News & Media


In wake of Red Bull exit, Kahne looking ahead

June 24, 2011, Sporting News Wire Service, NASCAR.com

SONOMA, Calif. -- Convinced organization will maintain commitment to team through end of season

Kasey Kahne, at least, has an exit strategy.

Red Bull's decision to withdraw from its ownership role in NASCAR racing has cast doubt over the future of the team that currently fields cars for Kahne and Brian Vickers, but Kahne won't have to worry about the future of the organization beyond this year.

In 2012, he moves to Hendrick Motorsports and the No. 5 Chevrolet currently driven by Mark Martin. To hear Kahne tell it, it's evident that crew chief Kenny Francis, who has followed Kahne through various incarnations at Evernham/Gillett Evernham/Richard Petty Motorsports to Red Bull, will be part of the package at Hendrick.

"I think Red Bull is going to do all they can to help out the team and try to get people involved and hopefully carry the two teams on and keep racing."

--KASEY KAHNE

Kahne, though, says he's convinced Red Bull will maintain a relatively seamless commitment to the team through the end of the season.

"I think Red Bull is going to do all they can to help out the team and try to get people involved and hopefully carry the two teams on and keep racing," Kahne said Thursday in San Francisco. "They are going to do what they can throughout this year to help that situation.

"As far as our parts and pieces and race cars go, they've told me when I talked to them that they are doing everything just as they would if they were racing the next year."

Team general manager Jay Frye is looking for investors to sustain the team going forward, and Kahne said he wouldn't rule out some involvement by Red Bull in the future -- just not as a team owner.

"Just talking to him [Frye] or just talking with the Red Bull people or the Austrian side of it -- they've told me that they really want to figure out how to make this program go on," Kahne said. "They just don't want to own it anymore. My gut feeling is that there will be two cars there next year.

"I just didn't ask what their plans were or anything. I was really more worried about this year and what their idea was of how we were going to get through this year and how we're going to take care of all the people that work there. I didn't ask what their plan was for next year. I really think that there will be two cars there next year. I think they're going to figure out how to help make that work as much as they can."

Two cars or not, Kahne won't be there. Despite recurring drama in his racing life and three rounds of knee surgery to deal with a basketball injury, Kahne feels he's nearing the peak of his career, and that the move to Hendrick will help him achieve peak performance.

"I still feel really young so I think I'm all right," Kahne, 31, said. "I think I've still got some years left. I think I'm right about at my best point. My next four years should be my best four years -- [that] would be what I would certainly hope out of myself and out of the situation that I'm going to be in. I think it's going to be a great opportunity and I can't wait."

The move to Hendrick will represent a sea change for Kahne, who won't have to carry the organization as the No. 1 driver -- a role he has played since signing with owner Ray Evernham in 2004. At Hendrick, he'll have Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. as teammates.

"I think it will definitely be a bit different than the situation that I've been in the past," Kahne said. "I actually look forward to it knowing that I'll be the guy with the least amount of statistics. I'll be the guy that's done the least amount in this sport, and I just look at that as a good thing. I've got guys that I can actually learn from and things.

"Over the years, I've taught myself a lot of things and listened and learned as much as I could, but to actually have someone where you know that they're telling you the real story and you can look at their notes or you can do whatever you want as far as the team stuff goes -- I don't see how that can't make me better. One thing about those guys though is that I've always wanted to beat them.

"I've always wanted to beat Jeff Gordon and I've always wanted to beat Jimmie Johnson. You always want to beat Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch. They are the guys -- there are four or five guys that are just there -- Tony Stewart -- they are just there every year. Those are the guys that you want to beat. If you can beat them then you know you've done something right."

Assuming Francis is part of the package, Kahne should enjoy a comfort level he hasn't experienced through all the changes he's been through since 2004.

"He [Francis] has been our leader," Kahne said. "He's been the guy that puts everything on his shoulders. It doesn't matter if it's good, bad, ugly, his fault or not his fault -- he takes everything. Sometimes I have to tell him that he doesn't need to take everything, because without him we're half of what we've been at best.

"He's a great guy and a guy that I don't want to not be with."