MARTINSVILLE, Va._ Just days after being released from Richard Petty Motorsports, Kasey Kahne addressed the media with his new organization Red Bull Racing. Joined by Red Bull Racing vice president and general manager Jay Frye, Kahne discussed his relationship with RPM, how it broke down throughout this season and what he expects moving forward.
“A lot of things happened this week,” Frye said. “Obviously, we’re really excited to get a head start on 2011 season. This is something we obviously didn’t anticipate happening, but it did and we couldn’t be more happy about it.”
“I was with the guys yesterday” Kahne said. “Putting seats in the cars and just trying to get prepared as well as we could for today and this weekend, the atmosphere and the excitement up at Red Bull right now, it was nice to be a part of that. I’m looking forward to the last five races and getting started this weekend.”
Saturday night in Charlotte, Kahne battled an ill-handling car and struggled with failing brakes early into the race. The night culminated with Kahne wrecking his No. 9 Budweiser Ford on Lap 125 as a result of the issues with the car.
Clearly unhappy with the team’s performance and battling an illness, Kahne left the track as the crew continued making repairs. With their driver gone, RPM enlisted the help of J.J. Yeley – who started the race for a start-and-park team – to finish out the event.
Showing up to his 5k charity event in Uptown Charlotte the next morning, Kahne continued to express his frustration with the team’s performance, not only on Saturday night, but throughout the entire season.
As a result, late Wednesday evening RPM announced Kahne was officially released from the team, with Aric Almirola jumping behind the wheel of the No. 9 Budweiser Ford for this weekend’s race in Martinsville. Already slated to join Red Bull Racing for the 2011 season, Kahne was named the driver of the No. 83 Red Bull Toyota for the final five races of the year the following day.
Whether it was truly the illness or simply being sick of the team’s continued issues, Saturday night seemed to be the straw that broke the camel’s back that was the Kahne-RPM relationship.
“It was a mutual release,” Kahne said. “I think that’s a good thing for both sides. I’m happy and they’re happy about it.”
Some in the garage – even some at RPM – questioned Kahne’s commitment after leaving the track, but the 30-year-old driver did not back from his decision to leave prior to the end of the race.
“It’s what happened. I raced, I put a commitment in,” Kahne said. “Anyone who questions my commitment doesn’t know me very well and doesn’t know how much I love the sport and how much I put into racing. I don’t think there’s anybody out there that puts as much in as I do throughout a week. Some guys may, some guys may not. I feel like I do everything I need to do to be the best I need to be and we kept having problems, I was sick to my stomach, it was time for me to call it a day and that’s what I did. I’m happy I did it and I’m ready to go onto this weekend.
“I’m definitely not a quitter. I’ve done a lot for that company for a long time and we’ve gone our separate ways and that’s the way it is. I feel like I’ve done a lot for that company and they’ve done a lot for me and I’m glad of my last six and a half years there.”
While his previous six years with the organization may have been more positives than negatives, this season has been nothing but frustration.
Coming off a season in which Kahne scored two wins and a 10th place finish in the Chase, this year, Kahne has eight finishes of 30th or worse, four DNFs, no wins and is 21st in the standings. Their season has been plagued by performance issues, broken parts and run-ins with teammates. Struggling with brakes on a track that is not typically hard on brakes seemed to have been the boiling point.
“It started Monday and we just kind of put it together and got it figured out and we went our separate ways,” Kahne explained. “I think there were a lot of things on both sides that just made sense. Next year, for me, it’s one year, but it’s a short year. I’m happy trying to get prepared early, know a little more about the company, the cars, the engines, the things that I’m going to be driving next year. I want to come out and win next year and the only way to do that is to be prepared and get off to a great start at the start of the season.”
As far as the details of Kahne’s move, crew chief Kenny Francis will stay with the No. 9 team throughout the rest of the season, before moving to Red Bull Racing at the end of the season. Kahne will work with Red Bull Racing crew chief Jimmy Elledge for the time being.
“It probably changed the strategy a little bit,” Elledge explained. “We had to spend more time in race trim, allowing him to get acclimated with the car, get comfortable and try to understand what it is he’s going to be looking for or how he feels about the car.
“We’ve been through this before this year – six other times,” he said with a smirk. “It’s a small adjustment.”
Elledge admitted he was not very comfortable having Martinsville as their first race with Kahne, for no other reason other than the Red Bull teams have struggled on a whole at the paper-clip short track. Looking ahead to Talladega, Texas, Phoenix and Homestead, however, the veteran crew chief was much more optimistic.
“The biggest thing is just getting through today,” he said. “Getting used to the new firesuit, talking to the different spotters. Get a day under your belt. Go home, sit down and talk about and come back again.”
For Elledge, the transition to Kahne as his driver has been made easier thanks to their mutual respect and friendship. Elledge explained he knew the name “Kasey Kahne” before he ever met the driver, admiring his runs in the USAC Silver Crown Series.
“I’ve always been very impressed with him and his driving abilities and style,” he said. “I’ve become good friends with him over the years. It’s awesome. It’s a great opportunity to have the chance to do it and just looking forward to getting the first day done and over with and get on to the next day and see what we can make happen.”
While the split seemed to be a surprise to some, many figured something was coming down the pike with Kahne reportedly being owed large sums of money by RPM. Kahne, denied those claims, but did not go into details.
“I’m paid up to date from RPM,” Kahne said. “I’m paid up to date. They’ve met their commitments there, and it has been good that they have. I thank them for that.”
Whether Kahne is simply playing nice or this is factual is yet to be determined, but one thing that seems to be sure is that Richard Petty Motorsports is in financial trouble and is possibly in danger of shutting down.
Reports have surfaced that Roush Fenway Racing will stop providing RPM motors and cars after November 1st, thanks in part to money owed and a tumultuous dealings between George Gillett (majority owner of RPM) and New England Sports Ventures (co-owners in Roush Fenway Racing) for the Liverpool FBC. There are also rumors swirling that RPM owes millions of dollars to other investors.
“I’ve heard a lot, I think everyone has,” Kahne said of the rumors. “That’s just speculation. I think it’s a lot of talk. For me, I hope RPM keeps rolling, I hope they finish out the season and put together another great season next year. That’s what I want them to do, I want that team to keep going. There’s a lot of good people there that deserve to have jobs and deserve to keep working on these race teams…You’d have to ask RPM about some of the other stuff to get the right answers, because I think a lot of it could just be speculation.”
There is, however, a sense of uncertainty amongst the RPM teams in the garage this weekend in Martinsville. Many rumors are swirling around and facts seem to be hard to come by, which leaves drivers and crew members in a tough spot.
“I still have all my race tires here, nothing has changed so, I hope whatever is going on they get it worked out, but it hasn’t affected the 98 team in one way,” said Slugger Labbe, crew chief for the RPM No. 98 team. “There’s uncertainty (at RPM) for sure. They’ve lost some sponsorship, Paul (Menard) is moving on next year, Elliott Sadler doesn’t have a future there, so they’ve lost two teams. It’s not what RPM has done, it’s what the economy has done. They’ve lost sponsorship and they’ve taken a beating. I hate it, there’s a lot of people I have working there that are really good friends. You worry about people’s livelihoods, you don’t want to wish nothing bad on anybody. I’m fortunate next year to be moving on with Paul to RCR, but if I wasn’t I’d be a freak right now.
The team’s flagship driver moving forward, AJ Allmendinger, expressed the same anxiety. Despite signing a multiyear deal with RPM, Allmendinger admits he would be lying if he said he was not concerned about his future with the team.
“I can’t worry about it, honestly,” Allmendinger said. “If I let that take away from this weekend, then it doesn’t really matter. If I go out there and suck it’s kind of irrelevant when it comes to anything. There’s definitely question. I think (we’ll be at) Talladega, for sure, and I think we’re getting our stuff together for Texas and things like that, but there’s nothing set in concrete. For me, it’s working hard at the race track and making sure we’re running well.
“To me, you’ve always got to look at the worst case scenario, and if it’s the worst case scenario and we have to go work on other stuff and make that happen,” he added. “That’s what I pay Tara Ragan for and my management to work on that so I can worry about the race car.”
RPM director of competition Robbie Loomis is schedule to meet with media Saturday morning to make a statement and answer a few question.
This story continues to unravel and more pieces of the puzzle are sure to fall into place Saturday in Martinsville.
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