With Kasey Kahne headed to Red Bull Racing in 2011 while he waits for Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 5 Sprint Cup Chevy to become available in 2012, several people are wondering what each side gets out of the deal.
For HMS, it’s pretty obvious: they couldn’t let Kahne miss a year, nor could they afford to put him on a team without the resources to field a competitive car consistently. Stewart Haas Racing probably made the most sense from that standpoint. SHR is a competitive team with Hendrick affiliation.
But, any deal with SHR would have been contingent on HMS finding sponsorship for Kahne. For a driver with the marketability and driving talent of Kahne, that shouldn’t have been too hard. But, in today’s economic climate, finding sponsorship for any driver is no easy task. And, when you add in the deadline given by SHR (about two months after Kahne’s signing), there was no realistic way for them to get a deal done in time. (I don’t think a sponsor would sign on with Kahne without knowing what team he’d be driving for.)
I also can’t imagine SHR expanding to three teams before Tony Stewart feels comfortable with the idea. Stewart has maintained that his organization would not expand in 2011. With Old Spice leaving the team at season’s end, and Ryan Newman’s car looking for sponsorship to fill out the 2011 season, Stewart had to make securing sponsorship for his existing cars a priority. And, what sense does it make to expand to three cars when you don’t have two fully sponsored?
Once SHR was eliminated from the equation, there weren’t very many options left. Phoenix Racing was the only other Hendrick-affiliated team out there. But, rumors of the team shutting down at the end of the season probably hurt their chances of landing Kahne. It also may have been hard to secure sponsorship without a guarantee that the car would be competitive.
Unable to get Kahne into a Hendrick-affiliated car, HMS had no choice but to look elsewhere. The only competitive team with a potential vacancy was Red Bull Racing. So, they weighed the options and determined that RBR was the best place for Kahne. RBR is relatively competitive – or they were with Brian Vickers – and they have a short team need that coincides well with Kahne’s short term availability. They also had a fully sponsored ride available.
HMS also didn’t have to force Mark Martin — a fan favorite — out of the car. They could honor his contract and keep him relatively happy for the rest of the season.
For Red Bull Racing, the deal makes sense. They don’t know for sure if Brian Vickers will be back, and they have a decision to make on Scott Speed. With two potential vacancies and a limited number of drivers available next season, they weren’t likely to find a driver better than Kahne. So, with an opportunity to land him – if even for one year – they had to take it.
Kahne knows what it takes to win and be a winning team. RBR wants Kahne to help get their program back on track. They hope that he can provide insight into what the team needs to do be a winner. They want him to essentially tell them what they’re doing wrong.
Back when the team had AJ Allmendinger, they brought in Mike Skinner to fill in for five races or so to point out flaws in the team and help them improve. They’re hoping Kahne can do the same thing, and they think that an entire season should be plenty of time for him to help turn them around. By signing Kahne, they’re not only hoping to improve on the track, but off of it as well.
For his part, Kahne gets to drive a competitive car – or at least a car that is more competitive than the other options out there. He also gets to have fun. When he heads over to HMS in 2012, there will be high expectations, and the pressure to perform. At RBR there is virtually no pressure.
RBR is struggling, and seems to have taken a step back. If Kahne posts top 15 finishes, that would be considered an improvement. And, considering that the team is not expected to seriously contend for a championship, he can race without the burden of worrying about points. He may need to worry about staying in the top 35 in points, at least at the beginning of the season, if the team falls out by season’s end. But, he won’t need to worry about making the Chase.
That’s not to say that he will not try to make the Chase. I think he’ll try. But if he doesn’t, it’s not a big deal because he’s gone at the end of the season.
I also suspect that Kahne will be looking at RBR’s Toyotas to see if there’s anything he can bring back to HMS that might help them be more competitive in 2012. I’m not saying that RBR is at the forefront of cutting edge technology and processes, but if they are doing something that gives them an advantage, I’m sure Kahne will bring that to HMS in 2012.
I can’t imagine that RBR didn’t think of that. But, it seems that they’re willing to risk it in exchange for Kahne’s insights and driving ability. To them, it may be a small price to pay.
All in all, the deal seems to make sense for all of those involved.