By admin | August 11, 2010
By Richard Allen
Rick Hendrick is a man used to getting what he wants. He once wanted a young driver named Jeff Gordon, who had spent his early days in NASCAR under the Ford banner, and he got him. He wanted Dale Earnhardt, Jr., the most popular driver in the sport, back in 2007 and he got him. When his #5 team was languishing, he wanted steady Mark Martin to come take those reins and he got him.
In April of this year when Hendrick said he would find Kasey Kahne a Chevrolet to drive in 2011, most everyone believed that would indeed be the case.
It was announced in April that Kahne would leave Richard Petty Motorsports to drive for Hendrick Motorsports in 2012 when HMS would have an opening. At that time Hendrick assured Kahne he would find him a competitive ride to fill the void in 2011 and he assured everyone else that ride would be in a Chevy.
However, it was recently announced that Kahne would instead drive a Toyota in 2011 for Team Red Bull. And not only will he be driving a Toyota instead of a Chevrolet but he will be driving for a team sponsored by a competitor to one of Hendrick’s own sponsors.
So what happened?
Somehow, someway, the man so used to getting what he wants did not do so on this occasion.
In April, Kahne driving a Chevrolet looked like a slam dunk. After all, Stewart-Haas Racing fields Chevrolets and essentially runs as a satellite of HMS. They only have two teams which would have given them space under the four team limit. Also, Tony Stewart and Kahne seem to get along pretty well.
For some reason, be it inability to obtain sponsorship or a reluctance by SHR, no deal ever came about to put Kahne in an SHR Chevrolet.
Another possible option would have been for Kahne to drive a Sprint Cup car for JR Motorsports, of which Hendrick owns a piece. However, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who also owns a piece of JRM, has insisted for some time that he wants that team to serve as a Nationwide series effort only. But still, it would have seemed so logical for Kahne to drive there for one year and then hand that ride over to Danica Patrick in 2012.
But just as with Stewart-Haas, no deal there ever came to fruition.
Also making the rounds were rumors of Kahne driving either the #09 for Phoenix Motorsports or the #78 for Furniture Row Racing supported by HMS. Obviously, neither of those rumors proved true either.
All of this leads me to ask several questions in regard to what happened.
First of all, did Hendrick expect more from SHR, JRM and sponsors? Those two seeming slam dunks turned out to be misses. Was Hendrick unable to find sponsorship for a ride at SHR, a company already losing one sponsor in 2011 and operating another car that has never been fully sponsored? Or, was he simply unable to impose upon Earnhardt to expand JRM into a Cup team?
Another set of questions I have considered revolve around Mark Martin, who has always been the ideal model of a team player. Did Hendrick expect that Martin would eventually just step aside?
And in a more devious moment, I have wondered whether Ray Evernham’s statement made a couple of weeks ago that Martin should step aside was a last ditch move by HMS to embarrass the veteran driver into doing just that. I am not saying that is what happened. I am just wondering aloud as to whether a former HMS employee and Kahne car owner might have attempted to intercede on behalf of two entities with whom he had worked in the past.
For whatever reason, Kasey Kahne will be driving in 2011 for Team Red Bull, a team certainly capable of winning races. However, that was not the plan Rick Hendrick initially had in mind for this driver, and that is not something this man is not used to. Unless, of course, there is to be some surprise announcement that TRB is switching to Chevrolet.
Then, it would just be an example of a plan coming together.
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Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly columns appear in The Mountain Press and The Knoxville Journal.
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