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What will the loss of Kasey Kahne mean for owners George and Foster Gillett and Richard Petty?

  Foster Gillett: the boots on the NASCAR ground for boss-and-father George (Photo: Autosport)

   By Mike Mulhern

   Losing Kasey Kahne at the end of the season has put the stock car team owned by George Gillett under the gun, both to quickly improve its performance and to fill that looming void....and to change a worrisome perspective from the outside that the four-car team itself might be in some trouble.
   Foster Gillett, who runs that team, Richard Petty Motorsports (RPM), for his father, the wealthy sportsman George Gillett, says he accepts some of the responsibility for the loss of Kahne to rival team owner Rick Hendrick.
   But Foster Gillett insists his family has no intentions of folding the NASCAR tents and going home.
   The 34-year-old Gillett, new to this sport, held the most important press conference of his young NASCAR career here Friday morning, to address the entire family situation. And, all in all, he delivered an eloquent presentation...while laying out some tough issues he and his father have to deal with.
   With the Gilletts having bought, then sold, the Montreal Canadiens last summer for $580 million, and with the financial issues surround the Liverpool (England) soccer franchise (which George Gillett and partner Tom Hicks Friday officially put up for sale, after three years ownership), and now with the loss of their star NASCAR driver, the general perception about RPM right now is that the team -- with no solid sponsors signed for next season and with only one team in the top-20 – might be in some trouble.
    Foster Gillett refuted that perception.
   "We are a four-car team in this sport. We have more sponsorship this year than last year," Gillett said.
   "When I looked at Dodge going bankrupt last year, and the damage that would potentially do to our organization – like some simple things, like just how hard it would be to get a piece – has galvanized our group. So we look at this as opportunity.
   "We've been through worse...and we're excited about what we can do next.
   "In the middle of last summer you may have been questioning our company too. But, hey, we're still here; we still have sponsors and still have drivers and we're still competing for wins. We survived, and thrived...and we're going to do it again."

    Will the Gilletts hang tough in NASCAR?
     "I think in life sometimes you can do things for all different reasons...but our family made a choice to be involved in NASCAR, and we don't plan to leave," Gillett said.
   "We have learned some hard lessons this week; I have learned some hard lessons.
   "I have to take full responsibility for the way this has gone. I would have hoped we'd be having a different press conference.
    "Mr. Hendrick is one of the wonderful owners in this sport...and I have learned a valuable lesson from him this week in how this goes.
    "Our commitment is to be here and win races and win championships.
   "When I reflect up on this, it's obviously something we have to learn from. Every change of direction provides opportunity...so I am focusing on what we've done well rather than what we've not done well. We have had some issues brought on by our trying to learn this sport better, and some issues just brought upon us."
    Foster Gillett, 34, and rather inexperienced as GM in this sport, pointed out he himself has only been running this operation since last May. "And when we look at the list of accomplishments, when I look in the mirror, I look more at what we have done well. And a lot of people would have been proud of what we have achieved."
    The financial aspects of the Gillett empire? Things look rough and ragged all over. The family bought into NASCAR when the sport was flying high, but now things are tougher on everyone. Just this week some messy details about a $90 million loan, trying to be refinanced, put a damper on things. And then came the Kasey Kahne surprise. Is this all as bad as it sounds?
   Liverpool, for one example.
   "It's no secret my family is going through some (financial issues)....we're looking at all our options," Gillett says.
   "The more liquidity we have as a family, the better it is for NASCAR.
    "We have always done our best with Liverpool, and we want the team to do the best it can."
    Losing Kahne? At the start of the season Gillett said his top priority was to re-sign Kahne. Now perhaps his top priority is to keep sponsor Budweiser.
   "We're only six races into this season, and we're still focused on this season," Gillett said. "And what Richard preaches to us, that is if we built the best race cars we can, we will have sponsors and drivers.
   "As far as the impact, I'm more concerned about what we can do with him right now. Most teams here would love to have a 30-race season with Kasey.
    "Obviously when there is a change like this, it opens opportunities for others. So we're more focused on the opportunities we have than what we might lose."
    The financial empire itself? "This is a process we're trying to go through. And I think there is good news ahead. We're focusing on the future," Gillett says.
   "My role in this is more to operate these businesses on the ground, than it is with what goes on at the family holding level."

   One big issue in all this is the change in the balance of power. Hendrick has not only won four straight Sprint Cup championships, he has some, perhaps most, of the top drivers in this sport, under his command. Now he's added Kahne.
   How in the world can relatively new teams like the Gilletts' expect to compete against a giant operation like Hendrick's, that just keeps getting bigger and stronger.
   Gillett points to Hendrick as a role model for him:
   "Mr. Hendrick is on a wonderful run. And it's due to his hard work and his personality," Gillett says. "I have learned this sport is about people. And he has wonderful people, he treats them well, and you see the results out on the track.
    "In this sport, there are no doors, there are no walls. We can see what he does.
    "And as he blazes ahead we can learn too.
   "When I look at Mr. Hendrick...I'm 34 and I want what he has. If he slips up, we'll gain ground. And we'll do everything we can.
   "I've talked with Richard Petty about this. Richard had a long run in this sport.
   "When the Bulls won six in a row, I don't think that was a bad thing – there were teams lined up to beat them.
   "The bar is set high, and they (Hendrick, with Jimmie Johnson) are wonderful champions."
   How Kahne runs as a lame duck remains to be seen. "I know what a gentleman Kasey Kahne is. He is a racer's racer," Gillett says. "If you give him great equipment, he will win. That's our focus.
   "I really believe we have a championship team with Kasey and that team. We look forward to getting him into the chase and win a championship."

   But what happens next to sponsor Budweiser, the Anheuser-Busch brand that has been sponsoring Kahne and RPM? Can the Gilletts sign Bud to a new contract, and if so, with what driver?
   "My family has had a wonderful relationship with Anheuser-Busch, and we will put maximum effort to keep Anheuser-Busch," Gillett vows. "They're a wonderful sponsor. We will do everything we can. We believe our relationship with them has been successful, and you have to put that into the mix.
    "But this has been a change in direction, and we have to reflect on that change in direction. And Budweiser and we will both reflect on how we will go forward.....and I believe everyone on our end would hope for Anheuser-Busch will stay with Richard Petty Motorsports."
    And what about the Gilletts' driver lineup for 2011? Remember at one point they had tried to fire Elliott Sadler, even though he had a contract.
    "It's a work in progress, our lineup next season," Gillett said. "I really believe in what we've done, in our teams' ability to build and race cars consistently well.
   "We've made a number of enormous changes to grow and get better. To change manufacturers and move shops, and then to come out of the box and Daytona and win (Kahne in the 150), we have had general good race cars, just some bad luck here and there. That's just racing.
  "Right now it's about refining efforts and really getting the results and driving them home."


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Ray Evernham might have been

Ray Evernham might have been the last guy off the Titanic before it sank...

This "kid", Foster Gillett, has a lot to learn and I'm sure any hardcore fan would have told him from the jump. If you wanna keep a good driver, you're gonna have to pay 'em. Just that simple. Everyone knows Hendrick has the bank and resources to get any driver in the sport. He's THE ENZO FERRARI OF NASCAR. Money is not an issue, winning races and championships are!

It kinda looking like that ol' Petty Enterprises ghost is following Richard and 'em to the Gillett's. Molasses slow on the hustle as they let Kasey Kahne go. You can only ride the Petty name but for so long. With the exception of Adam Petty's death and Victory Junction Gang Camp, the Petty's have been "reluctant" to go with the tide of resources, everything NASCAR to the metro Charlotte area. Jack Roush found that out quick, working up the road a piece in Liberty and got outta Dodge, the city not the car.

I'll give RPM two years and it's game over. All Hendrick has to do is lure Budweiser back to Junior (Perfect fit, for all the right reasons) Mountain Dew/AMP to Kasey (Been there, done that and it was good) People may say a beer product and soda product on the same team. A bad mix? When it was Budweiser (Ken Schrader) and Kellogg's Corn Flakes (Terry Labonte) at Hendrick's in the mid-90's, nobody said a word...

some very astute points

some very astute points here....particularly Bud and Junior.....wonder how much KK is getting to join RH?

Ray Evernham ran the company

Ray Evernham ran the company poorly; even though they were winning races the company was not on a solid footing ownership-wise, and it all blew up in 2007. Evernham also got killed by the sport's insane economics (which clearly are affecting the present Gillett-Petty group as well and is the ultimate reason why the original Petty Enterprises went under). This "speed costs money, how fast do you want to go" argument used to slam Gillett et al is thus of complete ignorance. Petty wasn't reluctant to go with the tide of resources; that tide drowned him like it did Teresa Earnhardt and Chip Ganassi and has left the Woods just hanging on to survive. Moving to the metro Charlotte area is not why these other teams are successful.

It illustrates why the sport has needed a hard spending cap on raceteams for well over a decade. "Everyone knows Hendrick has the bank and resources...." Don't get me started on his business ethics; all I'll say is he's Exhibit A in favor of a hard spending cap.

How are you going to have a

How are you going to have a "hard spending cap" on a private enterprise, unless agreed upon my those participating? And of those participating, how are you going to "judge" the haves/have not? Unless NASCAR goes F1, with a Concorde-type agreement, it's gonna stay the same. And besides, wasn't the COT "supposed" to cut cost by not having an armada of racers like the old cars. You can go into any Chase contender racing shop right now and there's at least 8 - 10 COT chassis per driver available and they don't change from year to year.

I can remember, back in the old days...You can have a successful race team virtually anywhere and win races. Spartanburg, SC. Dawsonville, GA. Wilmington, NC. Level Cross, NC. Stuart, VA. But today, your success is based on the resources that pushes the sport. And that is the metro Charlotte area. Do you think, Morgan-McClure Motorsports may have had a better chance in luring top quality people, sponsorship connections if he would have gone to Charlotte vs staying in Abingdon, VA. Although they were successful in the past, the sport has moved passed them.

Yep, the sport had more

Yep, the sport had more character when the players weren't all centered in a couple of exits off I-77. Engineers and engineering have changed the dynamic....as have such tight rules tolerances. The smaller the box, the more money it takes to get an edge....Remember when independent owner-drivers ruled the sport? This thing has turned into little more than a huge marketing venture.

Foster it is easy. First

Foster it is easy. First keep Menard and A.J. happy. Menard has a sponsor where he goes and he has learned a lot and turned the corner in racing. A.J. is a raw talent anyone that cannot see that never saw Tim Richmond or a young Dale Sr. race... Cut loose Elliot he is burned out and ready to do a t.v. show once a week. Now to keep Bud you got to go young ,crazy, out of box. Bud markets to the under 30 crowd in racing. Not much to choose from here the only name that comes to mind first is Danica but if she wins I cannot see her drinking the product in victory lane. I would at least ask Bud if they thought they could out bid Godaddy and Andretti racing. Bud might want her and use another one of their products on the car to market to young crowd and women. She may even be able to pull Proctor and Gamble back with a Tide ride again.

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