This isn't good news for fans of a broad base of teams: the AP is reporting that Red Bull plans to leave NASCAR at the end of the 2011 season.
According to multiple AP sources, Red Bull executives met with NASCAR officials on Sunday to disclose their plans. And on Monday, the company issued this terse statement:
"Red Bull Racing Team is currently seeking outside investors as we evaluate next steps in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. We are not at liberty to comment on details while negotiations are under way. Red Bull fully supports NA [NA? NASCAR? Not applicable? -Ed.] for the remainder of the 2011 season as we fight for victories and a position in the 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup."
While it's never good to see sponsors departing the sport, in terms of on-track competition, what impact will this really have? Red Bull has not had tremendous success on the track since joining the circuit in 2007; the team has won only one race (Brian Vickers in 2009) and has had a roster of less-than-impressive (AJ Allmendinger, Scott Speed) and underperforming (Kasey Kahne) drivers for its entire history. Kahne is now 19th in points, while Vickers is 24th.
So how would Red Bull's departure affect the circuit? Jobs would be lost, certainly, and there aren't enough teams available to absorb all the members of both teams who would be out of work.
As for the drivers themselves, there would be little change. Kahne is headed for Hendrick Motorsports next year, and Vickers has already expressed a desire to look outside Red Bull for work. So the company could have been left with zero drivers even had it chosen to continue in the sport. (Developmental driver Cole Whitt is running well in the Trucks series, but likely isn't ready for a full ride.)
Another X-factor: Red Bull had long been rumored as the 2012-and-beyond destination for Mark Martin. With Red Bull out of the market, Martin's potential seats just narrowed by two.
For the sake of the people employed by Red Bull, hopefully team GM Jay Frye will be able to find an investor to shore up the team. But absent the presence of a marquee driver, it will be a tough sell ... and the rest of 2011 just got a lot tougher for the two Red Bull teams.