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Kasey Kahne, heading back to Ford, after six years with Dodge, says that bitter split with Ford back in 2003 is history

  Kasey Kahne, once a promising Ford up-and-comer, now returning as a full-fledged NASCAR star (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   Kasey Kahne concedes he too was stunned by the announcement that his team, jointly owned by George Gillett and Richard Petty, would be merging with Doug Yates' Ford operation at the end of this season and switching from Dodges to Fords.
    "I was a little bit surprised…but I think it's better for Richard Petty Motorsports in the long run," Kahne says.
    Of course the situation for Kahne is a bit, well, uneasy perhaps…since he was once a rising Ford star who jumped to Dodge when offered a deal by then-owner Ray Evernham. That case went through a lot of legal gymnastics; Ford executives didn't take Kahne's move very well.
    "It will be a bit different, because of the way our relationship ended last time," Kahne says. "We'll have to figure out how to get through that and go on with it."
    And there is a new racing director at Ford, Brian Wolfe, who has been enthusiastic about the move.
    "We went through that whole lawsuit…and I wasn't a big fan…and they weren't a big fan of me," Kahne said.
    "But time heals. And I think some of those people are gone that caused all that. They have new people there.
     "Ford is really excited…and I can work through things. I can figure how to get by, and hopefully use those guys, work with those guys to become a better racer."
    So is it time to write off Kahne in this year's title chase? Yes, he has won at both Sonoma and Atlanta, and he's sixth in the standings heading into Saturday's 400. But will Dodge simply cut off the tech tap now?
     "Hopefully it doesn't affect us," Kahne says. "It could; hopefully it doesn't.
    "I want to win races and run as well in the chase as we can.
   "I've thought about it. But you really can't be concerned about it."
    Kahne said the deal went down Tuesday evening, and he learned about it Wednesday.
   Now a Ford man? Again….
    Actually Kahne has been hotter this summer than the Roush drivers.
    "What Ford has done in racing has been really good with Jack Roush and Yates over the years," Kahne points out.
    "I'm happy with Dodge and what we've done here…but it will be a bit of a change next year."
    Heck, it was just three weeks ago that Kahne was doing PR photo shoots with Toyotas….apparently in anticipation of making a move to that brand.
    There are still a lot of questions.
   First, the Petty-Gillett operation, which came into being in 2001 as the first official Dodge operation in NASCAR in some 30 years, headed by Evernham, has a huge engine operation, with some 40 to 80 men. And it is a highly regarded engine division.
   How that engine department may fit into the Yates-Roush engine operation, which is Ford's sole NASCAR engine operation, is unclear.
   Yates himself heads the Yates-Roush engine operation.
   But it is unclear how many, if any, of the Petty-Gillett engine men will be retained. Many are reportedly already looking for new jobs, and rival teams are going after some of them.
   Nevertheless Kahne says the merger "is going to be beneficial" for both teams: "I think we're going to help them out too -- We have some things that I feel are better than Roush-Yates have.
     "Their engines are really strong, and they have a lot of people to work hard on both programs. If we work hard, it could be a pretty cool deal."
   While Yates' struggles as a team owner are well recognized, Kahne says he has no plans to just be a 'test' driver for Ford. "We have too many good people here," Kahne says, pointing to one, crew chief Kenny Francis.
   "We going to work with Roush, help Roush…and Roush is going to be a part of Richard Petty Motorsports.
    "Or however all that works out…"
    When the news broke, "It was kind of crazy," Kahne said. "I have a good relationship with Dodge."
    In fact after the Toyota photo shoot Kahne said he planned on being in Dodges in 2010.
    The next question – Kahne's contract. He'll be a free agent at the end of 2010, and there has been speculation he could be moving to Tony Stewart's team.
    "I'm going to look at everything and decide where I want to go," Kahne says of 2011. "I've been a part of a lot of ownership changes. It can happen again."

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