Who Can Replace Marcos Ambrose in 2015?

Who Can Replace Marcos Ambrose in 2015?

by September 14, 2014 0 comments

Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images

With the announcement of Marcos Ambrose heading back to Australia after the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, Richard Petty Motorsports have a driver-sized gap to fill in their No. 9 Ford for the 2015 campaign.

Ambrose vacates a seat that he will have held for four seasons by the conclusion of this year, and Richard Petty Motorsports have already begun the search for a replacement.

Several names that have been floated around include present Sprint Cup drivers David Ragan and Ryan Truex. Part-time Nationwide Series driver Sam Hornish Jr. has also been a name that has been mentioned as a potential replacement for Ambrose.

I take a look at these names and provide my thoughts on their chances for the No. 9 ride and what they would bring to it. I also suggest some names of my own as potential replacements.

David Ragan 

Ford have placed a lot of focus into Ragan throughout his NASCAR National Series career. Coming up with Roush-Fenway Racing in the Camping World Truck Series, Roush-Fenway would push Ragan through the Trucks and the Nationwide Series up to the Sprint Cup level in just two short years.

Even after departing Roush-Fenway Racing after the conclusion of the 2011 Sprint Cup season, Ragan has been kept underneath the Ford umbrella with a ride in the No. 34 Ford for Front Row Motorsports.

With Ragan currently in a contract year and a ride that is capable of winning opening up for next season, it would make sense for the 28-year-old from Unadilla, Georgia, to make the jump up to the No. 9 ride. This season in the No. 34 Ford, Ragan has scored zero top-10s this year and currently sits in the 32nd position in the points standings. For comparison, Ambrose has three top-fives, five top-10s, and enters this weekend’s race at Chicagoland 23rd in the points standings.

If Ragan wishes to return to a position where he can potentially contend for a Chase berth week-in and week-out, Richard Petty would likely be more than willing to provide the two-time Sprint Cup race winner with a seat for 2015. With youth and a winning history on his side, Ragan would appear to be a no-brainer for the No. 9 for next year.

Sam Hornish Jr.

Hornish is perhaps the biggest free agent currently left unsigned to a full-time deal in any of the National Series and may want one last shot to compete full-time in the Sprint Cup Series field.

At 35 years of age, now is the time for Hornish if he wishes to have one last chance at proving his worth in the Sprint Cup Series. If you can recall, the present part-time Nationwide Series driver for Joe Gibbs Racing was initially pushed to the Sprint Cup level early in his NASCAR career by Team Penske – a move that resulted in three mediocre full-time seasons for the former IndyCar champion.

Since dropping down to the Nationwide Series, Hornish has proved that he can win in NASCAR with three race victories coming with Penske and Gibbs and a second-place run for the drivers’ title in 2013. If the mission for Penske was to send Hornish to the Nationwide Series for him to become a winning NASCAR driver – their mission succeeded.

Richard Petty Motorsports won’t be able to utilize Hornish for long as he advances in age, however, he can be used as a great place-holder for the No. 9 entry until one of RPM’s development drivers are ready to step up.

Ryan Truex

2014 marked Truex’s entry into the Sprint Cup Series as a full-time driver, however, it wasn’t with Richard Petty Motorsports.

Truex is the current driver for the No. 83 BK Racing Toyota yet is still within the Richard Petty Motorsports. With one full season under his belt by the end of this season, a move up to the No. 9 car for Truex would make great sense for the 22-year-old.

The young Truex has been bounced around from ride-to-ride in his young National Series career, racing for Turner Scott Motorsports, Phoenix Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing, RAB Racing, Tommy Baldwin Racing, and BK Racing in just three years in the National Series. Some stability would be a welcome change for Truex as he could become a mainstay for the No. 9 Ford.

In his starts in the Camping World Truck Series and Nationwide Series, Truex has been able to string together strong runs with multiple top-five and top-10 finishes coming in both series. The talent is certainly there for Truex, all he needs is a ride.

David Gilliland

Gilliland, like his Front Row Motorsports teammate, David Ragan, is presently in a contract year; and like Ragan, he too has been firmly in the Ford camp for nearly his entire Sprint Cup career.

The 38-year-old from Riverside, California’s Cup career has consisted of rides that have generally been at the back of the pack in terms of pace. With this new ride opening up, Gilliland could have an opportunity to race for a solid mid-pack team.

With three development drivers within the RPM organization, Gilliland, like Hornish, could have use as a place-holder driver to run the No. 9 until the organization feels that one of their youngsters is ready to take the helm of the seat. With a good car underneath him and with a brief multi-year contract, Gilliland could certainly surprise if he is given a shot in the No. 9 to close out his career.

Dakoda Armstrong

Armstrong will finish this season with his first full season in the Nationwide Series under his belt. While this season may not be going as well as Armstrong and the RPM organization may have expected, RPM could give Armstrong the nod for the No. 9 if they are not able to reach contracts with the drivers listed above.

The odds of that happening though are incredibly long, however.

Corey Lajoie

This is where we get into major long-shot territory.

Lajoie has been within the Richard Petty Motorsports development program for just over a year now and has not had a full-time ride since his development contract signing – only making four starts in the Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series combined in two years.

Lajoie certainly has the skills to wheel a race car, just not at the Sprint Cup Series level yet. If Armstrong is promoted to the No. 9 ride next year, Lajoie could slide into the No. 43 Nationwide Series seat for the 2015 season.

Kyle Pokrefky
Follow Kyle Pokrefky on Twitter at @KPokrefky

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