Jay Frye, pondering (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
By Mike Mulhern
Yes, Kasey Kahne is on only a one-year contract and moving to Rick Hendrick at the end of the year. That's one seat Frye needs to fill.
Yes, Vickers, in the final year of his contract, is just eight races into his comeback, after sitting out most of 2010 recovering from blood clots. That's a contract Frye needs to renegotiate…or a seat he might need to fill.
And, yes, it's still only April. And there are several key pieces to the big picture that need to play out:
Carl Edwards and Jack Roush, for one.
Juan Pablo Montoya and Chip Ganassi, for another.
Clint Bowyer and Richard Childress, for yet another.
Mark Martin and Rick Hendrick, for yet another.
And that doesn't include the surprise drivers who might appear on the surface to be content and under contract but who are quietly and secretly making their own overtures to pack up and move on.
Greg Biffle and Jeff Burton have both signed new contracts for 2012 in the past few weeks, taking them out of the game.
Now Edwards, despite a lot of interest by rivals in signing him, will likely return to the Roush Ford camp.
Montoya will almost certainly return to the Ganassi fold.
And Bowyer would like to hang in there with Childress (though sponsorship is still a major issue).
Martin could be the wild card. He's quite happy with Hendrick, though Martin says he has no specific plans for 2012, when he's to turn his Cup team over to Kahne. But Martin and Frye have worked together before and have a good comfort level; Frye, who is bringing along 20-year-old newcomer Cole Whitt (a part-time Nationwide schedule this season), might like Martin as mentor and part-time driver (as Martin did for Frye when they ran Bobby Ginn's team in 2007)…though Red Bull itself might prefer a different marketing demographic than Martin, at 52, might provide.
Brian Vickers: 2012? First, needs to step it up in 2011. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
But here's the pressure for Frye and his group:
-- Is Vickers getting the job done? How much time should he need to get things back in gear?
Vickers is just 28th in the standings, with no memorable runs so far. That contrasts with last spring's hot start, before being sidelined.
Vickers, though still just 27, needs to get going. He is one of the nice guys on the tour, fun to be around, and quite well-rounded, and well-traveled. Good copy. Wears his emotions on his sleeve.
But Vickers has been running the Cup tour since 2003, and this is his ninth season on the trail. Two wins over that span, the famous Talladega victory in 2006, and at Michigan in the summer of 2009, a season he won six poles.
This season, though, Vickers' bests so far have been a 10th at Las Vegas and an eighth at California.
-- Is a Chevrolet deal in the works for Team Red Bull for 2012? That's the rumor here…in part perhaps because Chevrolet would like to find a seat to offer Carl Edwards, one of the hottest free agents at the moment. Red Bull has been in the Toyota camp
-- And, of course, just how good is Team Red Bull? The Dietrich Mateschitz-owned operation has been a Cup franchise since just 2008 (and that was indeed a rocky start, before Frye was hired to settle things down. Vickers' win is the only one for Red Bull on the tour. In contrast, last season the sponsor's Formula 1 team won both the constructors championship and drivers' championship with Sebastian Vettel.
Kahne's sixth at Phoenix is the team's best so far. Kahne, after crashing at Martinsville, struggling at Texas, and crashing at Talladega, has fallen from ninth to 18th in the standings.
"Everybody knows who the players are," Frye says of the landscape. "And over the next month we'll just be watching and listening…before we have to start making moves and hard pitches.
"What we have to do right now is run well. When Kasey runs well, he helps us in 'selling' that seat, because that shows everyone what we've got to offer, shows everyone 'Hey, these guys are for real.'"
So, would General Motors' racing manager Alba Colon like to add Team Red Bull to the Chevrolet camp for 2012? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
-- The Red Bull to Chevrolet rumor?
That's not new; it keeps cropping up, in part because Frye has worked with General Motors in the past, and in part because Red Bull is a good co-promotional sponsor.
Again Frye is shooting it down: "That's been going on for about three years now. There is no truth to that."
With a caveat: "If there was any truth to that, I couldn't speak to it.
"But we're a Toyota team, and I don't know why that continues to come up."
-- Frye's overview of his two-team operation so far this season:
"We're evaluating where we're at. Obviously we've got a job to do this year, and we're doing our best to run as good as we can.
"We had some success at the beginning of the year; but we've had some bad luck the last few weeks. We're hoping to get this thing turned around this weekend and headed back in the right direction.
"As far as next year, and what's going to happen with the team, we can see what all is going on in the sport, and we're just evaluating…."
-- Is there a pitch to Carl Edwards? Well, with contracts such as they are, and owners reluctant to reveal many terms, Frye is cautious: "It's hard to talk about specifics. Obviously Carl is a phenomenal talent and a great guy.
"We know who's out there and who's available. And people know we have a situation where Kasey is moving on next year.
"Who knows what will happen in the next month or two.
"At this point we're just trying to take care of our own business and do what we can to rebound from the last couple of weeks.
"If we do what we need to do, and run as well as we have in the past, the driver situation will take care of itself."
And Brian Vickers? "We've had some really good runs, just struggled to get the finishes we need," Frye says.
"We haven't sat down and talked about next year yet. We don't feel that is necessary right now.
"The important thing is to get that team going and him going. If that happens, everything else will take care of itself."
Kasey Kahne: moving on at the end of the season, leaving GM Jay Frye with a seat to fill (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)