Cory Mccartney
Thursday April 1st, 2010

They are NASCAR's equivalents to LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh: the most sought-after members in the upcoming free agency class. And just like their NBA brethren, Kevin Harvick and Kasey Kahne have been careful not to tip their hands as to where they'll wind up next season.

While both have said that their minds aren't made up, they have offered up small nuggets of information that, when coupled with their on-track performances, could be used as a guide to which teams they're leaning toward.

With that information -- and more than an ample heaping of speculation -- let's take a look at Harvick and Kahne's seasons and the odds that they'll stay with their current teams in 2011.

Kevin Harvick

Happy loves a contract year. He had the best season of his career in '06 when he was in this same position and, until Monday's race at Martinsville, he was the points leader.

Harvick wasn't one to hide his frustrations with Richard Childress Racing last season as he finished 19th in the points and failed to make the Chase for the first time in four years. He's often said that what he's looking for out of RCR after that dismal '09 season is a sign that the team is ready to contend for Sprint Cup titles once again.

"The most important thing to me is that we take the next step as far as making the cars better, making engines better, making everything better in order to keep the competitiveness of the team at the level that it needs to be," he said last week.

With Harvick posting four top 10s and teammates Clint Bowyer and Jeff Burton combining for six more top 10s -- putting all three RCR drivers in the top nine in the point standings -- it's clear the organization meets Harvick's desire to contend. But does staying in the mix outweigh the fact that Childress hasn't put a car in Victory Lane since '08?

It wouldn't be that surprising to see Harvick join friend and owner Tony Stewart at Stewart-Haas, and there's always the possibility that Harvick, who owns a trucks team, could get the ownership itch himself and enter into a partnership with an existing team, maybe even RCR. That would allow him to put Kevin Harvick, Inc., into the Cup field. But the more logical solution, given this season's early successes, is that Harvick stays in the RCR fold.

Odds He Stays: 75 percent

Kasey Kahne

Kahne, who is also the subject of this week's Inside the Helmet, has said how Richard Petty Motorsports performed during the early races would go along way toward deciding his future.

If that's the case, he may want to go ahead and clear out his locker or whatever it is he's keeping at the Concord, N.C. headquarters. Kahne's season has been erratic at best. He crashed out at Daytona, spun out at Fontana and when it looked like he broke though with top 10s at Las Vegas and Atlanta, Kahne was 34th at Bristol and 17th at Martinsville and sits 20th in points.

Is RPM's switch from Dodge to Ford to blame for Kahne' woes? Teammate Paul Menard is currently above the Chase cut-off and Kahne has had his moments, winning a Daytona Duel and up until Martinsville, recording at least one fast lap in every race. The speed is clearly there, just not consistency and as much as Richard Petty has been a longtime mentor to Kahne, is picking The King's brain enough to keep him on a team where they're still getting the feel of a new car?

Stewart-Haas is an option, and it will be for every big-name driver until the team expands to three cars, but the clear favorite has to be Penske Racing, where Kahne could again be under the Dodge banner and would be a contender alongside Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski. Bringing in Kahne would likely mean the end for Sam Hornish Jr., but he could easily move over to one of Penske's IndyCar Series teams, returning to a stage he dominated. It could end up being the best move for Kahne, and Hornish, should Ol' Blue Eyes exit from RPM.

Odds He Stays: 25 percent

2. From a fan's perspective, there's been little missing from the first six races. From Jamie McMurray holding off Dale Earnhardt Jr. to Denny Hamlin's rally at Martinsville (see how I managed to leave out the Carl Edward- Keselowski incident), the on-track product has been everything the powers that be could have hoped for.

So ... why isn't anyone watching? Why are the races having all the drawing power of the WNBA?

It'll be said a thousand times more, but seeing 20,000 empty seats at Bristol and at Martinsville (though the weather delay did play its part in Virginia) were telling signs that not enough has been done to help the fans. It wasn't as if people just decided that after 55 straight sellouts at Thunder Valley, it was time to stay at home. Let's be honest here: they coined the phrase "NASCAR dad" for the sport's appeal to working-class and lower-middle-class people, who are exactly the portion of the population hit the hardest by the 9.3 percent unemployment rate, and when times are tough, luxuries like going to races are cut out.

International Speedway Corp., which owns eight tracks, lowered ticket prices, introducing $25 seats for April 10's race at Phoenix, which is a good start. But most ticket prices still remain a byproduct of the sport's rise in the 1990s. It will still take a minimum of $60 to get you in the door at Talladega and the lowest-priced tickets at Daytona are $40. That means a family of four would spend between $160-$240 just for tickets and that doesn't include parking, food or any of that driver gear teams hock outside the tracks.

There's a simple math to NASCAR: fans in the seats means more sponsors will spend money to get their products on the cars so those fans will buy those products, and so on and so forth. NASCAR is in danger of cutting off its bread and butter of fan support, unless it takes further steps to make events more affordable. Otherwise fans will continue to simply stay home and change the channel.

81: Laps Formula One and IndyCar Series pole sitters have led in four combined races

70: Laps led by Sprint Cup pole sitters in six races

3: Races the Cup pole sitter failed to lead a single lap

0: Races the F1/IndyCar pole sitter failed to lead a lap

In the latest installment of Racing Fan's video series, Kahne discusses the joy he'd take in watching Mark Martin try to dance, takes sides in the Petty-Jack Roush hat debate, picks the celebrity he'd like to have on his hood and reveals what libation he drinks with every dinner. Spoiler alert: it's Budweiser. But hey, the driver of the No. 9 Bud Ford has to pay the bills, right? For more of Inside The Helmet, check out the archive.

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