Kasey Kahne Warms To Red Bull After Season of Discontent
As his racing tenure with Richard Petty Motorsports comes to an end, Kasey Kahne has had precious little time to reflect on the difficulties of 2010 or to contemplate the possibilities of 2011 and beyond.
Kahne's soft and slightly weary tone told the story even more than his words during a media teleconference on Tuesday. It is obvious that while he was not originally thrilled to be headed to Red Bull Racing Team in 2011, conversations with RBRT General Manager Jay Frye and other team members have eased his mind over the last couple weeks.
"I got more excited than when I initially heard about it," Kahne admitted. "Right now, I feel really confident with being able to go into next year and being able to perform, race well, and have a good time doing it."
A hint of cautious excitement crept into his voice as he continued. "If I go [into] next season thinking I can't run well, I might as well take the year off."
Kahne has often seemed the pawn in a game over which he had no control. The drama played out during Rick Hendrick's attempt to place him in a competitive ride for 2011, a year in which Mark Martin will continue to drive the No. 5.
Kahne arrives to take over in 2012.
It's worn him down, and it's worn his team down, though he's performed admirably to remain in Chase contention, however slight his chances might be.
"I'd say it was definitely on my mind a lot. Five years that I was looking at. So, yeah, it was on my mind."
During the interview, it was also quite evident that his sometimes-frosty relationship with Richard Petty Motorsports hasn't warmed up a great deal. When asked if he thought his team had performed at their best during the tumultuous months, he frankly stated, "there's been some times that I've wondered."
He quickly backed away from any direct criticism, continuing, "But I wondered about me, too. I feel like everybody's done...the best job that they could." It wasn't exactly a ringing endorsement.
Kahne has occasionally clashed with both management and teammates during the last two years at RPM, including an on-track altercation with A.J. Allmendinger at Pocono this spring, in which Allmendinger moved low to block Kahne, running him into the grass, eventually causing the No. 9 (and several others) to wreck.
"I don't know what A.J. was doing there," Kahne said in a post-race interview. "I don't really talk to A.J. ever and I doubt I'll talk to him about this."
With Paul Menard taking his ride and his money to Richard Childress Racing, and a pared-down two-car operation that will leave Elliott Sadler out of a ride as well, some have argued that RPM is a sinking ship.
At this point, the organization looks more like a sinking ship that hit a large iceberg, was torpedoed by a North Korean missile, and finally, assaulted by Somalian pirates.
No one can really blame Kahne if he is looking ahead to 2011. He insists that's not the case.
When asked about his Chase chances (16th place, 136 points out of 12th with two races to go), Kahne says the right things, but knows that he is racing for little more than pride in 2010.
"Hopefully, we have a good shot. I mean, it's tough right now because everybody is running so well. You're in that position and it's tough to make up a lot of points."
No, those aren't the words of bubbling confidence. While Kahne is the driver who made the greatest comeback ever to make the Chase (in 2004) with two races to go, even that was only a 90-point miracle.
Not only would he have to make up the points, but also jump four other drivers in the process. He knows that's not likely to happen, despite Atlanta and Richmond being two of his best tracks.
Make no mistake; Kasey Kahne will do his best to win every race he has left this year.
No deal appears to be in the works that would allow him to get an early start at RBRT, though there are a lot of NASCAR subtexts that won't be revealed until the Chase field is set.
"I don't want to be done winning in a Ford. I don't want to be done winning for Budweiser. I don't want to be done winning for Richard Petty Motorsports. Hopefully, we can find some spark to that."
But even if he doesn't find that spark, at least he knows the horizon is brighter, if still a bit murky on details.
Will Kenny Francis follow Kahne to Team Red Bull? Will Kahne be able to overcome the challenges of becoming the first NASCAR driver ever to wheel a Ford, Dodge, Toyota, and Chevy (in four consecutive seasons, no less)? How much contact will he have with Rick Hendrick in 2012 and what will he be allowed to do to prepare for the move to the No. 5?
"Actually, I was kind of wondering that same stuff," replied Kahne. "I think once we get past who makes the Chase and who doesn't, we'll look into those questions that I have and obviously you have."
So if Kahne knows anything, he's not saying...at least not for a couple of weeks.
Kahne, like most Cup drivers, just wants to race. He loves racing. He'd gladly skip the pettiness and politics that so often overtake the garage.
Yes, you could hear the fatigue in his voice when he spoke of his 2010 travails and the long, confusing journey that has landed him at RBRT. But you could also sense the smile in his words when he allowed himself to consider 2011 and beyond.
"I want to start out at Daytona as good as anybody. I want to race, I want to perform and win races."
With a fresh start at a team he is clearly warming up to, don't be surprised if he does exactly that.
You can also follow me on Yahoo! Sports NASCAR Blog, From the Marbles, and on Twitter @nathanmedic
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