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If Kahne Leaves RPM; He May Have Four Options

[1]According to Jayski’s 2010 team chart [2], Michael Waltrip Racing’s No. 00, Earnhardt Ganassi Racing’s No. 1, Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 11, Richard Childress Racing’s No. 29, Front Row Motorsports’ No. 34, Tommy Baldwin Racing’s No. 36, TRG Motorsports’ No. 71, Red Bull Racing’s No. 82, and Robert Yates Racing/Richard Petty Motorsports’ No. 98 could have open seats at the end of the 2010 season.

Dave Newton at ESPN tweeted:

@kaseykahne says [Richard Petty Motorsports] has made ‘me an offer already’ but he wants to wait and see what other offers come.

If Kasey Kahne decides ultimately to leave RPM, it’s likely that he’ll be looking at one of the seats listed above. There’s always a small chance that a Nationwide Series team could approach him about making a move to Sprint Cup. But, it’s much more likely that Kahne will want to go to an established team that is capable of winning.

Assuming that the rides listed above are available, Kahne is most likely to consider the 00, 1, 11, 29, and the 82 because those seats are with larger teams that are capable of winning now.
It’s highly unlikely JGR will let Denny Hamlin walk without offering him a lucrative contract extension. Given his 2009 performance – assuming there’s no drop off in 2010 – Hamlin should be back in the No. 11 in 2011 and beyond.

We can also eliminate the No. 98 from consideration because that’s an RPM team. Why would Kahne make a lateral move for no reason? He wouldn’t.

That leaves the Nos. 00, 1, 29, and 82.
I would be surprised in Michael Waltrip let go of David Reutimann at the end of next season. Reutimann brought the team its first victory, and if he turns in a halfway-decent performance next year, there’s no way Waltrip forgets that. Reutimann has done a lot to make the team respectable, allowing them to attract Martin Truex Jr [3]. So, I don’t think MWR will let him go unless he drops out of the top-35 in points next season. So, for argument’s sake we can remove that one from the list.

That would leave EGR, RCR, and RBR vying for Kahne. All three teams are capable of winning, even though RCR struggled last year. So, what ride Kahne lands in could depend on the performances of Jamie McMurray, Kevin Harvick, and Scott Speed.

If RCR struggles, Harvick could – and probably would – leave the team. He reportedly asked to be let out of his contract [4] last season, though his wish was not granted [5]. He, too, might be vying for the No. 1 or No. 82. But, I suspect that if he leaves, he might take his Kevin Harvick Inc. team Sprint Cup racing. Harvick made a big deal of winning in his own stuff, so it’s possible that could be his plan for 2011, if things sour at RCR.

Given his history with Chip Ganassi, I don’t think McMurray will be one and done, if he posts decent finishes in his first year in an EGR car. McMurray’s a pretty good restrictor plate driver, so if he posts solid finishes there, or a win, he’d return to the ride in 2011. That said, if it came down to Kahne or McMurray, I suspect EGR would choose Kahne because he has posted more impressive results throughout his career.

Barring a complete implosion, I would think Kahne would have to consider RCR’s No. 29. Despite last year’s struggles, the team is still solid and has tremendous resources. Adding in the fact that the team is focusing on being a three-car team [6], RCR could become stronger by eliminating waste. (Not being stretched too thin.)

There’s also a very small chance that in 2011, RCR would try to lure Kahne by going back to a four-car team, if Harvick re-signs. I don’t think that will happen, but stranger things have.

Based on results alone, you have to think Scott Speed is on the chopping block. He’s struggled thought his entire Sprint Cup career, and is not posting solid results. He will not be guaranteed a starting spot in the first five races because he is not in the top-35 in owner’s points. If he misses some races, and falls further behind, he could be out of the No. 82 at the end of the year.

With the emergence of Brian Vickers as a contender, RBR is likely to start looking at the team to see what is missing, since it would be obvious that it is not the equipment. They might come to the conclusion that it’s Speed. Should that happen, Kahne would have to look there, considering the team has sponsorship lined up. But, if the team is outside the top-35 that would probably influence Kahne’s decision.

Should Kahne, or Harvick for that matter, become free agents in 2011, both will also be linked to a possible third team with Stewart Haas Racing. I think that — as long as SHR doesn’t actually expand – all of the big named free agents will be linked to a third SHR Chevy until they do expand. Harvick was reportedly linked to the team [4] last season.

At this point, I think that Harvick will leave and go to a third SHR Chevy or will bring KHI to the Sprint Cup next season, unless he finishes in the top 5 in points. I don’t think he’ll finish in the top 5, mainly because of the competition, not his driving skills. So, he’ll leave. In doing so, he will leave the No. 29 vacant, which will allow Kahne to sign with RCR. This is all speculation, but that’s what I think will happen.