Kasey Kahne, the current driver of the No. 9 Budweiser Ford at Richard Petty Motorsports, will not be driving that car next year. In 2012 he will be driving a Chevrolet for Rick Hendrick, but his plans for 2011 are up in the air.
It is a pretty safe bet to say that Hendrick will want Kahne to be in a Chevrolet next year before he makes the leap to what is arguably one of NASCAR's best teams .
The big question is, what Chevy will Kahne be driving next year?
A lot of people have weighed in on this, and the answer appears to be one of the satellite teams of Hendrick Motorsports, Stewart-Haas Racing.
It seems like the logical choice to many. Tony Stewart, owner-driver of Stewart-Haas, has said that he wants a third team, and all the support that Stewart-Haas gets is from Hendrick.
While it may seem like the logical choice, it may be in Hendrick's best interest to pass on signing Kahne to a contract at Stewart-Haas Racing, since it is Hendrick who will decide Kahne's fate for next year and not the driver.
Here is why Hendrick should not give Kahne to Stewart-Haas Racing for the 2011 season:
Above everything else, Hendrick is a business owner and his business is to win races and championships. There are a few things that could result from having Kahne going to Stewart-Haas Racing that would be less than optimal for Hendrick.
While I am no fortune teller and can’t see into the future, I can see that Kahne is an outstanding driver who has talent in a NASCAR stock car since he entered the Sprint Cup in 2004.
All this talent, and the Hendrick parts that Kahne is driving, could result in numerous wins; especially considering Kahne’s 11 career wins in the Sprint Cup Series. Nine of those wins came on the mile and a half tracks where most of the NASCAR season takes place.
So with what could be the best equipment on the track (Hendricks motors and chassis), and with most of the season taking place at the mile and a half tracks, Kahne may not win them all. However, he could run pretty high in the points and be a serious contender for the Sprint Cup Championship.
This can be bad for Hendrick because if a rival team (despite having the same equipment) suddenly starts doing better, or as well as, Hendrick, then for at least one year money and sponsorship will be driven away from Hendrick Motorsports. Not too many business people like to lose money.
Hendrick could turn one year's loss of profit into pure profit while Kahne is at Hendrick in 2012. It just doesn’t seem like a well-calculated risk for Hendrick to send Kahne to SHR especially since SHR could hire a driver as good as Kahne to fill in for 2012 and beyond.
Stewart-Haas’ ability to have a third team
Since Tony Stewart bought the majority of what used to be Haas-CNC Racing and announced plans to run two cars for the 2009 and 2010 season, there has been a lot of talk that Stewart-Haas Racing will expand to three teams.
Even Tony Stewart has stated that he would like to expand to three teams, but only when “the time is right.”
It might end up being the right time next year for Stewart-Haas, because Rick Hendrick might force a third team among Tony Stewart and company.
While Stewart may not have a choice whether he receives a third team next year or not, his company might not be able to support a third team that is competitive for next year, unless the Stewart-Haas team is just a Hendrick back-up team.
Stewart currently has enough crews to support a third team (Bobby Labonte’s No.71 TRG pit crew is a Stewart-Haas team), but it takes more than a pit crew and a driver to run a team.
It's unclear if Stewart-Haas could make a third team that can compete by building more cars and having the support that the No. 14 and No. 39 currently have.
Also, sponsorship is a big issue. Hendrick will most likely have a sponsor lined up for Kahne in 2012, but 2011 could pose a problem.
Right now, it’s no secret that the sport is hurting for sponsors. Even the big teams that are capable of winning every week are hurting, as seen just earlier this week when Old Spice announced that they were leaving Stewart-Haas Racing next year.
So unless Hendrick has an extra sponsorship in his sleeve, Kahne could possibly drive a sponsor-less car in 2011 at SHR, especially since Budweiser has not announced plans to follow Kahne and seems to be dwindling in its support of NASCAR.
While Stewart-Haas racing is able to compete with, and are supported by, Hendrick right now, Hendrick should consider moving Kahne to somewhere other than Stewart-Haas.
So if not SHR then where?
Most likely, that place would be another Hendrick supported organization. Last year James Finch and Brad Keselowski proved that small teams can win. Hendrick, in the past, has offered support to small teams.
On top of that, Finch and Keselowski were using Hendrick supported equipment. This is why Hendrick might want to consider moving Kahne to one of the smaller teams that are low in points this year.
This way, Kahne can learn the ins and outs of driving a Hendrick Chevrolet. It works out for both Kahne and Hendrick because if the team is successful, then Kahne won’t have to make a big transition to Hendrick Motorsports in 2012.
In addition, if the team is successful, Hendrick can make more money by leasing out his equipment to that team in the future without much worry of that time getting a top-notch driver that could be a threat, because they might not be able to afford it.
If the team isn’t successful, Hendrick can cut support and Kahne will know what to expect at Hendrick Motorsports (either way Kahne will gain experience for his 2012 debut at Hendricks Motorsports).
While Kahne and Hendrick could do the same thing at Stewart-Haas, the threat there is after Kahne leaves then SHR could hire a top-notch driver who could continue to be a competitive team for Stewart-Haas.