The Associated Press is reporting that Kasey Kahne has been released from Richard Petty Motorsports effective immediately, and Aric Almorila will drive the No. 9 Ford at this weekend’s Tums Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway.
Almirola was slated to drive Red Bull Racing’s No. 83 Toyota at Martinsville, but it appears Kahne will move over to that ride for the final five races of the season, giving him an early start to work with his 2011 team.
The move is believed to be the result of Kahne’s recent frustration with the team’s inability to finish races — particularly suffering brake failures in two of the last three events — and the comments he made afterwards.
In last weekend’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Kahne wrecked because, he said, his brakes failed. After the car was repaired Kahne, who was feeling ill, said he wasn’t well enough to get back in the car. JJ Yeley finished the race.
He called the break issues ”a mess” and a “joke.” An RPM team member told him he needed to do his part. Kahne said:
I was told that I need to start doing my part. I can’t control the issues I’ve had this year. I don’t know how many parts I’ve broke, how many shifter handles, control arms, blowers, brakes. If I really thought about it, I could come up with all kinds of stuff. You can’t control that as a driver. I’m doing my part. I just need the car. I work as hard as anybody out there.
Kahne’s decision not to get in the car and his comments led some to speculate that he was quitting on his team, and wasn’t willing to fight through adversity. Apparently, RPM officials agreed.
RPM Vice President Robbie Loomis said:
When you know that [you’re leaving] is in the back of your mind, it gets harder and harder when you’re having adversity to fight through it. When he gets over there [at Hendrick] with being around Jeff [Gordon] and Jimmie [Johnson], he’ll get to learn a lot through them and how they deal and fight with adversity, too. It was disheartening for all of us. We felt so good going into the race.
As a result, Kahne was released early.
Kahne is slated to drive RBR’s No. 83 Sprint Cup Toyota next season, while he waits for Mark Martin to finish his final season in Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 5 Chevy, Kahne’s 2012 ride. The move will put him in that car five races early.
The driver lineup for RPM’s No. 9 beyond Martinsville is not set. Marcos Ambrose is signed to drive that car next season. He could ask to be released from JTG Daughtery Racing to get a head start, which would open the No. 47 Toyota up for Bobby Labonte, who is slated to replace Ambrose in that car next season. That would leave James Finch, owner of Phoenix Racing’s No. 09 Chevy that Labonte drives, looking for a driver.
Update: Jenna Fryer, who wrote the AP story breaking the news of Kahne’s release, tweeted that Kahne will run the No. 83 RBR Toyota for the remaining five races this year. He will move over to the No. 82 next season, which will become the No. 4.
RBR will be a two-car team, meaning Kahne will team up with Brian Vickers, who is returning to the series, next season, leaving Scott Speed without a ride.
Update 2: Nate Ryan of USA Today tweeted that Tad Geschickter, of JTG Daugherty Racing, said that the plan is to keep Marcos Ambrose in the No. 47 for the remainder of this season. The Sporting News added that Geschickter confirmed that Ambrose asked for an early release. But, current sponsor and promotional obligations prevented that request from being granted.
Update 3: Two sources with knowledge of the situation confirmed that Kasey Kahne will replace Scott Speed in the No. 82 Toyota next season. With Kenny Francis coming with him, it looks like Jimmy Elledge is likely the odd crew chief out at RBR. Robin Pemberton, current crew chief for Speed, will likely move back to Brian Vickers and the No. 83 Toyota.