FORT WORTH, Texas – Kasey Kahne has already signed with another team, ensuring Richard Petty Motorsports of losing its most successful driver after this season.
None of RPM’s other three drivers – Elliott Sadler, A.J. Allmendinger or Paul Menard – is under contract past 2010, either. Sponsorship deals are uncertain and the Gillett family that has a controlling interest in the team has been working through some financial issues, creating questions about RPM’s future.
“I think in the middle of the summer last year, you were probably saying the same thing about our company, but you know what, we’re still here,” RPM managing partner Foster Gillett said Friday. “We’re still sponsored, we still have drivers, we’re still competing for victories. I think we thrived and survived. … And we’re going to do it again.”
Gillett said his family made a choice to be in NASCAR and “it’s not something we’re going to leave.”
Kahne this week signed a long-term deal with Hendrick Motorsports that ensures his departure after this season, even though he is not scheduled to replace Mark Martin in the No. 5 car until 2012.
For now, the 30-year-old Kahne said he remains committed to RPM for the rest of this season.
“To have the opportunity with Rick Hendrick and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports, to me it’s an unbelievable opportunity,” Kahne said Friday before qualifying fifth for Sunday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway. “Now I’m focused again on just making sure that the 9 car, our whole Budweiser Ford team, works well together and communicates well together, do everything we can the rest of this season to perform, enjoy ourselves, win races. And I still feel like we have a shot at the Chase.”
Kahne is ranked 26th in points, 189 out of the top 12 spots that get in the Chase. Teammates Menard (15th) and Allmendinger (23rd) are ahead of him, and Sadler is 29th.
Despite the team’s uncertainty for 2011, Gillett said the organization is committed to doing the best it can this season.
“Something that Richard preaches … if we can focus on building the best race cars we can and racing them as well as we can, we’re going to have sponsors and drivers,” Gillett said. “Our focus at this point is to do the best we can.”
One of the things made uncertain with Kahne’s departure is Budweiser’s primary sponsorship on the No. 9 car.
Gillett said RPM will “put maximum effort” in keeping Anheuser-Busch past this season.
Kahne said he has a great relationship with the Budweiser group and would like to keep representing it, though he knows ultimately that is not up to him. He didn’t take that into consideration when making his decision to leave RPM.
“What I did was I worried about myself, what I needed to do for my future and what I felt was the best idea for myself and what would work good for me,” Kahne said.
Gillett said he will concentrate on the races left with Kahne and not the future without the driver who has 11 career wins and has been in the Chase two of the last four seasons.
“I’m focused more on what we can do while we have him. I think many different owners or teams in this sport would take a 30-race contract with Kasey Kahne and try to do the best they can,” Gillett said. “When there’s a change like this, it opens an opportunity for others. We’re trying to focus more on what opportunities we have than what we lose potentially.”