contracts.
• Juan Pablo Montoya: Negotiations for a new deal between Montoya and team owner Chip Ganassi have not yet begun. However, Montoya contractually isn't allowed to talk to other teams. At least not yet. Montoya said he'd consider re-signing with Earnhardt-Ganassi, but will consider other options. (For those options, see Edwards.)
• Clint Bowyer: Like Edwards, Bowyer should be a hot commodity. Richard Childress Racing will no doubt make the hard sell to keep Bowyer in its stable. How competitive RCR is early in the 2011 season will likely play a big role in Bowyer's decision-making process.
• Jeff Burton: Expect Burton to re-sign with Richard Childress Racing. Burton said he's comfortable where he is, likes working for Richard Childress and hopes to finish his career with RCR.
• Brian Vickers: His stance is not to talk about his contract, which is smart. That way he doesn't have to continuously answer the questions that are sure to come. Red Bull was slow in offering Vickers an extension two years ago, but relented when he won at Michigan midway through the 2009 season.
On the one hand, Vickers could be on the hot seat to race his way into a contract extension, especially considering he missed most of 2010 because of health issues. On the other hand, is Red Bull going to find two replacements – remember, Kahne's seat will be open in 2012 – that are better than Vickers?
• Mark Martin: This much we know – Martin won't be back with Hendrick Motorsports in 2012. Where he will end up remains to be seen though. Miffed about the lingering free-agent talk last year that had Kasey Kahne taking over his ride at Hendrick Motorsports this season, Martin isn't talking about his future, saying that he doesn't know where he'll be in 2012 and that he might not know until late in the year.
• Danica Patrick: Both of Patrick's contracts – her deal to drive for JR Motorsports in NASCAR's Nationwide Series and Michael Andretti in IndyCar – expire at the end of the 2011 season. That is, if she wants them to. Patrick made it sound as though she has options to drive with both teams beyond 2011, but the decision is hers.
Right now she's mum on what her future holds, thus allowing her another season to evaluate herself as a stock car driver. If things go well, expect Patrick to expand her duties in the NASCAR world, possibly into the Cup Series.