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Pistone: Sillier Season


There was a time when "Silly Season" had much more of a finite time frame. Drivers, teams and sponsors usually had their plans in place for the new year by the time to current season ended the summer run. The annual fall Charlotte Motor Speedway race weekend was a Defacto coming out party with a parade of announcements punctuated by cars showcasing new colors, paint schemes and sponsorships.

But as the corporate world changed so did the business of NASCAR. The advent of rotating sponsorships rather than the one solo company backing a team for a whole season helped change the complexion of what was announced and when. Now it’s nearly a continuous weekly barrage of companies coming on board to back a team for either a solo race or multiple events.

The evolution has also impacted driver movement within the sport. Long term deals are rare replaced by shorter incentive-laden contracts. Piecing together sponsorship for the course of a full 36-race Cup season remains the biggest challenge also adding to the complexity.

Now throw in a worldwide pandemic and a economic crisis that has forced companies to re-evaluate marketing and sponsorship dollars and "Silly Season" has been turned upside down.

There have been several changes already announced for 2021 and beyond in addition to drivers extending their current contracts such as Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney with Team Penske, Aric Almirola and Stewart-Haas Racing and William Byron at Hendrick Motorsports.

But there is also much uncertainty. Joe Gibbs Racing will bring Christopher Bell over from the soon to be defunct Leavine Family Racing affiliate team putting Erik Jones on the free agent market. Hendrick has an open seat in its No. 48 Chevrolet after Jimmie Johnson ends his full-time NASCAR career at season’s end. Matt Kenseth told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio he does not expect to be back in Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 42 ride in 2021. Corey LaJoie won’t return to the GoFas Racing No. 32 Ford while Germain Racing, with driver Ty Dillon, has not signed a sponsor for next season and is exploring a potential sale.

Then there’s perhaps the biggest domino of them all after Bubba Wallace and Richard Petty Motorsports informed the world they would part ways. Wallace has attracted a number of lucrative sponsorships during this high-profile year and is considered by many teams to be the top prized free agent available.

When will all these loose ends be tied up? Your guess is as good as anyone’s. Considering the difficulty in the sanctioning body trying to put together next year’s schedule while continuing to navigate the moving target of health, medical, safety and government regulations around the virus there’s no definitive answer except one – it’s 2020.

The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.