A rather tame Silly Season finally lived up to its name this week, with driver swaps, scheduling changes and rumors of financial ruin inducing the busiest NASCAR news cycle of the year. It's a deluge of racing drama that's left fans with plenty on their minds, so let's not waste any time. Remember, firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter at NASCARBowles are the way to make your voices heard.
Let's start with the big story: Kasey Kahne moving over to Red Bull for 2011 before joining Hendrick Motorsports' No. 5 car in 2012.
Great write up on the "Winners and Losers in Kahne's move to Red Bull Racing in 2011." I really enjoyed it. I found it very interesting that Hendrick did something like that rather than dictating to Stewart's team, "You will run with Kahne." I believe there's more to this than any of us know. Hendrick's a businessman, and he isn't doing this without something coming back to him. I believe, as you mentioned in the article -- Hendrick is hoping to get ANOTHER puppet team under Hendrick Motorsports. To me, a NASCAR fan of 25 years, Hendrick has made me lose interest in the sport tremendously. He beats the four-car rules, dominates the complete sport and just makes it like, well, which Hendrick team will win this week? He has most all of the top drivers. What else is there?
If it wasn't for the Busch brothers and Carl Edwards, there would be no hope for any excitement in watching Sprint Cup racing at all. UNLESS you are a Hendrick fan. This is why I am one of the many people that have lost interest in Sprint Cup racing.
-- Rick Cary, Tampa Bay, Fla.
There seems to be plenty of negative reaction concerning Hendrick on this deal. But for frustrated fans, it's important to remember HMS hasn't exactly rolled over the competition this season: Jimmie Johnson is the only one out of the four-driver stable to win races, while Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. could miss the Chase. Johnson and Jeff Gordon have combined to lead nearly 1,700 laps, but a series of crashes and strange pit road decisions have left them a model of inconsistency.
If anything, these e-mails prove the perception of Hendrick as all-powerful force won't be broken until someone outside the team breaks Johnson's streak of four straight titles. The argument could be made that type of dominance isn't all bad for the sport; after all, fans in baseball have a love-hate relationship with the Yankees' Evil Empire. But the difference there is the Yankees winning still puts fans in the seats. Others truly believe that even with unlimited spending, the Steinbrenners can be beaten under the right circumstances.
That's not the case, it seems, with Hendrick, who even supplies chassis and engines for a major competitor: Stewart-Haas Racing. While Stewart maintains his company is a separate entity from HMS, the fact fans feel like Hendrick has control over the operation is telling. But just because Kahne is signed by Red Bull doesn't mean it'll follow suit. Keep in mind it has an agreement with Toyota until 2012, one it would have to break when it moves to Chevy. So it's not like anyone can snap fingers and make it happen, although I've been told a transition could be possible under the right circumstances.
I still find it hard to believe Mr. Hendrick could not work out a scenario where Kahne did not take over the No. 5 car in 2011. It certainly shows the lack of available sponsorship, where he could not get a deal together to get Martin started in his own deal elsewhere, which originally made the most sense to get Kahne in Hendrick stuff as soon as possible. But when he can't even find a scenario to keep him in a Chevy for 2011, it's just amazing to me. Seems to me Martin to Red Bull made more sense, but for whatever reason they could not convince Martin to vacate the No. 5 car, and that is a little surprising as well. He has always been a team player, and it would only stand to reason he would accept an alternate ride for the good of Hendrick Motorsports.
It is one of the most bizarre situations in a long time. When the best deal is to put Kahne in a Toyota with sponsorship from Red Bull that has a direct conflict with a product that sponsors the No. 88 Hendrick car, it shows how far they had to take this to get Kahne taken care of for 2011. For them not to be able to get an extra car over at Stewart or at JR Motorsports is amazing. It has to speak more to the lack of sponsorships than anything else. To have to find a ride in a different make and in appearance with a conflicting sponsor is incredible. Of course, the piece we don't understand is in reality Mr. Hendrick can't do his full blown #5 UPS Chevy deal until 2012, so he wasn't in a rush otherwise to try to piece together something in haste.
Thanks for the excellent assessment of the deal. Enjoyed the insights.
-- David J. Dube
Let's settle the UPS to No. 5 rumor right now; I've heard nothing to suggest they're moving over to sponsor Kahne in 2012. Their contract runs with Roush through the end of 2011, and there's still time for David Ragan to turn it around (remember Kevin Harvick last year?) With that said, Martin's insistence to keep his ride goes back to what he's said since moving over to Hendrick: it's the best opportunity of his career to win races and a championship. Remember, at 51 he's eight months removed from finishing runner-up to Johnson in the standings. Even with a disappointing season this year, who would want to give up that chance?
But clearly, David does have it nailed; the Kahne move comes down to Hendrick's inability to raise money anywhere else. For him to land at Finch, TRG, or any of the small Chevy programs, the driver needed to come as a package deal with extra cash. It's hard to believe this rich owner's pockets were empty, and Hendrick claims sponsors would be hesitant to work a one-year deal elsewhere only to be shut out of the No. 5 car in 2012. I don't know how true that really is, the economy combining with sagging ratings and attendance to pare down NASCAR sponsorship like never before.
I think that this move to Red Bull is stupid, mainly because they haven't proved anything. Just because they won one race and made the Chase once, that doesn't prove anything. I think Red Bull should switch to Chevy next year, just so Kasey can get an idea on how Chevy works.
-- Johnathan Smallwood
Johnathan, you'll be surprised. RBR has a great infrastructure in place, an outstanding GM in Jay Frye, and will likely pick up Kenny Francis from rapidly contracting Richard Petty Motorsports. If Kahne gets the crew chief he wants, I'm thinking a top-15 finish in points next year, two wins, and a possibility to qualify for the Chase.
Still a lot of unanswered questions on the KK / Red Bull deal and the transition to 2012, happy for KK, worried for Brian Vickers.
-- Donna Richeson
One person we shouldn't worry about is Vickers. Unless there's a shocking revelation from the doctors over the next few months, I fully expect him to be driving for Red Bull in the Daytona 500. All along, there's been a six-month recovery timetable, and there's no way RBR would release the driver most responsible for it growing into one of NASCAR's more competitive teams. Scott Speed is the vulnerable guy in this Red Bull equation ... no one else.
As a Mark Martin fan, I am still waiting on Ray Evernham to apologize to Mark and his fans for "spreading speculation" and trying to run HMS from his analyst chair. Mark said all along over and over he was going to drive the #5 in 2011 and as usual Mark is true to his word.
-- Deborah, Thomasville, Ga.
Agreed, Deborah. As I wrote in another column recently, my biggest problem with Evernham is his getting involved in a deal that could have him getting directly involved. Rumors run rampant Evernham could be a part of Kahne's transition to Hendrick in 2012, filling some sort of management role. Sure, rumors are different from fact, but simply having his name thrown about as a possible consultant, GM, or anything involving the No. 5 in the future makes it a direct conflict of interest to comment. As a television analyst, the right thing to do was sidestep the Kahne controversy; instead, for him to publicly try to push Martin out of the seat, a move that could have landed him another job, is unfair.
Another person who's owed an apology is SPEED's Randy Pemberton. He's the one who had the Red Bull connection right all along, but had to deal with denials and his reputation getting hammered by several people involved in these negotiations. Just because news was reported earlier than people wanted to announce it doesn't make it wrong.
Moving on to the schedule...
Chicago going up against NFL is just dumb. Is Texas gonna go up against the Super Bowl next?
-- Allen Madding
Allen, I understand why NASCAR made the move. Attendance is sagging -- listed at less than 70,000 for its July date -- and it needed to make a splash that would boost attendance in a top-3 market. But a 1.5-mile cookie-cutter opening your 10-race playoff? Seriously? On a weekend where one Bears home game could drown out attendance? That's not the way to hook someone for a 10-week stretch. Bristol, Richmond, heck almost any track out there would have worked better.
Prediction: Kentucky Motor Speedway's NASCAR events will be sellouts year after year. It's sandwiched between two medium-large metropolises (Louisville & Cincinnati). The area has hosted sellouts for the PGA championships (regular & Seniors), the Ryder Cup, 120,000+ yearly attendance to the Derby, one of the best minor league attendance records (Louisville Bats) and support for two professional teams from Cincinnati. We go up to Indy to watch that race, but it doesn't have the good ol' boys feeling that I think Kentucky will bring with a more country feel. What's your prediction?
-- Robert Gastinger
I think Kentucky will easily sell out for years to come, Robert. It's a new market, in a NASCAR hotbed of the Southeast with a track that provides better racing than most of the 1.5-mile "cookie-cutter" tracks we have on the circuit. Plus, you just said it best: in mid-July, colleges are out of session and there's no other major sport in the area to compete with it. Of all the scheduling moves NASCAR made, adding Kentucky was easily the best.
I still would have preferred more movement with the schedule overall, though. Definitely nothing for 2011 that makes you drool ... more like shrug your shoulders at best. And that's not the desired effect they were looking for...
Why does NASCAR even bother with road courses? I'd rather watch paint dry, the drivers who win on then usually don't win on any of the other courses -- oh, wait, if it wasn't for road courses JPM still wouldn't have a single win in the Cup Series. Maybe charity does begin on home-style courses. I actually tried watching before but now I skip viewing those weekends -- vote with the remote.
-- Owen McDonnell
I notice fans have a very love/hate relationship with road courses. Count me on the "love" side, on the edge of my seat during every moment of the Juan Pablo/Marcos Ambrose battle Sunday. I do think if you're going to have them, though, they need to be a part of NASCAR's Chase. Some of the title-contending drivers won't even focus on the right-turn tracks, and why should they? Their mission is to win the championship, and being a good road course racer currently won't help them reach that goal.
And finally, taking "out of left field" literally...
Has NASCAR released the amount of G Force that Sadler took?
-- Dee Dee Brantley, Phoenix
I haven't seen the exact numbers, Dee Dee, but I can tell you it's the hardest ever recorded since NASCAR started recording through the "black box" system earlier this decade. But as hard a hit as that crash was, we can all be thankful Sadler's 100 percent, and even won his rec softball championship the other day. It's all a testament to the safety of these cars and how much NASCAR has improved them the last decade.
Tweet of the Week: "Love Mark Martin to death, he's an old friend, if KK is going to Red Bull for a year I'd rather see Mark go there, makes so much more sense!" -- @allwaltrip, giving his opinion on the Kasey Kahne to Hendrick drama.