Hendrick Motorsports and James Finch are working on a partnership to put Kasey Kahne in the No. 09 car for 2011, SI.com has learned. Multiple sources indicate the deal could be completed within the next few weeks. Hendrick will not be allowed to own the car under NASCAR's four-team rule, leaving Finch in the position of ownership, although engines and chassis would continue to come from Hendrick.
Once completed, the partnership solves the HMS dilemma of where to put Kahne next season. Signed to take over the No. 5 car in 2012, Kahne leaves RPM at the end of the year but Hendrick already has four signed drivers -- Mark Martin, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson -- under contract for 2011. Stewart-Haas Racing was the first option for Kahne, but sources claim sponsorship and financial constraints for that team have made such a move impossible.
Instead, the partnership with Phoenix Racing is a compromise solution. Under a one-year deal, Kahne will be installed with a single-car team that gives him the opportunity to continue running full-time. Here's the kicker: once Kahne moves to HMS, sources claim the man he's replacing, Mark Martin, may be interested in purchasing the Phoenix team for 2012 as he scales back his driving career.
Spokesmen on both sides have denied a deal is in the works. According to Hendrick spokesman JesseEssex, "Our position with regard to 2011 has not changed. We continue to be open to various options, and nothing has been determined at this time." The 51-year-old Martin also remains uncommitted to his future beyond 2011.
"I have to say options are in the beginning stages of formulating for what '12 would bring," he said at a press conference Friday morning in Michigan. "With not a very high sense of urgency, since I have actually made it clear that I am going to be driving the No. 5 car next year. It's still real early to talk about '12. I don't think that anything that we had initially had thrown up in the air works great with me driving the No. 5 in '11 and getting involved with some other team... although you never know what might happen."
"For the time being, I've just said, 'Let's just wait until this time next year, I'll have a more clear picture,' but very well may not have a decision. I'm going to drive something in 2012, it will be what excites me and what motivates me, and seems like fun. That may be a team that needs to take [the next] step... or who knows? It might be another deal like the 5 car.
"Who knows? I've already answered questions before and then looked like a goose, so I'm going to be careful and not answer questions of what I think I might like to do. You don't really get to choose those options as they come up. One comes up and you say, 'Yeah, by the way, I think I like that one!" -- That's what I am going to do."
Finch's team is a single-car Cup operation already utilizing Hendrick chassis and engine support, in existence for over 20 years. The team won a race with Brad Keselowski at Talladega last April; however, it lost sponsor Miccosukee Indian Resorts just days before the Daytona 500 after planning a full-time assault on the Cup schedule. That put Finch in a financial bind, and he has start-and-parked all but one Cup race this season for money while putting the operation up for sale. The asking price was reported at $12 million last month.
There are no changes to Phoenix's Nationwide plan for the rest of 2010. Ryan Newman will drive the No. 1 car in a handful of races later this year.