As fans prepare for Atlanta Motor Speedway's Kobalt Tools 500 on March 8, they may need more than a program and lineup sheet to remember all the team changes from a tumultuous NASCAR Sprint Cup offseason.
Ranging from drivers switching teams to a youthful upstart replacing a wily veteran who will run his own team, even NASCAR's most dedicated fans might find themselves needing a preview guide to sort through the changes.
The off-season's most discussed move saw Tony Stewart purchase 50-percent ownership in Haas CNC Racing to form Stewart-Haas Racing. Now guiding his own team, the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice squad, the former two-time Sprint Cup Champion will compete for what is essentially a new team.
Joining Stewart at Stewart-Haas Racing is Ryan Newman, known locally for his qualifying prowess at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Newman, who is tied for the Atlanta Motor Speedway record with seven pole wins, left Penske Racing for the opportunity to work with Stewart and be sponsored by the U.S. Army.
Also with local ties to Atlanta Motor Speedway, a pair of NASCAR young guns who cut their teeth racing Legends cars at Atlanta will be in new positions for the 2009 season in Reed Sorenson and Joey Logano.
Sorenson signed with Gillett-Evernham Motorsports for the 2009 season. An off-season merger with Petty Enterprises to form Richard Petty Motorsports will allow Sorenson to pilot perhaps NASCAR's most famous car, the legendary No. 43 of "The King" Richard Petty himself. Guided by a new crew chief in Mike Shiplett, Sorenson will lean on the wisdom of Petty to guide his new team to success.
With Stewart no longer with Joe Gibbs Racing, the youthful Logano will take over Stewart's familiar Home Depot No. 20 ride. Despite the car's number being greater than Logano's age (18), the former Atlanta Motor Speedway Legends competitor will inherit a talented team from one of the sports' most successful organizations who hopes the young driver can deliver on his immense potential.
Two former DEI drivers will have new homes for the 2009 season, as Mark Martin moves to the powerful Hendrick stable and Paul Menard brings full-time sponsorship to Yates Racing. For Martin, the move brings the 50-year old out of semi-retirement for one last shot at the elusive Sprint Cup Championship.
Formerly with Hendrick, Casey Mears joins Richard Childress Racing where he will inherit Clint Bowyer's former team. With Bowyer driving a new number (No. 33) with a new crew chief (Shane Wilson), Mears will drive the recognizable No. 07 Jack Daniels car for RCR.
A former NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion and six-time Atlanta Motor Speedway winner is reacting to change in the 2009 season, as Bobby Labonte moves to a new team. Labonte departs the recently merged Petty Enterprises in favor of Hall of Fame Racing where he will drive the No. 96, significantly elevating the talent level for the three-year old organization.
After being released by Red Bull Racing in 2008, AJ Allmendinger has found a home with Richard Petty Motorsports for 2009. Allmendinger will work with crew chief Sammy Johns after Shiplett was moved from the No. 44 to Sorenson's No. 43.
David Stremme moves to the No. 12 car of Penske Racing for the 2009 season. The 2003 NASCAR Nationwide Series Rookie of the Year gets a "second chance" in the sport's top series after a strong year in the Nationwide Series following a previous two-year stint with Chip Ganassi Racing.
While these changes represent the majority of noteworthy driver changes leading into the 2009 season, fans should also recognize several new team startups, a large number of sponsor changes, as well as crew chief and team member changes in what was perhaps the biggest NASCAR off-season of change in more than a decade. What does it all mean? Hopefully, this question will be answered in the season's initial races before the running of the Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 8.
Tickets as low as $39 are available for the Kobalt Tools 500 on March 8. To purchase your tickets, contact the Atlanta Motor Speedway Ticket Office at 877-9-AMS-TIX (877-926-7849) or 770-946-4211, visit www.atlantamotorspeedway.com, or contact your local Ticketmaster retailer.
Noteworthy NASCAR Team Changes for the 2009 Sprint Cup Season
|AJ Allmendinger||Richard Petty Motorsports||44|
|Bobby Labonte||Hall of Fame Racing||96|
|Joey Logano||Joe Gibbs Racing||20|
|Mark Martin||Hendrick Motorsports||5|
|Casey Mears||Richard Childress Racing||07|
|Paul Menard||Yates Racing||98|
|Ryan Newman||Stewart-Haas Racing||39|
|Reed Sorenson||Richard Petty Motorsports||43|
|Tony Stewart||Stewart-Haas Racing||14|
|David Stremme||Penske Racing South||12|