HAMPTON, Ga. – When the music stops, everyone hopes to have a seat.
A seat behind the wheel of a stock car, that is.
NASCAR is going through its own version of musical chairs at the moment, with several big-name drivers moving to new rides or scrambling to land a spot in the 2014 Sprint Cup field.
This week, former Cup champion Kurt Busch completed his move to Stewart-Haas Racing for next season. Another big piece of the puzzle was finalized Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, where 21-year-old Kyle Larson was announced as the next driver of the No. 42 car at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing.
On Saturday, AJ Allmendinger reclaimed a full-time ride when JTG Daugherty Racing announced that he’ll take over the No. 47 car from Bobby Labonte next season, capping his comeback from a positive drug test in July 2012 that resulted in a NASCAR suspension and losing his job with Roger Penske’s team.
Those moves left Ryan Newman and Juan Pablo Montoya on the outside looking in, at least for the moment.
The situation is especially complex for Newman, who is trying to get Stewart-Haas’ No. 39 car in the 10-race playoff at the end of the season, while also weighing his options for next year.
“I would say it’s more of a challenge because you have to compartmentalize, stay focused at different times on different subjects,” said Newman, who is 15th in points going into Sunday night’s race at Atlanta — the next-to-last event before the Chase. “It takes away from the relaxing time in your mind, which is just as important as being focused on what you need to at any given time, be it 2013 or 2014.”
Chip Ganassi raised eyebrows when he decided to put Larson in the Target-sponsored car next season, even though he’s a rookie in the second-tier Nationwide Series and has never competed in a Cup race.
Montoya will finish out his eighth year in the car, a tenure that has produced only two wins in 241 races and finally prompted Ganassi to make a change. The car owner is convinced that Larson is the right man for the job, despite his lack of experience.
“We believe Kyle is the future of the sport,” Ganassi said. “He is a unique talent.”
Larson, who is of Japanese descent, came up through NASCAR’s diversity program and has a sprint car background that Ganassi thinks will suit him well in the Cup series, where the cars are bigger and more powerful than those in Nationwide.
NATIONWIDE SERIES: Kevin Harvick raced to his first Nationwide victory of the year, holding off Kyle Busch on the final lap at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Sam Hornish Jr. was third, followed by Kasey Kahne, rookie Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, Trevor Bayne, Austin Dillon, Regan Smith and Brian Scott.
TRUCKS: James Buescher took the pole for Sunday’s race, turning a lap at 109.189 mph on Canadian Tire Motorsport Park’s 2.459-mile road course in Bowmanville, Ontario.
INDYCAR: Scott Dixon ran a lap of 1 minute, 18.0838 seconds on the 2.02-mile course to win the pole for the Grand Prix of Baltimore.
Will Power was second in 1:18.1171.
BEECH RIDGE: Evan Beaulieu of Durham led from green to checkered in the Pro Series 40-lap feature, while Mike Rowe of Turner clinched the division championship with a fifth-place finish.
Don Morse of Windham won the Sport Series race as well as the division title. Brian Caswell of Waterboro took the checkered flag in the Wildcat feature, and Cole Watson of Naples secured the division champion. Brandon Barker of Windham won both the Road Runners race and division championship.