Published April 14, 2010
Well, this has been a whirlwind 24 hours in the NASCAR world - particularly for Kasey Kahne.
On Tuesday we got word that he officially told his current team, Richard Petty Motorsports, that he would not be returning after the 2010 season. And then on Wednesday morning, the big bombshell was confirmed: He will be joining Hendrick Motorsports in the 2012 season.
Folks, it was inevitable that Kahne was going to leave RPM. They have been through so much over there in the last handful of years from Ray Evernham joining forces with George Gillett, to Evernham sort of leaving the operation - and one of the big reasons Kasey was with the team was Ray Evernham - to the team merging with Richard Petty and then this season merging with Yates Racing and switching from Dodge to Ford.
That's a lot mentally to absorb.
I'm not saying anybody is right or wrong in everything that's gone on at the team now known as RPM, but I do know talking to Kahne's team during the last few races of 2009 that the team's focus wasn't 100 percent on trying to run well and win races - their focus even at the season finale in Homestead was, "We have no idea what in the world is going on."
When you have that type of atmosphere around you, it's hard to perform. You can tell yourself you are going to block it out, but it's just hard to perform under that type of situation. And even though Kasey won two races last year and made the Chase for the Sprint Cup, the team has struggled at most places it's been this season (with the exception of Daytona - which is a different animal all to itself - and Atlanta).
Kasey Kahne is a racer, he's young and has a long future ahead of him and if a good opportunity came along, like joining Hendrick Motorsports, then he would have to look long and hard at it and consider leaving the team he's been with his entire Sprint Cup career ... which we now know he will, in fact, do.
I'm not surprised with the announcement that Kahne is joining HMS, I am however surprised by the timing of it all. But you know what, this is fair for everybody, more importantly it would seem fair to Richard Petty Motorsports as this gives them a long time to find a replacement for Kahne. That said, this impacts several people:
-- Tony Stewart : If, and this is still a very big if, Kahne jumps over to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2011 as he awaits the No. 5 car in 2012, Stewart has some work to do. But expansion to three teams has been part of Stewart's master plan all along. He's said he believes he needs to be a three-car operation and he wants to be a three-car operation, but the only way he'll do it is if the funding is in place - and not part of it, the full funding. If Kahne does end up there, you would have to imagine he'll have full funding from somewhere. So the expansion may sound like a lot, but if it does happen, I think SHR is prepared for it and it shouldn't disrupt Stewart too much.
-- Kasey Kahne: You will hear the term "lame duck" to describe the No. 9 operation for the rest of the season, but I don't like using it because I don't know that it applies. It's all in how Kahne, crew chief Kenny Francis and the team handle it because I've seen teams be successful under a "lame duck" circumstance. Most recently, the No. 2 Penske team had a "lame duck" crew chief last year even before the Chase began. But son-of-a-gun, if they didn't go into the Chase and make noise on their way to a fourth-place finish in the standings. Sure, it's tough to be in this type of situation, more so for the team than the driver because the crew has to be wondering, "What is our future as a team?" but we've seen teams overcome that and succeed. It's up to Kasey, Kenny and the crew to put the distractions aside and focus on the task remaining this year.
-- Mark Martin: This is an interesting one, since we now know that Mark Martin will vacate the No. 5 ride once his contract is up after 2011 for Kahne. But folks, let me tell you that Mark Martin is a racer, he's always been a racer, and all he's ever wanted to do is drive fast race cars. Mark Martin believes in Hendrick Motorsports and Rick Hendrick. As long as Martin feels Hendrick is putting him in something that he can go out and be competitive in and be just as fast as he has been then life will be good.
This is the fourth time in five years that we have had a major "Domino" fall early in the season.
Go back to 2006, when Dale Jarrett anounced early in the season that he would move to the new Michael Waltrip Racing team the following yet. In 2007, it was announced very early in the year that Dale Earnhardt Jr. would be leaving the company his father founded. The following year, Tony Stewart announced midseason he was going to leave Joe Gibbs Racing at the end of his contract to form Stewart-Haas Racing. And now this year we are not even a fourth of the way through the year and the prized free agent has announced his intentions already.
But, like we've seen in the past, this first "Domino" won't force others to fall down right away. And we still have a couple of prize free agents whose futures we don't know yet - Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick in particular.
Trust me though, there'll be some people lobbying hard for that No. 9 ride.