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Tony Stewart wins the Texas 500 pole?! And Mark Martin offers some surprises too

   Tony Stewart's Big Red Machine. First pole on speed since 2005....at 191.327 mph (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    By Mike Mulhern

    Mark Martin says he helped trigger Kasey Kahne's jump to the Rick Hendrick camp.
    And Martin says even though he won't be in crew chief Alan Gustafson's number five in 2012 – that's to be Kahne's first season in that ride – that Martin will continue racing Sprint Cup....for someone.
    Tony Stewart and Sam Hornish made for a surprise front row for Sunday's Texas Samsung 500 in Friday qualifying. Stewart hadn't won a Sprint Cup tour pole since Martinsville in 2005.

    The story of the day of course continues to be Kahne's decision to leave Richard Petty Motorsports (owned by George Gillett and run by son Foster Gillett) and to sign a five-year contract with Hendrick.
    While one big issue up in the air is what Kahne will drive in 2011 (Martin's final season with Gustafson), another issue is what Martin will drive in 2012.
    "Those guys wanted me to drive it for 2012," Martin said, though his current contract only runs through 2011. "It was a little bit stretched to do one more full-time season.
    "I gave them three. I figure three years is enough."

   Green is good...and Mark Martin says in 2012 he will still be racing NASCAR Sprint Cup.....for someone. So team owners, make your best pitch (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    And in 2012? "I'm not going to retire. I'm going to race in 2012," Martin insists.
    "There will be an opportunity for me I'm sure that will be exciting and fun and that I can help people.
    "I did that at DEI (nearly winning the Daytona 500 in 2007)....and I feel I've helped this team realize they can win races and contend for a championship.
    "I'll find another opportunity that's exciting to me....but I don't want to commit to that now."
    Martin called his time with Hendrick "the gift of my career."
   "One of my biggest concerns has been who is going to be the successor," Martin said, "so I wouldn't knock them out of getting the very best fit.
    "That's why I started talking to Kasey before anybody, September last year.
    "I do have some real good buddies, in Jeff Burton and Matt Kenseth. But since they wouldn't talk to me seriously and had to keep making jokes and cutting up....They both just laughed and joked around.
    "I confide in them...and Jeff wants to be my agent for 2012 and has discussed that a number of times, even again yesterday. So you've got to ask him what his plans are for me -- because he's got some really far-fetched plans that I'm not even going to tell you about.
    "I love this sport, and I'm going to be in this sport for a long time. I'm going to drive for a long time.
     "And I might get involved in other capacities as well: For the first time ever, I would consider an opportunity like Tony Stewart had. I don't want to be an owner, but if I can be an owner like Tony Stewart maybe I want it."
   But that's down the road.
   Today it's all about Kahne.
    "Kasey Kahne was the guy," Martin says, calling Kahne "the absolute best scenario.
    "Kasey Kahne is a really right fit for this organization."

   Martin's suggestion caught hold with Kahne, who apparently decided before the season even opened that he would be leaving his current team at the end of his contract.
    "Mark pulled me aside a few times...and one time we sat in his bus for at least an hour and talked about things," Kahne says.
    "He's an unbelievable guy, and an unbelievable driver. To sit there and talk and learn about something I have no idea about was nice for me. 
    "So, yeah, that was a huge part of my decision.
     "Jimmie Johnson has been a big part of it as well.  He's always been a great guy to me, and he's helped me whenever I've had questions. Jimmie has always been there to help out. 
    "So between those two guys and then just sitting down with Mr. Hendrick and learning about the place, walking around the place, I was just really impressed and really excited to be a part of it now."

   However there are more than just a few loose ends.
   Kahne says the future of the Budweiser sponsorship is still up for debate: "I don't have control of that.  That's not up to me. 
   "What I did was I worried about myself: what I needed to do for my future, and what I felt was the best for myself, and what would work good for me. 
    "I have a great relationship with Budweiser, and the people there; the last couple years have been awesome with them.
    "As far as the future goes, I enjoy that brand and I want to be part of that brand. So it's completely up to them and what they want to do in the future.  I haven't talked to any of them about it."
    The future of long-time crew chief Kenny Francis is also up for debate: "Kenny is as good as anybody in the garage.  We have a great relationship, and we communicate really well.  It seems like we figure things out pretty quickly.
    "So I really like working with Kenny. 
     "As far as the future, I'm not sure how that will work yet.  Kenny is wanted by a lot of teams.
    "Hopefully I'll work with him for a long time."



    Tony Stewart surprised even himself with this pole....which, given threat of Saturday rain washing out final practice, means he should have a good car for Sunday's 500 too (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


Replacing Martin is a 2012 move; what Kahne might do in 2011 is seemingly still up in the air, though there are only a few clear-cut options, one being with Tony Stewart as another teammate, another one as driver for James Finch in Hendrick equipment.
   "I'll work through it with Mr. Hendrick and figure out exactly what we need to do that makes the most sense," Kahne says. "I still don't know; I'm leaving it up to those guys.  Rick said he'll make sure it's right."
    Kahne says it just seemed like time for a change.
   "We've had 6-1/2 years, and we've had a great run," Kahne said, referring to first his years with Ray Evernham, and then on.
   "They've given me a lot of opportunity, and we've had some pretty good success (11 tour wins since 2004).
    "I have a lot of friends there, a lot of people I really enjoy working with there.
    "But sometimes you just need some change, you need something different. 
     "I was fortunate enough when I came into this sport that I jumped right in with Ray Evernham. Until this year I'd never looked at another shop, I'd never been inside another building...and I never knew what was out there.
     "To go around to all these other teams over the last few months and learn as much as I did about them -- about the owners, about the people at each team -- was pretty neat."

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Friday's qualifying results for Sunday's Texas Samsung 500


The Kahne signing ends

The Kahne signing ends speculation about Danica joining the Hendrick team for 2012 to replace Mark Martin. I guess Danica's lackluster start in stock car racing coupled with her decision not to commit to NASCAR full time had something to do with it. A more likely scenario would be for Danica to end up Cup racing with JR Motorsports with GoDaddy sponsorship. And also, don't be surprised if JR Motorsports acquires the RPM organization and switches it to Chevy...Gillett has been selling all his sports teams (hockey and now soccer) and JR might be one of the few with the resources and team #s available to make the deal. Dale's time with Hendrick has been not as expected so he is ready for a another shocking change in direction.

I'm not really sure I

I'm not really sure I understand all this danica stuff any better today than i did back at Fontana.....i dont even know that she's the best female driver in Indy-cars.....
I agree that Dale Jr. and JR Motorsports may merit very close watching. If I were Jr., I'd move to JRM, get a Hendrick-engineering deal, pick up Mark maybe part time, throw in a little Danica, and start having some fun. heck, he's 35, and no close to contending for a championship....it's time for a new game plan, I'd say.
And I have no clue as to what the Gilletts might do. Selling the Montreal Canadiens? what the heck.....Getting involved in that bottomless spending pit of world soccer -- very bad move, unless you're a wealthy middle eastern oil man. And I dont understand that whole Texas Rangers deal his buddy is embroiled in. so maybe the gilletts buy JRM?

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