On a day in which Kelly Bires’ release from JR Motorsports dominated the morning Twitter feeds of those in the NASCAR circle, the tone of the conversation took a dramatic turn with the news that Kasey Kahne had signed a multi-year deal with Hendrick Motorsports. The most lucrative free agent on the NASCAR market, it was no surprise Kahne would be leaving Richard Petty Motorsports at the end of the 2010 season. What surprised almost everyone in NASCAR was that the 30-year-old signed the deal with Hendrick Motorsports this early in the process.
What is known as of now about the deal is very little as the details are still being worked out. As it appears, Kahne will leave RPM at the end of the year and will eventually take over the No. 5 car currently driven by Mark Martin. The problem here is Martin’s contract runs through the end of the 2011 season. In fact, all four of Hendrick Motorsports’ drivers are locked in contract with the team, leaving Kahne in an interesting predicament. The most likely scenario would see Kahne pilot a Stewart-Haas Racing car (which is a satellite of HMS) for the 2011 season before jumping over to the most dominant organization in the sport today.
Over the past few seasons, Kahne has expressed frustration with his situation at Evernham/Gillett Evernham/Richard Petty Motorsports. In 2006, Kahne was one of the hottest drivers on the circuit, winning six races and finishing eighth in the standings. Since then, the Washington native has only four victories and his best finish in the Chase was last season when he ended the year tenth.
With the organization behind him transferring owners (from Ray Evernham to George Gillett to the figurehead of Richard Petty) and race shops, instability has been the name of the game for Kahne. Last year, he explained his decision concerning his future would depend on the team’s performance. While he scored the victory late in the season in Atlanta, that small success story was apparently not enough to reel him back. By signing a multi-year deal with Hendrick Motorsports, he will enjoy stability and proven success over the next few seasons.
As for the rest of this year, Kahne and RPM appear determined to finish out the remaining races together and focus on winning races.
"Drivers like Kasey Kahne are the very reason we got into this sport. Kasey has helped us get to where we are today," George Gillett said. "We wish him well in his future however we have the rest of this season to race together and we're looking forward to a successful remainder of the year."
This story is anything but over. The media will hound Kahne, Hendrick and – much to their chagrin – Tony Stewart over how the deal is progressing. There are a lot of unknowns (i.e. sponsorship, crew chief, car number, etc.) and over the next few weeks, hopefully some of those unanswered questions will become clear.
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