David Ragan headlines best remaining Sprint Cup free agents
A.J. Allmendinger landed the best remaining job on Wednesday: the No. 22 Dodge
Move leaves several race winners like David Ragan looking for a new job
Ragan was rumored to be Penske-bound, but reportedly has back-up deal in place
A.J. Allmendinger could have used a job with Team Penske when he was an aspiring -- and five-race-winning -- driver in the now-defunct Champ Car World Series in 2006. He had to wait six years and switch regimens to finally land a job with one of motor sports' most storied teams, but the 30-year-old unwrapped the last plum job opening remaining in Sprint Cup with just four days left until Christmas.
Allmendinger was announced on Wednesday as the new driver of the No. 22 Dodge, a replacement for Kurt Busch, who split with the team by "mutual" agreement following a season of very public internal turmoil.
Allmendinger is among the fortunate. NASCAR is rife with the qualified but unemployed as scarce sponsor dollars continue to reduce jobs, like the one David Ragan once had in the now-shuttered No. 6 Ford at Roush Fenway.
A look at some high-profile drivers still looking for full-time work in 2012:
David Ragan: Granted his release from RFR because of lack of sponsorship following UPS's departure, Ragan offers a less-laurelled, but less-controversial alternative to Busch. Ragan is malleable as a personality, something a corporate entity would covet. More wins would help, and although he won in Sprint Cup for the first time at Daytona this summer, the 26-year-old could have increased his marketability greatly had he not made a crucial late restart mistake that cost him the lead in the Daytona 500. Ragan was widely rumored to be Penske-bound until Allmendinger was freed, and he reportedly has a deal with Phoenix Racing pending sponsorship that has yet to materialize.
Intriguing theoretical scenario: Roush's tendrils extend throughout the Ford effort in NASCAR, so keeping him in camp with Petty in the No. 43 makes a great deal of sense. Some company will need to write checks, however, if RPM is to stay a two-car team. RPM chief executive officer Brian Moffitt said the team believes "there are several very talented drivers who are still available and would embrace the opportunity to" replace Allmendinger.
David Reutimann: The 41-year-old two-time Sprint Cup winner slogged through a horrid season (28th in points) after winning once in each of the previous two seasons. He also learned what long-term relationships are worth when Michael Waltrip put himself and Mark Martin in Reutimann's ride for 2012. Waltrip said sponsor Aaron's spurred the move. A stocked free-agent market will make finding a new, quality ride tough for Reutimann, who made all of his 171 Cup starts for Michael Waltrip Racing.
Intriguing theoretical scenario: Phoenix Racing for an all-Florida bid? No, not very intriguing and very theoretical.
Brian Vickers: Left adrift with the demise of Red Bull Racing, his home since leaving Hendrick Motorsports in 2007, Vickers, 28, is in career limbo. His comeback from a circulatory problem in 2010 was impressive, but his 2011 season was mundane, with a 25th-place points finish.
Intriguing theoretical scenario: A Russian oil billionaire wants to enter the series with Roush Fenway and Vickers as driver of the resuscitated No. 6 Ford program, forcing Vickers and Kenseth -- who had several on-track incidents at the end of the season -- to pose for lots of pictures together.