If you had to equate Hendrick Motorsports to a baseball team, than all those that call them the New York Yankees would be spot on. Rick Hendrick portrays the perfect George Steinbrenner after striking again Tuesday afternoon when it was announced that he had signed Kasey Kahne.
While details are still being worked out about where Kahne will be in 2011 since he isn’t scheduled to take over the No. 5 from Mark Martin until 2012, one thing is clear: if you want to win go to Hendrick Motorsports and they’ll make room for you somehow, someway.
Kahne is just another driver looking to restart his career with NASCAR’s most powerful team after a less than stellar last few seasons. It also isn’t surprising especially after he’s been openly critical of Richard Petty Motorsports’ performance in the past.
Now Kahne follows Casey Mears, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Mark Martin—depending on how you look at the Stewart-Haas deal you might include Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman—as the most recent drivers that have run into the arms of Mr. Steinbrenner, errr, Hendrick.
Kahne celebrated his 30th birthday last week then finished 39th at the Phoenix International Raceway, putting 26th in points after making the Chase last season. After RPM signed an agreement with Ford for the 2010 season, it was the believed that Kahne would be back to his winning ways as when he drove Fords in the Nationwide Series.
Apparently it wasn’t the case, Kahne isn’t willing to wait to see how RPM progresses as the company faces many other internal problems.
He wants to win races, lots of races, and seriously contend for a championship. Not just be another Chase driver and the best place to accomplish that is with the team that has won the last four straight.
As the saying goes, “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”
Kahne will, just as Mears did in 2007 after being released from Chip Ganassi Racing. He joined HMS and won his first career race but when the next driver that was looking for a rebirth in his career, Martin, came along in 2009 Mears was out.
First though, came NASCAR’s Most Popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., even when Hendrick said there was “no room at the inn” for Junior. But after spending six months in a fight with his stepmother Teresa over the company that his late father owned, Earnhardt Jr. walked out the door. He walked into what NASCAR fans considered the enemies, bound to show everyone that he wasn’t living off his father’s name.
For most of 2008 things looked great, he won the first two exhibition races in Daytona and was carrying the HMS banner by sitting second/third in the points through June. However, after winning his first race with the company and first in over two years, things got worse instead of better. While he made the Chase he finished 12th in points and a year later things continued to go downhill.
So far the first few races of 2010 have shown the team is improving, but very slowly. Earnhardt Jr. is still under contract with the company meaning he’ll be back with Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon next year when Kahne comes on-board in some capacity.
Can the same be said for HMS’ and the Cup Series oldest driver?
In July of 2009 Martin sat in Daytona and announced that he wanted to drive Rick Hendrick’s race cars while he had the opportunity. Hendrick made the room, just as he did when bringing over Earnhardt Jr., and this time it meant that Mears was moving onto another company, again.
Martin took over the No. 5 Chevrolet and suddenly he became 20 years younger. He went back to winning for the first time in almost four years, visiting victory lane five times and capturing seven poles. The reason that Martin signed with HMS, even if he didn’t admit it at first, was for another shot at a championship, and that’s what he got but finished second to Johnson.
Kahne and every other driver sat back and watched as HMS swept the top three spots in the standings and most importantly, won another championship. Who wouldn’t want to be in that position? With his contract up after this season it was a no-brainer to try and sign with the powerhouse.
Don’t fault Kasey Kahne for doing what any other driver would do in making the deal of a lifetime. No one wants to head to a team that isn’t proven when they have the chance to drive a car that has been beating the competition for years.
Plus, if there’s one thing that Rick Hendrick has shown the last few seasons, nothing is impossible and there’s always room at the inn.