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And just who is Jan Magnussen? And what's he doing in James Finch's car? Or is that Finch's car?

  Team owner James Finch (L) celebrating with Brad Keselowski at Talladega last season. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   SONOMA, Calif.
   So what's up with James Finch?
   Well, he's not here to say.
   And who is Jan Magnussen, and what's he doing in a Finch Chevy here?
   Or is that really a Finch Chevy, or just a straight-up Rick Hendrick Chevy, with Finch merely listed as 'official' owner?
   And just how to define an 'official' NASCAR team owner?
   That's part of the murky side of NASCAR racing....
   And the 'ownership' issue sometimes seems to go into the theater-of-the-absurd, with car numbers being bought and sold and traded like Wall Street commodities.
   For example, while Bob Jenkins in fact owns the Sprint Cup team that Travis Kvapil drives for, the 'official' team owner, according to NASCAR, is Doug Yates.
   Another example: while Richard Childress in fact owns the Sprint Cup team that Clint Bowyer drives for, last year Bobby Ginn was listed as 'official' team owner.
   And there are others.
   Such 'ownership' twists are used to gain the points that a team has earned under a specific prior owner, typically to get a top-35 guaranteed starting spot in the week's lineup and some other NASCAR perks.
   It would be simply a humorous sidelight to this sport...if not for NASCAR's rule barring anyone from owning more than four teams.
   That rule is apparently delaying and complicating Hendrick's plans for Kasey Kahne for 2011.
   That four-team limit was created by NASCAR in response to Jack Roush putting all five of his teams in the championship chase playoffs in 2005. And for this season Roush had to cut back to four teams, dropping Jamie McMurray.
   However Roush, following a trend set by Hendrick, has expanded his sideline business of supplying engines and engineering support to other teams. Hendrick has been doing that with the Tony Stewart-Ryan Newman operation. Roush is doing that with Doug Yates. And Richard Childress is doing that too.
   Here it appears that Magnussen is driving a Hendrick Chevy with pretty much a Hendrick/orGM crew, with Finch crew chief Marc Reno just overseeing things. One rival complained that Magnussen had 18 crewmen at the track.
   Finch, the well-known, popular and witty, and sometimes controversial NASCAR team owner skipped Sunday's Sonoma 350....and missed a shot to address the media over the speculation that he might be the key for Hendrick in solving the Kasey Kahne 2011 dilemma. Finch is listed as the official car owner for the Chevy that Magnussen is racing here; the Danish racer is an international sports car racing star for General Motors, who apparently earned this week's ride by outdueling Hendrick teammates in three of four 10-lap sprints in a test session at Virginia International Raceway a few weeks ago.
   A Pensacola TV station says Finch said Monday he was working on a deal with Hendrick to put Kahne in a Cup car for 2011.
   Hendrick here says nothing's new on the Kahne front and dismisses the Finch story.
   Hendrick and Kahne confirmed in early April they'd signed a contract beginning in 2011. However just what car Kahne would be driving is still unclear, and Hendrick says it may be a while before he decides how to proceed with that.


   GM star international road racer Jan Magnussen, here with Richard Petty (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    Geoff Smith, president of Roush Fenway: "You can have an unlimited number of guys under contract, but you can just 'run' four of them," Smith says.
   "But they have five guys who expect to be running...so the question really is whether the transaction that is going to accommodate a fifth driver for next year will meet the 'affiliated rule' requirements of NASCAR."
    Which leads to the question of Jan Magnussen in a Finch-Hendrick car here. That car apparently is a complete Hendrick car-and-engine package, with 18 crewmen, and all Finch had to do was send a hauler over to the Hendrick shop to pick it up and bring it out here.
    Does that violate the spirit at least of NASCAR's four-team limit?
      "The 'affiliated' rule would not allow Rick Hendrick to underwrite another person's program," Smith said. "NASCAR scrutinized Yates Racing's relationship with us (for engines and engineering support) with a microscope and tweezers. So we would expect that NASCAR would do the same type of investigation with regard to what the economic arrangements are for the 'fifth' team."
   And the Finch-Hendrick-Magnussen team here?  ( http://www.janmagnussen.com/home.asp )
   "I don't know what the economic arrangements are," Smith said. "If Finch is paying for the car and paying for the crew, then that's permitted business in the garage.
   "Whether Rick is doing it, whether we're selling
    "We're selling cars and services to the RPM group (Richard Petty Motorsports, owned by George Gillett), as well as to other Ford race teams.
   "The thing is you can't underwrite it. Rick can't pay Kasey's salary, and give him over to Finch for free.
   "But they know those rules. That may be one reason there's a little bit of difficulty in putting it together (for Kahne)...that they haven't figured out how to make the economics work."

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