Mears leads the list of available drivers for 2007
Posted: Thursday June 1, 2006 1:33PM; Updated: Thursday June 1, 2006 6:23PM
Will Chip Ganassi (left) be able to keep Casey Mears?
Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images
Robert Yates Racing has a driver opening. At least three seats are available with new Toyota teams Red Bull and Bill Davis Racing.
In other words, it's a good time to be Casey Mears.
Mears is the top free-agent Nextel Cup driver on the market. Red Bull is waving those energy-drink dollars in front of him, and it's suspected that Bill Davis wants to lock him up too. Chip Ganassi desperately needs to keep him. Ray Evernham is also said to be interested.
Mears' situation has changed dramatically in the past 12 months. He appeared to be out at Ganassi, or headed for a fourth car and an unappealing extended building process for the team. Ganassi held an option on Mears that went midway into September, a major disadvantage for the driver. Mears had offers, but those would be gone by then.
Jamie McMurray was Ganassi's top gun and signed for 2006. But Jack Roush, looking ahead, swept in last July and signed McMurray for 2007 and beyond. Roger Penske used the same approach to snap up Kurt Busch from Roush. Since nobody likes having a lame-duck driver, negotiations ensued and both drivers moved to their new teams a year early, leaving Ganassi as the odd team out in this game of musical chairs.
Consequently, Ganassi exercised his option on Mears and promoted Reed Sorenson as planned. Elevating David Stremme wasn't in that plan, but there were no other options, so Ganassi put on his best sponsor smile and proclaimed Stremme ready. Eleven races into his first Nextel Cup season, it's clear he's not.
Meanwhile, Mears has increased his value by showing he's the real deal. He's in the hunt for the Chase, 11th in the points heading into Charlotte this weekend. Just 28 years old, Mears already has 119 career starts, a combination of youth and experience that owners and sponsors covet.