|12/05/11 11:19AM||Kurt Busch Leaves Penske Racing, NASCAR|
Next step unknown for Busch, Penske after split
Hornish, Kligerman in-house options; Ragan, Reutimann also looking for rides
By Mark Aumann, NASCAR.COM
December 05, 2011 12:10 PM, EST
So now that Penske Racing and Kurt Busch have parted ways, what's the next step? From a supply and demand standpoint, it seems there are more unemployed drivers than available seats for 2012.
Hornish has extensive Cup experience, with two top-five and eight top-10 finishes in 108 starts for Penske Racing over three full seasons. He also won the Nationwide Series race at Phoenix and has had a long relationship with Pennzoil in open-wheel cars, having won 11 races for the brand while at Panther Racing.
The 21-year-old Kligerman ran a full Truck Series slate for Brad Keselowski in 2011, finishing 11th in the standings. He recorded four top-five finishes, including a pair of second-place efforts at Kentucky and Texas. Kligerman also scored a pair of top-10 finishes in a limited Nationwide Series schedule in 2010.
If Penske decides to test the free agent market, there are at least three former winners looking for rides.
David Reutimann was released at the end of the season by Michael Waltrip Racing. In five full seasons with MWR, the 41-year-old picked up 26 top-10 finishes in 171 starts -- including wins in the 2009 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte and at Chicagoland in 2010.
Daytona winner David Ragan found himself as the odd man out when sponsorship woes forced Jack Roush to downsize his operation. He had 30 top-10 finishes in 182 races after replacing Mark Martin in the No. 6 Ford.
And when Red Bull closed up shop following Homestead, Brian Vickers was left with helmet in hand. After returning from open-heart surgery, Vickers scored three top-five and seven top-10 finishes in 2011, resulting in a 25th-place finish in the points. The 28-year-old has two Cup wins: Talladega in 2006 for Rick Hendrick and Michigan in 2009 for Red Bull.
Busch's situation could be a little more dire. Without further driver shuffling or additional sponsorship, none of the major Cup operations currently have a full-time opening.
Front Row Motorsports has two cars with guaranteed starting positions in February's Daytona 500 but has not announced its 2012 driver lineup. David Gilliland and Travis Kvapil drove the majority of the races this season but are unsigned for next year.
Lesser options may include James Finch's No. 51 Phoenix Racing entry or the No. 71 TRG Motorsports car owned by Kevin Buckler.
To see Kurt Busch's 2011 season highlights, click below