Kasey Kahne, driver of the No. 9 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford, is out of his ride before the 2010 season ends. A short press release from Petty's team simply stated that "Kasey Kahne has been released from his driving duties with Richard Petty Motorsports effective immediately."
Even though the RPM team has recently sent his preview for this weekend's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway, he will not be in the car. Instead the team has named Aric Almirola to take over the driving duties.
When exactly the situation between the team and Kahne came to a head is unknown but rumors that have been swirling around include Kahne's constant complaints of a brake problem in past events. On Saturday night during the race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Kahne again mentioned the brakes and after his crash in the Ford Fusion, he stated that he did not feel well and he walked away from his car feeling quite ill.
Perhaps the friction started when Evernham Motorsports, with whom Kahne won the 2004 Rookie of the Year driving a Dodge, changed hands. Team owner Evernham partnered with American businessman George Gillett Jr. and that followed with Evernham leaving the series for a new adventure while Gillett merged with Petty Enterprises. The listed owner of the No. 9 continues to be listed as Gillett Jr.
2010 started with Petty's partnership with Yates Racing with Kahne still remaining and driving the No. 9. Over the years, he has won nine point races and two non-point events: A Daytona Duel race during the Daytona 500 Speedweeks and the All-Star race. His best year came in 2006 with six victories, placing him eighth in the final points.
However this year, Kahne's best has been second -- twice -- along with one pole. This is his worst season since he was a rookie. Even in his sophomore year he had one win and two poles. Only in 2007 was he winless but he did notch two poles.
In April of this year, Kahne signed with Hendrick Motorsports for 2012 and beyond, the plan is to place Kahne in the No. 6 car of Mark Martin. Since Kahne's contract with Petty and Gillette ends at the conclusion of 2010, the new deal with Hendrick would have left Kahne rideless in 2011. Rick Hendrick worked with Kahne to get him a ride for 2011.
Kahne will drive for the Red Bull Racing team in 2011. He will switch from a Ford to a Toyota to a Chevrolet -- all within a 3 year time span. Perhaps the friction between Kahne and the Petty team increased over the past several races due to his leaving and not just his complaint about the brakes on his car. Especially when just 10 days ago, he admitted that Kenny Francis will be joining him at the Toyota team.
The entire deal with Kahne might remind many of the past driver-team breakdowns. Recently little driver movement has happened with most drivers more than happy to remain in their seat. It would seem highly improbable to see Jeff Gordon leave Hendrick Motorsports or Carl Edwards walk away from Roush Fenway Racing. Only a few driver changes have occurred and this one has been a year long topic.
The racing season has now ended early for Kahne or has it? Red Bull could place him in the No. 83 for the remaining of the season or even selected races. While Petty named a driver for this weekend, he did not name who will drive the No. 9 beyond Martinsville. Owners points are valuable closing out the season but more importantly for next season.
UPDATE: On Thursday, Oct. 21, the Red Bull team announced that Kahne will finish out the year, driving the No. 83 Toyota. Per the team's press release, Red Bull Racing Team's vice president Jay Frye stated: "With our agreement only being for one year, there is a great sense of urgency to get started on 2011. With Kasey coming earlier than planned, we are excited to have a five-race head start."