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So how will Kasey Kahne fare as a lame duck these next seven months?

  Kasey Kahne (R) and crew chief Kenny Francis. They have 30 more Cup weekends with Ford and Richard Petty and George Gillett....then Kahne moves on to a Rick Hendrick deal. But what about Francis? (Photo: Autostock)

   By Mike Mulhern

   Jimmie Johnson says it's thumbs-up on Kasey Kahne as his newest teammate.
  "When the question came from Rick (Hendrick) about my opinion of Kasey, I told him that I think he will be an amazing teammate," Johnson said.
    "He's a great guy, and is very, very focused on his job and his sport. 
     "He represents his sponsors well, a team player -- these are all the things I've noticed from afar and from being friends with him. 
    "I really feel he will be a great fit at Hendrick Motorsports. 
    When the question came to me, I gave two thumbs up and told him that I think we should move forward with it."

    But elsewhere in the garage the Kahne move is either raising questions or worries....or both.

    For one, Kahne has another 30 races left this season with his current team. How will that work out? And then he's switching from Ford to Chevrolet....as well as from the Jack Roush camp to the Hendrick camp, arch-rivals.
   Jeff Burton, who runs for Richard Childress, says Kahne will have to do a balancing act: "The group that's with Kasey has been with Kasey for a long time....the crew members, (crew chief) Kenny.
   "I think they respect Kasey and understand the situation Kasey is in.  I just don't view that group as being a group that's going to be bitter or upset about it.  I may be wrong about that, but I believe that. 
     "Kasey is going to continue to work hard, his car owner's going to continue to work hard...but you also have to be looking at the future.  Kasey's not going to be driving that car in the future, so they've got to be looking at their other options, and at other opportunities. 
    "Kasey's got to be paying attention to not only what he's doing now but what he's going to be doing in the future.  And I just think -- as hard as you try, and as hard as you say you're going to be as good – it's hard because it's a distraction. 
    "Kenny Francis being there, they have good rapport, and that's going to help him in this situation."
     The thing that worries Burton more, however, is the continued concentration of talent – and thus sponsor marketing clout – at Hendrick Motorsports. Burton's own team owner, Richard Childress, just had to cut back from four Cup teams to three when one sponsor dropped out of the sport.
    How does this worry Burton? "A little bit," he says. 
    "If I try to tell you I don't think Hendrick has done the best job -- that Hendrick has done better than everybody else -- then I'm lying.  The facts are the facts. 
     "If you look at the last 15 years or so, I would be willing to bet that the Hendrick numbers look better than everybody else's. 
    "When they brought Mark Martin in, that was a big deal.  Mark's an incredibly gifted driver. 
     "Nothing at all against Kasey, but it's hard to be better than Mark. They've been able to maintain an exceptional level. You can see the commitment that Rick Hendrick has to continuing the success. No one should be surprised by that."
    Still Burton calls Hendrick's signing Kahne "an eye opener. Every team in the garage wanted Kasey...and Hendrick ended up with him.
    "It's the same reason Jeff Gordon went there, the same reason that Mark Martin went there, same reason that Jimmie Johnson went there, same reason Junior went there -- because people believe he gives them the best chance to win championships."

    Kahne first tried to put a deal together with Joe Gibbs, but sponsorship, for whatever reason, didn't materialize, and Kahne jumped at the Hendrick option.
   Kyle Busch: "I would have loved to have seen Kasey Kahne join our organization.  I think it would have been great.  He's a really good friend of mine. He runs really well.  He has a lot of the same background that Tony Stewart had.
    "I've never worked with him, but talking to him I feel he could be a benefit. 
    "Still, without having the sponsor locked down, it's kind of dumb to make a move to a fourth team and hire a driver you can't say you have a sponsor for."
    But obviously that didn't seem to bother Hendrick.
    Did Hendrick simply outsmart his rivals in this deal?
    Apparently so.
    And Busch says expanding to a fourth Cup team with Kahne might have helped Gibbs' other three.
    Still, Busch points out more teams isn't necessarily more productive: "We've got all our resources devoted to three teams, instead of spreading it so thin against four -- or seven in the case of Hendrick (including the satellite operations), or eight in the instance of Roush. 
    "You look at Roush: they've got eight teams....but they haven't picked up the pace much yet.  Granted, Paul Menard is running better (now with crew chief Slugger Labbe), AJ Allmendinger (on the pole at Phoenix) is running better.  But you haven't really seen Carl Edwards or Greg Biffle....
    "Greg is second in points, but they haven't been competing for wins quite yet. 
     "There's probably room for growth at Joe Gibbs Racing.  When you look at who is available, what sponsors are available -- there are none.  The one that was available was Kasey Kahne, and he signed up, he's gone. The sponsors: there are only one or two sponsors that seem available."
    The top free agent now apparently out in the market is Kevin Harvick, whose sponsor Shell is also apparently up for renewal.
    There has been speculation for some time that Harvick might land at Tony Stewart's eventually, as a third teammate.
   But now with Kahne in the equation – somewhere – there is also speculation that Kahne might spend 2011 at Stewart's.
    Stewart says don't ask him: "I don't have the answers to everybody's questions because nobody has talked to me about it. 
    "It's all a lot of speculation right now. But there's no way I can comment on speculation and make it even make sense.
    "I'm sure he (Kahne) kind of has a better idea of what's going on than we do at this point."
    And there is also speculation that Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s JR Motorsports might be an option for Kahne and Hendrick.
    But Earnhardt himself, pointing to his own sponsorship issues at JRM, says if he did ramp up JRM to a Cup program for Kahne for just 2011 "when Kasey leaves there, then we're sitting there with a lot of tangible assets that aren't really worth what they cost to build...and we wouldn't have a guaranteed package sponsor-driver to put in there. That hasn't even been anything that I heard was talked about."
     Moving JRM up to Cup? "I'm not against it," Earnhardt says. "I'm afraid if we do that, it could leave me out to dry financially once Kasey would leave.
    "There are no guarantees. So it's just too much of a risk."

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   Kasey Kahne (C) has been the center of attention all week, leading up to Sunday's Texas 500. Ford teammate Greg Biffle (R) and Chevy teammate-to-be Dale Earnhardt Jr. (L) are three to watch in the 500....whenever the track dries (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

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