As the teams turn in NASCAR

Published 7:40 pm Saturday, August 14, 2010

An announcement I thought would never happen came this week. Kasey Kahne will be driving for a team outside the Hendrick Motorsports stable next season. Kahne, slated to leave the No. 9 of Richard Petty Motorsports at the end of the season, will spend next season in a Red Bull Racing Toyota before moving to the No. 5 for the 2012 season.

Mark Martin, as he has so adamantly professed, will finish out his contract with Hendrick by driving the No. 5 in 2011 before making way for Kahne.

I must say, I didn’t think this would happen. Ever since Kahne signed a contract with Hendrick last April, I didn’t think there was any way he would drive for anyone other than Hendrick next season. I surely didn’t think he would drive for a manufacturer other than Chevrolet. But, that’s exactly what will happen.

At this point, it is unclear if Kahne will take one of the two existing Red Bull rides, or if a third car will be added. Brian Vickers’ future is still cloudy because of the health problems that caused him miss most of this season and Scott Speed has posted underwhelming results.

This move tells what type of talent folks in the business think Kahne possesses. For a sponsor, owner, and manufacturer to take a driver for a definite period of only one year is rare. It would be extremely difficult to gain any marketing momentum and activate any sort of effective marketing campaigns in such a short period of time. In this instance, I believe Red Bull was more concerned about on-track performance rather than product sales.

This personnel move was not the only one announced this week. Paul Menard will move, along with his family’s business sponsorship, to a fourth Richard Childress Racing team next season. Menard, like Kahne, will depart Richard Petty Motorsports at the end of the season, as will the sponsorship money of Menard’s Home Improvement, the chain of retail stores based in the Midwest.

Next week, Childress will have another big announcement, as Kahne’s current sponsor, Budweiser, will announce an agreement with Kevin Harvick and the No. 29 team beginning next season. Ever notice how Childress can always find sponsorship dollars, even if it means luring another team’s sponsor?

Looks like the battle for chase eligibility is coming down to the last spot, 12th in the points standings. With a 100-point gap between Greg Biffle in 11th and Mark Martin in 12th and a 73-point gap between Clint Bowyer in 13th and Ryan Newman in 14th, the last spot will likely come down to Bowyer or Martin.

That leaves many big-name drivers on the outside looking in and no real surprises in the 10-race chase for the championship.

Michigan is next on the schedule. Kasey Kahne is sitting on the pole with Jimmie Johnson starting on the outside pole. Look for Harvick to win his second race of the season and solidify his points lead with a win Sunday.