In a move that surprised absolutely no one, Penske Racing announced on Monday that Ryan Newman will not return to the No. 12 team in 2009. While Newman's destination has not been officially announced, sources close to the situation say Newman is a virtual lock to drive the second car for Tony Stewart at Stewart Haas Racing next season.
Despite winning the Daytona 500, Newman has struggled this season, sitting 16th in the point standings with seven top-10 finishes. Newman has said throughout the season that he would leave if performance didn't improve, which only fueled the rumors he'd drive for Stewart in 2009.
An announcement regarding Newman's signing with Stewart Haas is expected in two weeks when the Sprint Cup Series visits Indianapolis.
While the move itself lacks any surprise or drama -- Newman hasn't been a consistent threat to win in two years -- the intrigue comes in who could potentially fill Newman's spot in the No. 12. Sponsor Alltel isn't expected back, and rumors continue to circulate that Martin Truex Jr. will leave DEI at the end of the season and join Penske.
There were rumors IndyCar star Helio Castroneves would make the switch to NASCAR and take over the ride, but Penske announced a few weeks ago Castroneves signed an extension to remain in the IRL.
Casey Mears is still out there, as is Dario Franchitti. And if Stewart makes the moves everyone expects, guys like Scott Riggs and Johnny Sauter will be looking for rides as well. But regardless of who drives or sponsors the No. 12 next season, expect the struggles to continue; Penske is not one of the elite Cup organizations anymore, and I really don't see that changing any time soon. And with all due respect to the drivers I just mentioned, this year's Silly Season lacks any real punch now that Stewart and Newman are supposedly spoken for.
Will Newman find his form again with a new team? Possibly -- this is a guy who won 12 Cup races in his first four seasons -- and while I expect Stewart Haas to struggle initially, look for Newman to start making frequent trips to Victory Lane again by 2010, maybe as late as 2011.