NASCAR's Silly Season underway in full force
We've had our fair share of silly season fun over the years but the concept hit a fever pitch last spring with the stunning announcement that said NASCAR Sprint Cup star driver Kasey Kahne was going to join Hendrick Motorsports.
Wait a minute. How can this be a silly season issue? It all seemed to be signed, sealed and delivered.
The mystery lies in the fact that there isn't an available ride for Kahne at Hendrick Motorsports, (HMS), until the start of the 2012 season. That is due to NASCAR's ownership cap limiting organizations to four teams. Mark Martin is under contract to drive Hendrick's #5 Chevrolet through 2011. Rick Hendrick further announced that he was going to arrange for a temporary, one year, ride for Kahne in 2011. This process seems to have become a case of easier said than done. Perhaps if we look at the Kasey Kahne time table over the past nine months we might find a clue regarding what seat this driver will land in for the 2011 season.
NOVEMBER 20, 2009.
Kasey Kahne has just completed the 2009 season in the #9 Budweiser Dodge for Richard Petty Motorsports. As an official competitor for NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase For The Championship, Kahne finished the year tenth in the championship points standings based on two wins, seven top five finishes and 14 top ten finishes. His official race winnings for the season were $5,760,140.
Despite what many would consider to be a good year, Kahne has some concerns over the financial future of his team. Richard Petty Motorsports, (RPM), was based on a merger between two racing entities formerly known as Gillette-Evernham Motorsports and Petty Enterprises. Kahne's concerns lied with the persistent rumors that said that there was going to be yet another merger involving Yates Racing.
With his contract with RPM set to expire at the end of the 2010 season, Kahne picks this point in time to officially announce that he will start examining other racing options beginning in January. He officially becomes the hottest free agent in NASCAR.
RPM officially announces that the proposed merger with Yates Racing is now complete. RPM will field four teams and will officially switch to Ford for the 2010 season.
Adding fuel to Kahne's concerns from last November, George Gillette announces the restructuring of $70 million in debt. The majority owner of RPM states that the 2008 decision of the Chrysler Corporation to go under federal bankruptcy protection is the catalyst for this move.
At virtually the same time HMS announces the signing of Kasey Kahne and launches the process of finding their new driver a ride to cover the 2011 racing season before Kahne assumes his permanent assignment in the #5 Chevrolet in 2012.
The announcement causes the NASCAR garage rumor mill to churn out reports that says Kahne will spend the 2011 season as the third driver for Stewart Haas Racing, (SHR). This team receives chassis, engines and technical support from HMS and it's believed Kahne will become their third driver with full Hendrick support.
However, days later, Tony Stewart says no one has talked to him regarding Kahne coming to SHR in 2011. Stewart further states that right now his focus is on the team's two Chevrolets driven by himself and Ryan Newman. But Stewart also says that a third SHR team could be a possibility if the right opportunity came along.
During the course of a press conference, Mark Martin says he's excited about Kahne coming to HMS and hailed him as "the absolute best scenario" for replacing him. For the first time Martin made it clear to the NASCAR media that he will be driving the #5 Chevrolet in 2011, he has no plans to retire and expects to be driving for another team in 2012.
But the big surprise from his press conference was Martin's revelation that he began talking to Kahne as early as September of last year regarding coming over to HMS. He also revealed that he spoke to Kahne first before he approached Rick Hendrick with the idea. Later that same day Kahne confirms that he had multiple conversations with Martin and those talks were a huge part of his decision to leave RPM.
While meeting with the NASCAR media at the Dover International Speedway, Kahne said there was still no decision regarding his 2011 status adding "there's a lot going on, I think we're about three or four weeks from finding anything out. I know I'm getting a little anxious about it."
Bobby Hutchens, SHR Director of Competition, says there has been no formal discussions with HMS regarding Kahne joining their operation next year. Hutchens makes it clear that he would prefer to have the issues of driver, sponsor and new equipment addressed and decided by June 1st in order to avoid any disruption that could impact their other two teams. Hutchens also states that his focus is on getting their #14 and #39 teams fully funded for 2011.This is especially in light of an announcement, from the week before, that said Old Spice would not be returning to Tony Stewart's team next year.
The Kasey Kahne saga took an unexpected turn following speculation that said Rick Hendrick was working on a deal with team owner James Finch, of Phoenix Racing, to have Kahne drive their #09 Chevrolet. The alleged deal reportedly included equipment and tech data from HMS. The rumor hit another unusual level following reports that said Mark Martin was going to purchase the #09 team from Finch and drive the car beginning in 2012.
Hendrick, Kahne and Martin made quick work of denying any knowledge of a deal with Finch. It became most interesting when Finch allegedly said, a few days later, that he had indeed talked to Hendrick about Kahne driving his car next year but a major sponsor was going to be needed for the plan to work.
During a press conference at the Infineon Raceway, Hendrick acknowledges that there has been a lot of inquiries regarding Kahne and his 2011 status adding "I'm really not procrastinating as much as I'm trying to let things unfold."
Robbie Loomis, team manager for Kahne's #9 RPM Ford, says "it would be nice if Kahne stayed with them for one more year."
At this point Mark Martin is losing his patience with the NASCAR media and their frequent speculation that says he may consider stepping down from the #5 HMS Chevrolet to make room for Kahne.
That fact is quickly followed by yet another racing rumor that says Martin will join Red Bull Racing, RBR, in 2011 which will clear the way for Kahne to take over his HMS seat. This rumor has two scenarios. The first one says RBR may consider expanding to three teams to make room for Martin. The second one says that RBR is seriously considering releasing Scott Speed, driver of the #82 RBR Toyota, whose contract expires at the end of this season.
Jay Frye, Vice President and General Manager for RBR, says there's no truth to Martin driving for them although he does consider the concept to be very flattering. However Frye does admit that RBR is considering a major change and will be making an announcement regarding Speed's status in the near future.
Benny Ertel, Mark Martin's business manager, calls the RBR reports both "aggravating and a load of hooey." Ertel goes on to say "Mark Martin is tired of answering the same questions week after week. Mark has answered the same questions one thousand times and it's always the same answer: I will be driving the #5 Hendrick Chevrolet next season. That's as simple as it is, but some reporters just won't listen."
While Kahne's 2011 status is being fueled by rumors, there is also speculation regarding future plans of his long time sponsor: Budweiser. The rumor says the beer company will be transferring their beer budget to driver Kevin Harvick and his #29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet. The rumor also says to expect a formal announcement this weekend during the Watkins Glen race.
Meanwhile, prior to the Brickyard 400 at Indy, an angry Mark Martin turns on the NASCAR media and tells them he feels "disrespected" over rumors that says Kahne will be taking over the #5 HMS in 2011. Martin further says "it will all come to a rest whenever they announce what Kasey Kahne is going to do-focus on that."
During that same weekend Rick Hendrick creates even more confusion by saying he was "prepared to honor Mark Martin's deal to drive the #5 in 2011 but wouldn't close the door on Kasey Kahne stepping into that seat. I'm keeping all options open whether it's the #5 Chevrolet or something else. I'm trying to make everybody happy. I can't tell you that right now it's his seat and his call."
Hendrick went on to say that the process of finding Kahne a 2011 ride was actually harder than he expected in terms of trying to mesh sponsors, manufacturers and drivers to make everyone happy. He also said that he "understands Mark Martin's frustration."
SO, DID WE LEARN ANYTHING FROM ALL OF THIS?
Actually, no we didn't. But it has been fun scrutinizing all of these rumors and innuendo while trying to solve this silly season riddle.
Obviously, nothing will be official until Rick Hendrick makes a formal announcement. Then and only then will we finally learn what Kasey Kahne will be doing next year. You can fully expect that the revelation will be equally as surprising as the announcement from last April that said Kahne had signed with Hendrick.
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