Kasey Kahne Must Wait to Drive for Hendrick, So What's He to Do Next Season?

Dustin ParksAnalyst IApril 15, 2010

PHOENIX - APRIL 09:  Kasey Kahne, driver of the #9 Budweiser Ford, looks on from his car during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Subway Fresh Fit 600 at Phoenix International Raceway on April 9, 2010 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

The opportunity came knocking, and Kasey Kahne answered. His future is set, and he's excited about where he's heading.

There's only one problem: it's not his immediate future.

Kahne is stepping into the No. 5 car in 2012. His contract at Richard Petty Motorsports ends following the 2010 season. What is Kahne going to do when the 2011 season begins?

This is a unique situation for everyone involved. Kahne already wanted out of his deal with RPM. So, when talks with Hendrick Motorsports were occurring, the team knew they wanted Kahne on their roster. When the deal was signed, Kahne was forced to wait to drive for his new team.

The reason: Mark Martin already signed a contract extension last year, keeping him in the No. 5 through 2011.

Rick Hendrick did not want Martin to opt out on the final year of his contract. When Hendrick asked if Martin wanted to continue driving past 2011, he declined. Martin's last year of full-time driving will be next year, thus giving Kahne the unique opportunity.

But, what does Kahne do for the 2011 Sprint Cup season?

He cannot race for another team that isn't affiliated with Hendrick Motorsports. Plus, he needs time to get used to the equipment.

The most obvious choice is to form a third team at Stewart-Haas Racing. They get their engines and chassis from Hendrick, so they are among the top teams in the series.

Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman would be great teammates, and they would provide him with great support.

As of right now, SHR has not stated they will form a third team to house Kahne until he takes over the No. 5. But, this seems as though it's the most logical choice. It would let Kahne experience being in a Hendrick car without being under the Hendrick ownership.

This in all likelihood will be his move as there is not many other teams using the Hendrick resources for a full-time season.

Then there's the question of Kahne's current Cup sponsor, Budweiser. It is unclear whether Anheiser-Busch will follow Kahne to his new ride, let alone waiting a year to do so.

Budweiser was a sponsor of Hendrick from 1995 through 1999, running on the No. 25 car that was driven by Ken Schrader and Ricky Craven.

Whether Budweiser goes to Hendrick is unclear, as well as if Hendrick would have a beer-sponsored car again in his stable.

What is clear is Kahne's desire to get a ride for next year quickly, but it will not be his responsibility. Instead, Hendrick himself is responsible for getting Kahne a full-time Sprint Cup ride in 2011.

That's not a joke; it's in writing, in Kahne's contract.

Although Kahne knows what his future plans are, he doesn't have to bare the brunt of finding a ride. But for Hendrick, it will still be a difficult task.

He is the top owner in this sport. Eight championships, numerous awards, and some of the best drivers have driven his cars. Team owners know what Hendrick has, which is an added difficulty in his search. Who would be willing to put Kahne in a car knowing he's bound for Hendrick Motorsports?

That's an undertaking for any driver, much less one with credentials like Kahne.

Where will he end up? Who would hire him for just one season? What sponsor will be on the hood?

It's a complicated deal, one that Kahne and Hendrick admitted when it was announced. Plus, not all the details have been disclosed, so there's a lot of speculation.

We can all guess where Kahne will race next season. But, much like Kahne himself, we all will have to wait and see.


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