First it was the Kasey Kahne to Hendrick Motorsports announcement in April. That was followed up by the "will he, won't he" saga of Brian Vickers (ever racing again) and Elliott Sadler (staying at Petty). Lately it's been what Red Bull will do with the #82 and who Bobby Labonte is going to be driving for each week. And now, a new name has been thrown into the ring.
JTG Daugherty's announcement yesterday (as fireball posted) that, after five seasons by years end, they will part ways with Marcos Ambrose was a shock to me - although not to other people...don't you hate being out of the loop? - since I just figured he'd stay until the end of his contract next year. However, while the reasons given were simply a case of wanting to go in different directions, that means all we have is speculation.
Ambrose drove for Ford in his V8 Supercar days. Ford also unlocked the door for him to come into NASCAR in 2006 (was still up to him to open it and walk through though). As Brad Daugherty said in his interview on NASCAR Now yesterday, while we all believe the #47 is part of MWR, they aren't really. Which therefore means they're a second year team, still finding their feet in the Cup series whereas, perhaps, Marcos desires results now.
Now, the technical alliance with MWR meant they needed to switch from Ford to Toyota and while this made a lot of sense in late 2008 (after all, Kyle won a bunch of races that year), it might not be the best option now. Why? Well, it's a bit complex really. The Chevy seems to be the best car in the field (whether it's down to having the majority of top teams or it's just the 'easiest' to set up, I don't know), Ford appears to be making big strides with their new engine package and the Dodges, despite only fielding three fulltime cars, are stunningly quick when the setup is spot on.
That leaves Toyota in a bit of a bind (my thoughts only). Yes Denny and Kyle have been on fire at times this year, and yes Reutimann scored a hugely popular win at Chicago...but what about the rest? Truex has shown flashes of brilliance at times, Red Bull haven't been the same since Vickers was forced out while Ambrose has been fluctuating between having solid races, mechanical issues or crashes.
I don't think anyone can say the Marcos Ambrose of 2009 wasn't a surprise. Not only was he a rookie, but no one really thought he'd do a whole lot on the ovals...well, it took him half a dozen races to chuck that theory out the window. Had things gone his way, the Aussie could easily have wins at Bristol, Sonoma, Watkins Glen and Homestead on his resume before we started 2010. But, that didn't happen and while last year he was certainly the second best 'MWR' driver, he did, at times, prove to be better than Reutimann.
But that all changed with the signing of Truex (again, just my opinion). Here was a driver who has won Nationwide titles, won a Cup race, been in the Chase...in other words, a proven talent behind the wheel. So that meant Marcos was demoted to being third in line, and that's a situation that is rather difficult to get out of. Basically, Ambrose made the only real choice he could; fly the nest.
However, there is a problem here (and yes, I didn't really like writing this next part but they are the facts).
While most agree that the Aussie is a PR dream with his huge smile and how his sponsors adore him, what exactly has he done? He has 3 pole positions (1 Truck, 2 Nationwide) and a pair of wins in the Nationwide series, neither on an oval. He led more laps at this years Sonoma race (35 I believe) than he did all of last year and, unlike a Paul Menard, he doesn't bring any sponsors with him. That's not exactly lighting the racing world on fire when you put it like that, is it? His one saving grace is that while his statistics don't back it up, he is a very handy little driver as he proved last year and if he's given the right environment, he would probably flourish.
It's just that finding that right environment is so often the hard part...