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Kasey Kahne-Jimmie Johnson 1-2 for the Michigan 400...and what about Brian Vickers?

  Kasey Kahne: 187.183 mph (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   BROOKLYN, Mich.
   Lame Duck Kasey Kahne – who drove Dodges last year, is driving Fords this year, will be driving Toyotas next year, and is under contract to drive Chevrolets for Rick Hendrick in 2012 – may be back on track, for the time being.
   He put Richard Petty's Ford on the pole Friday for Sunday's Michigan 400.
   But so far this week the news has been off-the-track not on the track.
   First, car owner Jack Roush was released from the Mayo Clinic, two weeks after his plane crash in Wisconsin.
   Then, Chevy car owner Rick Hendrick announced he was 'farming out' Kahne – just signed to a multi-year contract in April, beginning in 2011 – to rival Toyota team manager Jay Frye next season.
   Throw in Richard Childress expanding to a four-car team, adding Paul Menard, who is leaving the Ford camp to run Childress' Chevys next year....and assorted other odds and ends, and winning the pole here just didn't seem like that big a deal.
   Particularly since this 400 could well be another classic Michigan gas mileage race, rather than a speed derby.
   The Kahne-from-Hendrick-to-Toyota story is certainly intriguing. All the details? Don't bother asking.
   One question in this, though, is Brian Vickers, sidelined from the Frye team since May while being treated for blood clots. He hopes to return to the tour in 2011, but nothing is yet clear on that front.
    Another question is Vickers' current teammate Scott Speed, who may not meet those 'performance clauses' in his driving contract and could thus be on the way out at the end of the season.
    For Frye it's been another season of such frustration.....
   And it started with such promised, with Vickers running strong.
   Frye says, taking the optimistic tack, "We have a lot of options at this point....being we are only a two-car team. (The NASCAR limit is four, and sponsor Red Bull could easily expand if the owner wants to).
   "Right now with Brian, we continue to monitor his health. And he is doing great. Things are looking very good with him.
    "But at this point we still don't know. We are only halfway through the process he needs to go through.
    "With Scott, we are a couple of years into that program; it needs to get better. We are working hard to get him better and do what we need to do to get him better.
    "But we have options.
    "Is it possible to expand? Sure; we have the ability to do that.
     "Do we plan to do that? At this point that is unclear."
    And, uh, just want kind of deal did Hendrick and Frye make for Kahne? Who's paying the bills? What's the deal here?
    "We don't discuss contracts or our terms of anything," Frye says succinctly.
    "We have a contract with Kasey Kahne for next season."
     What about crew chiefs? Frye has already swapped crew chiefs already this season, to spark things, without much apparently result.
    Frye says the Kahne deal came very quickly. "Over the next month to 45 days we will start to organize the teams and put the teams together for 2011," Frye says. "At this point, we really have no comment on specifics."
    Frye and the two teams have been dogged all season by various rumors and speculation, maybe some generated by rivals wanting to snake the lucrative sponsorship.
   That stuff had bugged Frye: "There seem to be a lot of situations where Red Bull is in the rumor mill in this sport, no matter what goes on.
   "When we have our monthly team meetings, it has almost become something we joke about.
    "Part of it is flattering, because people continue to talk about us, no matter what situation.
     "It has happened so much -- over such a long period of time, the past 2-3 years -- hopefully it hasn't affected our people.
     "Obviously we have just made a huge commitment with Kasey moving forward into next year.
    "The future of this program is very bright.
     "You almost become immune to it (all the speculation), because it happens so often.
    "You can tell people 'Look, here is what was said how many times over the course of how many years, and none of this has happened.'
    "There is a huge commitment from Red Bull in Austria and Red Bull North America in Santa Monica, California.
    "What we need to do is succeed.
     "There is great passion for what we do; there is a great desire to win; there is a great desire to compete at a high level."
    With at the wheel Frye says "we have taken another step towards being able to do that consistently, and we are very excited about that."
    One major issue for Frye and his teams this season is that Vickers was the senior driver, and without him, well, leadership is very important on a relatively new team like this one.
    But then Frye has been through personal trials like this before, too many times before: with Ernie Irvan, then with Jerry Nadeau, both men who had their racing careers ended too young.
   "Each time," Frye says, "the situation has been very much the same: We, as a company, and management of the team, need to do the best to keep morale up and make sure we are focused on the right thing."
   Getting Kahne, Frye hopes, 'gives the team something to look forward to.
    "Kasey is a proven commodity," Frye says.
    "At this point we have great expectations that all will work out with Brian. He is only halfway through his treatments, and all is in the right direction; so we have high hopes.
    "But to get a Kasey Kahne-caliber driver -- even if it is just for one year -- he will help be able to point our program in the right direction for the future.
    "We will worry about 2012 next year."

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