As it pertains to NASCAR, the Silly Season refers to hectic activity that goes on during the second half of each season and spills into the offseason. This time around there was quite a bit of movement, particularly among the meddling midpack organizations that are looking to become more competitive. There's also more depth in this year's NASCAR rookie class than in previous seasons.
Kevin Harvick | No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet | Stewart-Haas Racing
Over the last four seasons, Harvick recorded a dozen victories for Richard Childress Racing, the only team he has known since 2001, while finishing third in the final point standings on three occasions. Harvick moves to SHR in search of that elusive championship, where owner/driver Tony Stewart won it all in 2011. Harvick would have run away with the championship under the pre-Chase format during a stellar 2010 boasted by a series-best 8.7 average finish, more than full three spots ahead of the next driver.
Harvick will partner with crew chief Rodney Childers, who did an admirable job the last few seasons working with a rotation of drivers piloting the No. 55 car at Michael Waltrip Racing.
Harvick has been a fringe championship contender the last few seasons, and this switch doesn't alter that outlook for 2014. Harvick is indeed happy at the moment, living up his sarcastic nickname, and said to be reenergized by his new team.
The one knock on Harvick is starting position; he has scored only one pole since 2007 but has proven time and time again the ability to close races out in dramatic fashion.
Kurt Busch | No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet | Stewart-Haas Racing
By the end of 2011, the elder Busch brother was a toxic asset to the top teams in NASCAR. He unloaded some verbal abuse on a member of the media after developing mechanical issues early in the season finale. His strained relationship with Penske Racing was finally severed. In addition to a growing list of on-track incidents, no crew member or official was spared from Busch's searing rants over the team radio.
Busch would settle for a ride with Phoenix Racing the following year before moving to Furniture Row Racing for the final six races of 2012 and all of 2013. Busch did an impressive job with these smaller, one-car operations and surprisingly made last year's Chase.
Despite the attitude that resulted in being booted from Penske, Busch still had a number of run-ins with other drivers and physically threatened another member of the media. However, his talent behind the wheel could not be ignored. Despite a blowout with Stewart, he was tabbed to replace Ryan Newman at SHR.
Last year, Busch's 11 top-five finishes marked his best output since 2002, his second full season as a Cup driver. The move to vastly superior equipment should get Busch back into the Chase and, quite possibly, victory lane.
Ryan Newman | No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing
Despite winning one race each of the last four years, Newman was not retained by SHR. Newman made the Chase along with his former boss in 2009, the organization's inaugural season, and would do so again two of the past three years. However, Newman was been unable to break the middle-tier barrier by going nine seasons without posting double-digit top-five finishes or multiple wins.
At age 36, and a modest downgrade in equipment, it's hard to imagine a sudden revelation for Newman. Jeff Burton, who will be racing part-time for Michael Waltrip Racing, struggled in this car much of the last five seasons. Luke Lambert, the youngest crew chief in NASCAR, will remain atop the pit box for his second full season. Lambert nearly won the Nationwide title with Elliott Sadler in 2012 before working with Burton last year.
RCR lost Clint Bowyer after the 2011 season and Harvick last year. With that kind of talent looking for the exit it's difficult to envision a sudden turnaround; although Lambert is considered a bright and emerging racing mind. Newman is a solid driver but not the game-changer RCR needs.
Brian Vickers | No. 55 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota | Michael Waltrip Racing
Despite some crashes in 2013, Vickers proved to be an impressive part-time driver for MWR over the last two years. In 25 total starts, he notched five top-five finishes and 11 top-10s, highlighted by last year's victory in the summer race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
However, the season was cut short by a blood clot -- the same issue that cost Vickers 25 races back in 2010. Obviously, managers in any format that make picks spanning the entire season run are no doubt leery of this reoccurring medical problem, although doctors believe Vickers will be fine going forward.
Assuming he indeed stays healthy, Vickers is a fine middle-tier driver for a race team that has made significant strides over the last two years. In that time Clint Bowyer and the departing Martin Truex Jr. saw the best seasons of their respective careers. Seeing Vickers take a similar step forward should surprise no one.
Check back soon for Part II. ...