Before the NASCAR haulers pulled out of Homestead last November, Kyle Busch was already being hounded about his status beyond 2010.
Understandably, Joe Gibbs Racing wasn't about to allow Busch's contract to become a distraction. JGR stepped up and locked the 24-year-old phenom into a long-term contract.
Ditto Hendrick Motorsports and Jimmie Johnson. As if J.J. would ever leave the organization that supported his four-title run. Now as far as crew chief Chad Knaus' contract, well . . .
But seriously, there hasn't been a free-agent class of drivers this scintillating since 2008, when Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle opted to stay at Roush Fenway Racing for another three years and Tony Stewart left Joe Gibbs Racing to start up his own organization.
What drivers could possibly be on the move this season?
Kurt Busch -- Although the 2004 champ's contract was set to expire at the end of this season, Roger Penske has already picked up Busch's option. However, the option is mutual and money had yet to be agreed upon as of last month. Penske Racing's front office is currently tackling long-term sponsorship agreements and Busch admits his decision won't be finalized until those contracts are in place.
"There isn't a better ride," Busch said in regards to his options in the garage. "I have the feeling this two car has the ability to win the championship. We've made new additions that will make the team stronger. Honestly, there's no other place I'm looking right now because there's no need.
"For me, right now, my commitment is to Roger and the contract stuff will take care of itself."
Spencer's take: Busch will continue racing the Blue Deuce for a good while. He admits the delay on the current negotiations stems from his desire to race until 2014. And new crew chief Steve Addington would not have accepted a long-term deal at Penske Racing with a driver who didn't intend to stay.
At 31, Busch is reaching the peak of his racing career. While he still has great seasons ahead of him, experience has not only taught Busch that breaking up is hard to do but developing chemistry with an organization takes time. In four seasons with Penske Racing, Busch has won just six races and qualified for the Chase twice. Still, The Captain has endured a good bit of drama for his investment. However, Busch's fourth-place position last season in the point standings was the organization's best showing since 1998. With Brad Keselowski under the Penske roof, the competition should serve as a catalyst to push Busch to his best season yet.
Kevin Harvick -- In 2006, the last time Harvick was in a contract year, he put on one hell of an audition. With five wins, 15 top fives and 20 top 10 finishes it was a banner season for Harvick, who finished a career-best fourth in the point standings.
But Harvick has not been "Happy" at Richard Childress Racing for quite some time and does little publicly to hide that perception. Rumors of Harvick's job search surfaced last season as he suffered his second worst points finish of his Cup career.
"Richard Childress has given me a great opportunity to be a part of the sport and the last thing you want to do is throw mud in somebody's face and be disrespectful," Harvick said. "So my main goal this year, no matter how it all turns out, is I don't want to be disrespectful to anybody. If it ends, I want it to end peacefully and if it stays then I want it to stay peaceful.
"We went through the middle of last year and that wasn't any fun. I want to have fun with everybody and everybody else wants to have fun and everybody wants to make it successful and win races. Everybody's got the same goals. No matter how it all works out, I just want everybody to have that time and how it ends is how it ends."
Spencer's take: The Childress camp felt the tide could be turning for a Harvick renewal last month, but we'll see how the performance of the No. 29 goes before making an early call. The Daytona 500 will mark the third year since Harvick has won a race.
In a better economy, Harvick could likely write his ticket with one of the top organizations in NASCAR. But unless Harvick finds a way to take the Shell sponsorship with him as a carrot, his options will be limited. There was talk of Harvick aligning with Red Bull last season. With General Motors slashing its truck and Nationwide Series' budgets -- including backing to Kevin Harvick Inc. -- a partnership with a Toyota team could prove fruitful.
Kasey Kahne - Kahne's ability to persevere amidst the drama that was Richard Petty Motorsports last season proves how far the soon-to-be 30-year-old has matured. Despite a revolving door on management, teammates and now manufacturers, Kahne posted his best numbers in three years and stepped up in his role as alpha driver in the stable.
With crew chief Kenny Francis to insulate Kahne from many of the outside distractions and keep his focus on performance, the partnership has blossomed over the last four years. And ultimately, performance will guide Kahne's decision to stay or go. With RPM moving onto the Roush Fenway Racing campus later this month, there will be another acclimation period.
"I'm open right now because I don't know exactly what we have," Kahne said of his job status. "I feel like the change to Yates engines, the change to working with the Roush teams and still having everyone at RPM that's done such a good job over the last year -- I feel like it's something I definitely need to pay attention to and not say, 'I don't want to be here.' This could be a spot that I really want to be as the season goes depending on how well we run."
"I'm in a neat position because I get to look at my future and I've given a lot and worked really hard for the first six years of my Cup career and I get to decide what I want to do after that."
Spencer's take: Kahne desperately craves consistency. If he could leave tomorrow, he would. And when he makes his decision, Francis will be part of the package.
Kahne is the most marketable of the three prospects and does not bring baggage to the table. With Kahne's solid representation, don't expect him to make a lateral move. Only an organization such as Stewart Haas Racing or Joe Gibbs Racing will be sufficient and my bet is on the former.