Concord, N.C.- When ESPN’s Marty Smith broke the news Tuesday about the new Kasey Kahne/Hendrick Motorsports partnership that left many details yet to be determined. The biggest details….. Where Kasey Kahne will drive next season? Kahne’s contract begins in 2011, but they have no ride for him; he will drive the 5 car starting 2012.
According to sources, Kahne, 30, has signed a multi-year contract with the NASCAR powerhouse, Hendrick Motorsports that will end 2015. So what will happen to his number 9 car? Will Budweiser continue to sponser Kahne? Will Kahne keep his long time crew chief Kenny Francis?
“We know what we are going to do come 2012, but we haven’t locked in what we are going to do in 2011 yet.” Hendrick said on Kahne’s ride for 2011. “We are 100 percent certain Kahne will be in a Chevrolet for 2011 and Stewart-Haas Racing will adhere to NASCAR’s rules if the team goes that way. Kasey’s ride for 2011 will be determined within the next 90 days.” Hendrick added that its up to him to find a ride for Kahne next year. “I just wanted this deal so bad because I just thought he (Kahne) was a perfect fit.”
According to Rick Hendrick, his drivers “lobbied” him to go after Kasey Kahne as a replacement for Mark Martin, who went up to Rick a year ago, saying that Kasey was the guy he should put in the 5 car after he retires. Mark Martin told Hendrick he wants to continue in the 5 car through the length of his contract next season, but said he can not run another full season beyond that. Hendrick said he expects Martin to return to a part-time schedule but not retire.
“I’ve never been in this position before where I’m talking to other teams and thinking about that. It has been real eye-opening.” Kahne said. “I haven’t really been distracted. I’ve been focused hard on the 9 car. We have really been fast in most of those races. It has been on my mind for a long time. As a race car driver, Hendrick Motorsports is one of the places you dream of driving for.”
What does the future hold for long time crew chief Kenny Francis? Will Alan Gustafson be Kasey’s crew chief? “Hopefully we (Kahne and Francis) work together in the future.” Kahne said. “Personally, I don’t know.” Kasey is unsure if Kenny Francis will follow him. Rick Hendrick hedges citing quality of his four current chiefs. When asked if Alan Gustafson will be Kasey’s crew chief in 2012, Rick replied, “Who knows what the future holds.”
What about Budweiser? Will Budweiser continue to sponser Kasey Kahne over at Hendrick? Hendrick said he hasn’t spoken to anyone at Anheuser-Bush about Budweiser continuing to sponser Kahne, and Kahne said he simply doesn’t know whether he’ll be the Bud driver after this season. “It’s been a great partnership with those guys,” Kasey said. “but I don’t know what the future is for myself and Budweiser.” He added that he would like to continue with the sponser if possible, however.
“To me, was worth it.” Hendrick said about Kahne not coming until 2012. “Whatever amount of sacrifice….. you don’t have a Kasey Kahne come along everyday.”
So was signing the 30 year old superstar a good idea?
“Clearly, he would be a sponsers dream for anybody.” Hendrick said of Kahne. “ He fits in any and every category. He’s got all the positives.” Hendrick goes on and calls Kasey Kahne an “investment in our future.”