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'Tis the season to be silly - Kahne gets a new beverage

by Dave Grayson
Thursday, August 12, 2010

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No more Budweiser for Kasey Kahne
So, we finally have an answer to the Kasey Kahne Riddle. He's Red Bull Racing and Toyota bound for 2011. At the end of the season Kahne will trade his Richard Petty Motorsports Ford, and all the Budweiser he can drink, for a shiny new Toyota and a can of that tasty Red Bull Energy Drink the stuff that gives you wings.

This brings to a close four months of rampant speculation regarding exactly where Kahne was going to be next year while waiting to take over his new ride for Hendrick Motorsports at the beginning of the 2012 season.

It also closes four months of Rick Hendrick's exasperating efforts to find his new driver a one year deal before he takes over his #5 Chevrolet contractually occupied by Mark Martin until the end of the 2011 season. Hendrick logically wanted to find Kahne a ride in a Chevrolet. But the logistics of making that happen were difficult. Even Hendrick himself admitted the process turned out to be considerably more difficult than he anticipated.

Red Bull Racing is a very viable option for everyone involved. Actually Hendrick already has professional ties to Toyota. He owns multiple auto dealerships, featuring a variety of makes, some of which feature Toyotas. Toyota President Lee White, on Tuesday, referred to Hendrick as "a true friend of our company" and pointed out that Red Bull Racing needed a driver of Kahne's caliber who was capable of winning races even if it was only for a year.

Now there's only one more Kasey Kahne question left to resolve? Exactly which Red Bull Racing Toyota will he be driving?

Red Bull Racing's #83 Toyota began the season occupied by its primary driver Brian Vickers who helped the team make their first appearance in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase For The Championship last year. However, last May Vickers was rushed to a hospital with what was first described as a life threatening illness. The medical malady turned out to be the presence of blood clots in his leg and lungs.

Vickers is adamant that he will be in the seat of his #83 Red Bull Toyota next February when the 2011 season starts at Daytona. But whether or not that becomes a reality will be dependent upon the progress of the blood thinner treatment that he's currently undergoing. The next progress report is not expected until November.

Red Bull Racing employed the driving services of Casey Mears, Reed Sorenson and Boris Said in the #83 but the performance results has been no where near what everyone was hoping for. One has to think that the arrival of a driver with the caliber of a Kasey Kahne has to be a welcome sight right now even if it's only for a year.

Red Bull Racing's #82 Toyota team also seems to be undergoing its own sense of drama. During the final week of July Red Bull Racing Vice President and General Manager Jay Frye said that a decision regarding whether or not Scott Speed will remain with he team will be made by the end of this month. Speed, an ex Formula One driver, is currently in his second year with the team. He finished 35th in the points standings last year and is currently ranked 26th this year. Frye said the levels of performance from the driver has to improve soon and pointed out that he only has two top ten finishes so far this year and has failed to finish on the lead lap in 11 of the 22 races he's ran. In short, Scott Speed's destiny is now up to Scott Speed.

But there may be some additional pressure for Speed this week. That's based on reports that said driver Mattias Ekstrom spent Tuesday and Wednesday of this week testing a Red Bull Toyota at the Gresham Motorsports Park in Georgia. Ekstrom is a Swedish driver who currently drives a Red Bull backed Audi in a German touring series known as the DTM where he's reported to be having a terrific year. Ekstrom drove the #83 Red Bull Toyota in the road course event last June at Infineon Raceway. He finished 21st on the lead lap which was not bad for a first time driver in a NASCAR stock car.

Make no doubt about it, after the year Red Bull Racing has endured so far Kasey Kahne has got to be looking really good to them right now.

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A HEAD COUNT AT RPM.

Once a driver hits the silly season rumor mill there's going to be at least two scenarios that bear watching. The first is naturally where is that driver going to go. The second scenario involves who is going to replace him? That's what's going on right now at Richard Petty Motorsports, (RPM).

RPM started the current season with four teams. At this juncture they only have a commitment with one team for the 2011 season and a lot of unanswered questions regarding the status of the remaining three.

The good news for RPM is the recent announcement that said A J Allmendinger has signed a contract extension and will remain as the driver of their #43 Ford. Beyond that point the organization's plans appear to be somewhat murky.

RPM was well aware that Kasey Kahne had decided to explore other racing options as early as last January. They also began exploring their options after Kahne officially announced plans to sign with Hendrick Motorsports.

One of their more viable options came from a surprising source. After five years with JTG Daugherty Racing, Marcos Ambrose announced he was leaving the team to pursue other opportunities. The very next day there were rampant silly season rumors that said Ambrose was negotiating with RPM to replace Kahne in their #9 Ford. The reports even said the deal was 95% done. But there has yet to be any announcement of the deal and many believe that sponsorship is the hold up. Budweiser has already said they will not be returning to RPM next year and is believed to be moving their sponsorship to Richard Childress Racing and driver Kevin Harvick. Making this scenario even more interesting was a recent comment from Ambrose that said he had not ruled out returning to his native Australia, where he's a road racing champion, if a secure deal in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series cannot be worked out.

The future of RPM's #19 team and driver Elliot Sadler also remains very unclear at this point. In early July Sadler announced that he didn't expect to be returning to RPM after his contract expires at the end of this year. The fact that Sadler was even in the car at all this year is due to some legal wrangling. RPM wanted to release the driver, prior to the start of the 2010 season, but Sadler retained an attorney who forced them to honor the full contract. Despite that Robbie Loomis, RPM Vice President of Racing Operations, said the door is not closed regarding bringing Sadler back next year and his name was on a short list of three or four drivers being considered. Meanwhile Sadler insists that he has had some positive talks with other team owners regarding his future and hopes to announce his plans soon. But there has been no indications, including silly season rumors, regarding who these team owners are.

RPM's fourth team is the #98 Ford driven by Paul Menard is also leaving. There was a formal announcement Wednesday morning that said Menard will become the fourth team driver for Richard Childress Racing next year. The lucrative sponsorship from the driver's family owned Menard's Home Improvement Stores will also be leaving. That also includes a wide array of associate sponsors largely comprised of corporations that do business with the Menard's stores.

Like many teams in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, RPM has found themselves selling team sponsorships on a race by race basis. The process requires a group of sponsors who purchase advertising for a small block of races until the team hopefully sells out all 36 events.

How many teams RPM sends to the track in 2011 will be determined by how many sponsors they can collect. From the entire group of sponsors, currently seen on the hoods of their four teams, only Stanley Tools is committed for the 2011 season.

Dependent upon sponsorship availability, RPM will either start the 2011 season as a three car team, a two car team or even a single car team with Allmendinger as the driver. Make no mistake about it, the next few months is going to be nail biting time for this organization.

Darlington Truck Race Preview

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will be bringing their tailgate party to "Big D": Darlington Raceway this Saturday night. This is one of the most challenging tracks in the country and it's going to be interesting to find out which one of the series drivers will claim the right to say they controlled "the track too tough to tame."

THE STORY BREAKDOWN

Todd Bodine, driver of the #30 Germain Racing Toyota, will be looking to capitalize on the momentum of last Saturday's win at the Nashville Super Speedway. The driver known as "The Onion" will also be looking to further pad his points lead over chief season rival Aric Almirola. Bodine goes into the Darlington race with a 174 points advantage in his quest for a second series championship.

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But the really intense points race connected to NASCAR's truck series is the ongoing battle for the owner's championship. The Germain Brothers, team owners for Bodine, are also on top of this championship run as well. Based on their driver's two wins, 10 top five finishes and 11 top tens, the team now has 2,188 owner's points.

However right behind them is Kyle Busch Motorsports and their #18 Toyota. The team also has two wins this year along with eight top fives and 11 top tens. Drivers Kyle Busch and Brian Ickler have been sharing the seat this year. Ickler is set to drive Saturday night at Darlington while his boss tends to duty at Michigan

Also very much involved in the run for the owner's championship is DeLana Harvick, of Kevin Harvick Inc. Harvick is only 24 points away from the top of the standings based on the performance of their #2 Chevrolet Truck. The team has four wins along with eight top fives and 11 top tens. NASCAR veteran Ken Schrader will be returning to the Harvick truck for the Darlington race.

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Sad to note that Billy Ballew Motorsports has made the decision to temporarily shut down their second Toyota team until sponsor funding can be located. The team plans to park their #15 truck for at least the next two series races at Darlington and Bristol. The #15 has been entered in every series race since 2004. Team officials are heavily stressing the point that they consider this shut down procedure to be extremely temporary.

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MAKE Motorsports and driver T J Bell will be making a return to the series at the Darlington race Saturday night in the #50 Chevrolet Truck. Liberty Tire Recycling has signed on as the primary sponsor. The team also announced the signing of All Sport Drink as an associate sponsor.

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THE RACE BREAKDOWN

The Too Tough To Tame 200 will be 147 laps/200.8 miles around Darlington Raceway's famed 1.366 mile oval.

The race has 32 entries for a race that accommodates up to 36 trucks which means all entries will start the event.

The Too Tough To Tame 200 will be broadcast live by SPEED with the set up show beginning at 7pm eastern time.

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