The head of Dodge Motorsports on Friday called Richard Petty's defection a "business decision" that won't affect the manufacturer's participation in NASCAR.
Richard Petty Motorsports has signed a letter-of-intent to merge with Yates Racing and field a four-car Ford team next season. It leaves Dodge with just three Roger Penske-owned cars in its 2010 lineup.
But president and CEO Mike Accavitti said that's enough for Dodge, which has had to continuously reinforce its commitment to NASCAR because of the cash problems that forced parent-company Chrysler into Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization earlier this year.
"Dodge's plan _ to be a championship contender in 2010 with Penske Racing and a solid lineup of drivers _ has not changed," Accavitti said. "We remain firmly focused on our objectives to be the leading manufacturer in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, win races and compete for the Sprint Cup at the right level."
RPM, the team born in a January merger between Petty Enterprises and Gillett-Evernham Racing, has been shopping for a new manufacturer since its funding from Dodge slowed earlier this season. The cutbacks during its restructuring forced RPM into at least two rounds of layoffs and payroll adjustments, all while trying to get star driver Kasey Kahne into the Chase for the championship.
Kahne is in position to grab one of the 12 berths, using a win last weekend at Atlanta to move up to sixth in the standings headed into Saturday night's deciding race at Richmond International Raceway. But the impending move to Ford has him wondering about the level of Dodge support he'll receive during the critical 10-race title hunt.
"I thought about it," he admitted. "But I can't really be concerned. I'm just going to go on with my business, and hopefully it won't affect us."
Meantime, the new partnership reunites Kahne with Ford and Yates after a nasty 2003 split.
Ford invested heavily in Kahne's move from sprint cars to stock cars, and fought hard to keep him after losing out over the years when young drivers Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman and Kyle Busch started with the blue oval only to move on to other manufacturers as their careers developed.
So Ford sued Kahne, who grew frustrated waiting for a Cup ride with Yates and tried to break his contract to drive a Dodge for Ray Evernham. Kahne won the fight and was with Dodge the next season.
Kahne knows that hard feelings will have to be put aside once he's back in the Ford camp next season.
"We definitely have to figure out what happened there and get over some of that stuff," Kahne said. "There were things that happened there that I wasn't happy with, and they obviously weren't happy with things, either. But it wasn't my fault. I needed to go race, and they didn't want me to, and that was the end of it.
"We'll figure that out as time goes, but I'm not really worried about it. I'm more worried about driving my Dodges and figuring out how to stay competitive the rest of the year."