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Kasey Kahne seems relieved to be moving on...but what next for Jay Frye's Team Red Bull?

 Kasey Kahne: new ride, new car, new team, new crew chief. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern



   Kasey Kahne, now suddenly lead driver for Team Red Bull, after more than six years in the Evernham-Petty-Gillett et al. camp, says his unexpected late-season split this week with Gillett-owned Richard Petty Motorsports "wasn't the way we wanted it to go, but it was a mutual decision."
    Kahne concedes he wasn't expecting things to happen as swiftly they have. "It's been a crazy week....

a lot of different things going on, and maybe different opinions on what happened or what's going to happen," Kahne says.
    But Kahne refuted reports that money might have been an issue. "I'm paid up to date from RPM," Kahne said. "They've met their commitments...and I thank them for that."
   Nevertheless RPM's financial situation has been the subject of considerable debate, particularly in light of Gillett's other struggling sports business ventures, like the Liverpool, England, soccer team, which he was just forced to sell, against his own wishes.
   Jay Frye, who runs the NASCAR Red Bull operation, concedes this most recent turn of events was yet another surprise, on his side of the board, in what has been such a surprising year....with the sidelining of number one driver Brian Vickers in May with mysterious blood clots.
   "A lot of things have happened this week," Frye says. "We didn't anticipate this happening."
    Kahne said he didn't either. But after brake problems the last few weeks, and again Saturday night at Charlotte, where Kahne, after the car was repaired, had left the track, leaving the team to find a relief driver, well, things came to a head Monday, and Kahne is now with a new team.
    What happens next to Richard Petty Motorsports? Owner Gillett hasn't been seen at a NASCAR track in months to face the questions. Curiously perhaps, Gillett was just forced to sell Liverpool to the John Henry-led company that owns the Boston Red Sox. Henry, remember, is partner with Jack Roush in Ford Motor Company's top franchise....and the NASCAR partner with Petty-Gillett.
   Questions about cars and engines for the Petty-Gillett team for the rest of this season are rampant.
   Petty and team manager Robbie Loomis have Aric Almirola in the Kahne Ford here, and, despite rumors about the future of RPM, even its survival, the team's Talladega car has been delivered.
   Kahne himself, last year even talking about seeming chaos within RPM, when Gillett first took over everything, seems glad to be out of the fire.
   "I'm exciting....(but) it's a big change for me, because I've been doing really the same thing for 6-1/2 years," Kahne says. "To make a change like this – it's new people, new cars, new manufacturer, new sponsor. Everything is different. 
    "But I'm looking forward to it. 
     "I've been looking forward to next year, and now we have a little quicker start on that."

    Jay Frye (R), Team Red Bull boss, and Brian Vickers, who is still waiting to get back in a stocker (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)

     Drivers and teams don't typically split before the end of the season. Contracts usually preclude that.
    However whatever the contracts involved here, it apparently didn't take much to make the change.
    "I was leaving...and it made sense for RPM to start working on their things for next year," Kahne said.

   One key to Team Red Bull in 2011 is of course Vickers. The veteran racer said in August he'd been given the okay to return to the tour as driver in January; but his full course of medical treatment for the blood clots is a six-month regime, which won't  be over till November. And despite optimism there naturally are still some questions, since the medication Vickers is still taking to remediate the blood clots is a medication that would keep him from driving.
   Frye, carefully, says, "We're still monitoring Brian's health and his situation.  So far everything seems really good. 
    "Our plan is to have two cars (in 2011, not expanding to three).  Obviously in that situation we have too many drivers."
    Which leaves Scott Speed's future up in the air. Speed, the Californian brought into NASCAR from Red Bull's Formula One side two years ago, has yet to show much on the stock car tour. And Frye has pointed out several times that Speed's contract has 'performance clauses,' which would allow the team to put a new driver in the seat if it wanted.
    In fact NASCAR's Team Red Bull hasn't performed all that well itself, despite some shakeups by Frye this season. Vickers was running strong when he was abruptly sidelined; the team hasn't caught fire again since.
    What happens next? "We'll know more on that soon," Frye says. "A lot of it is dependent on Brian and his health."
    Of course if Vickers has to sit out longer, and if the team decides Speed has had enough time to develop, then there could be still an open seat.....
    How much pressure there? Just a little.
   At least Kahne is now on board to offer some stability.
   However Kahne will have a new crew chief, for the first time in years, because Kenny Francis, his long-time crew chief, will remain at Petty's through the end of the season.
    Frye says he'll spend the next few weeks studying his entire roster: "We're going to evaluate where we're at with people. 
    "There's nothing imminent on anything right now.  We’re excited that Jimmy is working with Kasey this weekend;  Jimmy did a great job when he came over a couple years ago to get AJ (Allmendinger) going....and then with Scott.
    "We've got some really, really good people, and it's our job to find places and roles for them within the organization."
    And Speed? "We're also monitoring Scott and his performance...where he's at and what's going to happen next," Frye says.
    "We're going to end up having -- at this point -- two cars and possibly three drivers.  At that point decisions will have to be made."
   But Frye insisted those decisions have not yet been made.
    What Frye would like to be focusing on is getting one, or both, of his teams in next season's championship playoffs. Vickers made the playoffs last year, though he didn't do much after that point.
   In 2011 Frye says "We're going to make every effort to compete for a championship....win races, get in the chase and compete for a championship. 
    "Last year we got in the chase, won a race, had six poles, and we surely think we can do that and then some. We have very high expectations."

    Kahne abrupt departure has led to speculation about the future of the Petty-Gillett operation. It's a four-car team this season, but looks to be just a two-car team next season, with AJ Allmendinger (and sponsor Best Buy) and Marcos Ambrose. Elliott Sadler is figured to be a free-agent at the end of the season.
    Kahne says he's heard all the questions about the fate of the Petty operation: "I think everybody has. 
     "It's just speculation; I think it's a lot of talk. 
     "I certainly hope RPM keeps rolling, I hope they finish out this season and put together another great season next year.
     "I want that team to keep going.  There are a lot of good people there that deserve to have a job."

    And Kahne bristled at the questions about his dedication, and at a rival driver dubbing him a prima donna for his actions at Charlotte.
    "Anyone who questions my commitment doesn't know me very well, and doesn't know how much I love this sport and how much I put into racing," Kahne said. 
    "I don't think there's anybody out there that puts as much in it as I do throughout a week."
    At Charlotte, when his brakes went out, "I was sick to my stomach....It was time for me to just call it a day, and that's what I did. 
     "I'm happy I did it....and ready to go onto this weekend."



 Kasey Kahne: new uniform, new sponsor: Red Bull (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


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