When Rick Hendrick announced that he was signing Kasey Kahne to a contract earlier this year, speculation automatically hit the airwaves.
According to the NASCAR rulebook, a team owner can only have four drivers under their banner. Hendrick, before signing Kahne, had Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Mark Martin lined up with contracts for the 2011 season. So where would Kahne end up for next year?
Speculation centered around Stewart-Haas Racing as the team has an affiliation with Hendrick Motorsports, though Tony Stewart denied that deal coming together due to lack of funding. He went to say that they were already having enough issues with two teams as he needs to find sponsorship for his car in 2011.
The next option to emerge was Kahne at JR Motorsports, who has a Nationwide Series affiliation with Hendrick Motorsports. Though that was denied by JR Motorsports Co-owner and President Kelley Earnhardt as she said the team was focused on their Nationwide program.
The last option was to have Kahne drive for James Finch next year, another team with a Hendrick Motorsports affiliation. Though with ownership issues and financial woes, it didn’t look to have that bright of a future.
So where has Kahne landed?
Hendrick Motorsports and Red Bull Racing officials have come to an agreement as of today to have Kasey Kahne drive for Red Bull Racing next year in a Toyota.
This comes out as an interesting announcement as Hendrick Motorsports run Chevrolets and Red Bull Racing just signed a contract with Toyota. Though outside of NASCAR, Hendrick owns a Toyota dealership in North Carolina so that could possibly be where the allowance for this to happen was allowed by both parties.
“We were fortunate to have the opportunity to hire a very talented driver for the 2011 season and we took it,” Jay Frye, Red Bull Racing Team Vice President and General Manager, told SceneDaily. “This is a unique situation that doesn’t happen every day. Kasey is a perfect fit for our company, team and Red Bull.”
“This opportunity places me with an established, competitive team that has proven they can win races and make the Chase,” Kahne told SceneDaily. “I have great respect for Red Bull, so to have the opportunity to drive for Red Bull Racing Team in 2011 is a great fit for me, both personally and professionally. It feels good to be able to finally put this to rest and focus my energy on finishing the season strong for the 9 team and our sponsors.”
“Kasey is going to a competitive organization that made the Chase last season and has great leadership and resources,” said Hendrick in a press release. “Of everything we looked at, he and I agree it’s the best opportunity for him to be successful in 2011, which was always our number-one priority. The process went on longer than any of us anticipated, but I’m glad that we took our time to make sure it was right. And although I’m not looking forward to racing against him next year, I’m comfortable knowing this is the best situation for Kasey.”
Whether Kahne will be driving the No. 82 or No. 83 or a third car for Red Bull Racing next year has yet to be determined.
“This obviously all happened very quickly,” Frye added. “Over the next month, we will finalize the specific team details.”
Frye added that Scott Speed’s future with the team will be determined later this month. So far this year, Speed sits 27th in points with two top 10s in 22 races.
Meanwhile, Brian Vickers, who has been sidelined since May for treatment of blood clots in the legs and lungs, won’t know until November if the treatment has worked well enough.
Though one thing that we also know for sure, as Martin kept stating, Martin will be behind the wheel of the No. 5 Go Daddy Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet next year.
“We’re looking forward to another year with Mark Martin, one of the true class acts in racing, driving for Hendrick Motorsports,” Hendrick said. “There aren’t many things in this world I’d rather do than win a championship with him, and that will be our goal with the #5 team for the rest of this year and in 2011.”
The puzzle pieces to silly season aren’t complete yet as everybody is wondering who’ll sponsor Kevin Harvick next year in replace of Shell (sources told ESPN’s Marty Smith it’d be Budweiser), where Marcos Ambrose will land and who will replace Kahne at Richard Petty Motorspots. Also, as reported by ESPN first, will Paul Menard make the jump from Richard Petty Motorsports to Richard Childress Racing?