Historically, the offseason in NASCAR is usually pretty dull from an outsider’s perspective.

Historically, the offseason in NASCAR is usually pretty dull from an outsider’s perspective.

Everything that happens is pretty much contained to team shops and board rooms. There isn’t a hot stove league, no big-name free agents and usually some minor personnel shifts. Home shopping channels offer more drama.

With the calendar 21 days away from turning to 2012, we’ve already seen a fascinating flurry of activity that will keep fans and insiders speculating well into March and April.

The most compelling story at the end of the 2011 season will be the most studied when the teams arrive in Daytona Beach, Fla., in February: Tony Stewart’s new crew chief. That’s right, the defending Sprint Cup champ released Darian Grubb, the man who guided “Smoke” to 11 victories in three seasons after Stewart ventured off on his own. Well before the 2011 Chase for the Champ-ionship started, Grubb was on the chopping block after going 0-for-26 and backing into the final non-wild-card playoff spot.

Grubb made two fuel mileage calls that allowed Stewart to win the first two playoff races, and set the car up to win three more. Despite that, Grubb was free to look for other work as soon as the festivities in Las Vegas came to a hungover end. Last week, Grubb took over the position Mike Ford held at Joe Gibbs Racing (where Stewart was employed from 1999-2008) since 2005, calling the shots for Denny Hamlin. The pair won 17 times and threatened for the Sprint Cup in 2010, but 2011 was an unmitigated disaster for a team with the resources of Gibbs and Toyota. One win in 36 tries.

As for Ford, he’s yet to sign with a team, but you have to believe would be a good addition for a struggling team.

Grubb’s ousting at Stewart Haas Racing contributed to an upheaval at Penske Racing.

Kurt Busch’s crew chief, Steve Addington, whom was recruited after Kyle Busch sacked him at Gibbs two seasons ago, had enough of the elder Busch and took his talents to Stewart’s team. Yes, this all seems very inbred,  but welcome to auto racing. Since Addington has won 16 times with two different Busches since 2008, and no doubt has the gray hairs and empty Prozac bottles to prove it. Working   with a Stewart in 2012 will seem like working for Mr. Rogers by  comparison.

Addington wasn’t the only one to leave Kurt Busch’s team, the driver is gone, too, in what a press released called a “mutual agreement.” That’s a really nice way to say “We really are fed up, tired of looking at each others’ stupid faces every day and this is the best way to prevent parties from whacking each other with barbed wire-laced Louisville Sluggers in the future.”

The elder Busch has burned a few bridges in his 12 seasons, despite winning a championship and 24 races in NASCAR’s premier series. His ouster from Roush Racing before the conclusion of the 2005 season prompted then-Roush Racing general manager Geoff Smith to say, “We're officially retiring as Kurt Busch’s apologists.” Right now, Busch is toxic as far as the Big 4 teams are concerned, meaning he’ll likely wind up in Class B or C team for 2012, if he races in Sprint Cup   at all.

Conversely, Kasey Kahne just finished somewhat of a comeback season with Red Bull Racing in a bizarre one-year deal – he was signed by Hendrick Motorsports in 2010, but the super team didn’t have a seat for him immediately, so they waited for Mark Martin’s contract to expire and Kahne will join Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2012. Driving for a team on the ropes, Kahne managed win a race for the first time in 80 tries and recorded five top-five finishes in the final 10 of the 2011 season. What he brings to Hendrick, and what Hendrick does for Kahne, could be a big factor in next year’s championship fight.

As for Red Bull Racing, they knew almost all season the plug was being pulled on Dietrich Mateschitz’s experiment in NASCAR, although the remaining team members are seeking a buyer.
Other bits of interest include the free agent futures of David Ragan (1 win in 182 starts), Brian Vickers (2 wins in 255 starts) and David Reutimann (2 wins in 171 starts); how Kevin Harvick’s new crew chief Shane Wilson can, or cannot, vault him back into championship contention; Danica Patrick’s first full season with fenders; Marcos Ambrose’s ability to make the next leap in his development; and what NASCAR does piggybacking off a gripping season with renewed interest from ticket buyers and television viewers.

For once, we don’t have feign interest this offseason.
 
Chris Gill, who covers auto racing for The Leader in Corning, N.Y., can be reached at cmgill@the-leader.com.