RPM has to learn from Kahne defection

Foster Gillett would like to paint a pretty picture of Richard Petty Motorsports.

Gillett, the managing partner of RPM, has no choice. His top driver, Kasey Kahne, announced this week that he was leaving the organization at the end of the year for powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports. Kahne's current sponsor Budweiser is in doubt as well.

In fact, all of the RPM drivers and sponsor's contracts conclude at the end of 2010, leaving Gillett in a unique position.

"The first thing is we're seven races into this season and we're still focused on this season and doing the best that we can," Gillett said. "Something Richard (Petty) preaches to me, Robbie (Loomis, director of competition), Sam (Johns, director of operations) and Max (Jones, president and GM) is that if we can focus on building the best race cars we can and racing them as well as we can, we're gonna have sponsors and drivers.

"We're working as hard as we can to have the best drivers possible. It's no secret that my family is looking at all of our options and doing all that we can."

Unfortunately, without having drivers signed for his cars, what does Gillett have to sell? Currently, Paul Menard, who was a holdover from Yates Racing when RPM moved into their old digs on the Roush Fenway Campus, leads the point standings for the organization at 15th. AJ Allmendinger is 23rd in the standings following by Kahne (26th) and Elliott Sadler (29th). As a company, the cars have posted two top-fives and four top 10 finishes.

With Kahne jumping ship at the end of this year, Gillett faces the same dilemma of any other organization in the Sprint Cup garage -- not just competing against Hendrick Motorsports on the track, but off the track for sponsorship. And in the current economic climate, sponsorship is a tough sell.

"When we stepped into the Montreal Canadiens there was a heritage of winning," Gillett said. "For 50-60 years people asked themselves that question -- 'How do we beat the Montreal Canadiens?' When we stepped in there it was more, 'How do the Montreal Canadiens win again?' So these things are cyclical. They change and go up and down.

"Right now, Mr. Hendrick is on a wonderful, wonderful run. It's due to his hard work and his personality and, more importantly, I've learned in this business that it's about people. He has wonderful people. He treats them well and you see the results on the track."

At 34, Gillett still has valuable lessons to learn. On Friday, he admitted he learned a valuable lesson from Rick Hendrick. But if he wants to continue to run a viable organization in NASCAR -- or any sport for that matter -- he can reprint that final observation from Hendrick, "He treats them well and you see the results on the track," and make it his daily mantra.