Once upon a time, Silly Season started about this time of year. Most driver and team changes were announced near or after the final race of the season. Rumors were always present, but no one knew anything until the teams made an announcement. And that happened about this time of year. Not anymore.
It all started a few years ago. Dale Jarrett moved from Joe Gibbs Racing to Robert Yates racing early. Heck, Ernie Irvan moved to Yates early when the untimely death of Davey Allison caused a vacancy. A few years ago, Jack Roush fired Kurt Busch after an unfortunate run-in with the law in Arizona after he announced he was moving to Penske Racing. Then there was the Kyle Busch move to Gibbs when Rick Hendrick decided to hire Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Dale Jarrett and Elliott Sadler disgusted with performance before the season was over moved to Michael Waltrip Racing and Evernham Racing one year. Many moved on early, leaving sponsors in limbo and teams in disarray. It continues today.
The latest of these moves happened sudden after the Bank of America 500 last week at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Kasey Kahne had already made his move. Kahne had come into Sprint Cup racing with Evernham Racing. Having been trained under the Ford brand, he rejected Ford Racing and headed to the Dodge team, which caused a lawsuit that was settled without a trial and probably left a mark on the young driver. Fast forward to two years ago when, in order to survive, Evernham took on partner George Gillette, Jr. and later merged with Petty Enterprises under the same Dodge banner. During these hard times, insiders tell us that Kahne and his team became separated from the four-team organization. When Kahne and teammate A. J. Allmendinger had problems on the track earlier this year, Allmendinger admitted that he rarely saw or talked to Kahne. It was no surprise that Kahne announced a multi-year deal with Hendrick Motorsports for 2012. That left Kahne in limbo for 2011, but Kahne and his crew chief, Kenny Francis, pledged to run the season and win races at RPM.
It all blew up last Saturday night. Kahne’s fast Ford, which had qualified well and run well in the early going, lost its brakes. Kahne was so disgusted that he refused to get back in the car after repairs. Complicated was the reported confrontation between a “Petty Motorsports employee” and Kahne in which is effort was challenged. Kahne refused to get back in the car and J.J. Yelley finished the race. Kahne claimed sickness for the refusal to finish the race, but it was notable that he ran a foot race the next day in Charlotte. RPM released him from his contract on Wednesday. It is expected that he will be in a Red Bull Toyota on Sunday.
So what gives with these early departures, regardless of sponsor or team obligations? Beats me. You can’t blame drivers for trying to improve themselves (Paul Menard, another RPM driver who has already announced he’s moving to Richard Childress Racing), but it seems to me that contracts are more important than “feelings.” Is it a product of the instability at RPM or is it more than that? Or is it just the way the Cup series is these days? I just feel sorry for all those people with Budweiser clothing. The Dale Junior bunch and Kasey Kahne bunch are going to have to buy a new wardrobe. Junior went from Bud red to AMP green and now Kahne’s fans have to go from Bud red to Red Bull blue. The concessionaires are smiling, but the pocketbooks are suffering. In a bad economy.