Kahne relieved at RPM merger completion

Kasey Kahne

For the moment Kasey Kahne's happy to have some kind of normalcy after six months of tumult within his race team. Kahne now knows he will be driving a No. 9 Ford Fusion for Richard Petty Motorsports, which last month finally completed a merger with Yates Racing after questions late last season about whether he'd still drive a Dodge or for that matter, for another team.
He offered no hints Tuesday which way he's leaning on that, saying only that this season's performance will drive his decision. At first glance, the sport's most eligible free-agent-to-be after this season is encouraged by what he has seen now that things have settled down.

"All I ever want to do is run well and race well," said Kahne, who won twice and finished 10th in the 12-man Chase for the Sprint Cup. "There are times when you make mistakes and slide down a little bit and don't have those friends you want to have, but (the key to) getting back and being able to go fast and make the Chase is just giving the guys what they need to perform. I think this year is going to be a year we have a really neat opportunity with what we have and what we're gaining by the merger."

As for the business end of it, Petty, who missed Tuesday's Sprint Media Tour availability to attend to a family matter, and the Gillett family will share ownership with former Yates Racing co-owners Doug Yates and Max Jones assuming new roles of the four-car team. Jones becomes RPM's president and general manager while Yates directs the Roush/Yates engine program.

Kahne, Elliott Sadler (No. 19), A.J. Allmendinger (43) and Paul Menard (98), who drove a Ford last season for Yates, comprise the driver lineup. RPM will continue its technical alliance with Roush Fenway Racing.

The main question is whether Kahne, who made last year's Chase for the first time since 2006, continues his alliance with RPM. His agent, Rod Moskowitz of Motorsports Management International, did not respond to interview requests, and Foster Gillett — RPM's CEO and managing partner — sidestepped questions about negotiations with Kahne, "I don't speak for Kasey so you have to ask him, but I think we need to race well."

Kahne was equally coy, deferring to his Fusion's record as an indicator. If solid late-season runs by Sadler and Allmendinger in the car offer any hints, Kahne can expect a horsepower increase over the Dodge Charger he formerly drove for RPM, previously known as Gillett Evernham Motorsports and Evernham Motorsports before that.

He begins his fifth season with crew chief Kenny Francis, who steadied his driver through last fall's turmoil and will try to do the same as his transitions to a car that he ironically was set to drive in Cup six years ago before Evernham signed him, sparking a legal battle that ended with him in a Dodge.

Back to the future in a Ford, Kahne just wants to see what it will do for him before figuring his next move, if he moves at all.

"It's definitely been a distraction at times," Kahne said of the scrutiny. But at the end of the day we've just put them (aside) to do our jobs and race cars. To me, that's what I need to worry about the most, just driving and how I can get better and lead our team. We worked pretty hard at that." (press release)

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