PHOENIX - APRIL 09: Kasey Kahne, driver of the #9 Budweiser Ford, looks on from the garage during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Subway Fresh Fit 600 at Phoenix International Raceway on April 9, 2010 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Kasey Kahne Signs With Hendrick To Drive No. 5 Car In 2012

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Kahne, Hendrick Reveal More Details Of Their New Partnership, But Some Leave Questions Unanswered

Have you ever walked in on a conversation and heard something you weren't supposed to hear?

The Kasey Kahne/Hendrick Motorsports deal has that feel. The ink was barely dry, team owner Rick Hendrick said, when ESPN's Marty Smith broke the story Tuesday and revealed their plans to NASCAR Nation.

Because of that, there are many details yet to be determined.

The biggest among them: Where Kasey Kahne will drive next season. Kahne's contract with Hendrick begins in 2011, but they have no ride for him; he will drive the No. 5 car starting in 2012.

Kahne and Hendrick held a joint teleconference on Wednesday afternoon to discuss their plans, during which they unveiled some new information but insisted there were some details they simply didn't know.

The highlights:

• Mark Martin told Hendrick he wants to continue in the No. 5 through the length of his contract next season but said he cannot run another full season beyond that. Hendrick said he expects Martin will return to a part-time schedule but not retire.

• Hendrick said he hasn't spoken to anyone at Anheuser-Busch about Budweiser continuing to sponsor Kahne, and Kahne said he simply doesn't know whether he'll be the Bud driver after this season. Kahne referenced finishing "the rest of my commitment with Budweiser and Richard Petty Motorsports" and later said, "It's been a great partnership with those guys...but I don't know what the future is for myself and Budweiser." He added the he would like to continue with the sponsor if possible, however.

• It's unclear whether Kahne and crew chief Kenny Francis could stay together with whatever team Kahne drives for in 2011, or if Francis could join Kahne at Hendrick. It's too far away to determine whether current No. 5 team crew chief Alan Gustafson will remain there when Kahne arrives, Hendrick said. And Kahne said, "Hopefully we (Kahne and Francis) work together in the future, but personally, I don't know."

• Hendrick said Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been vocal about wanting to keep JR Motorsports as a Nationwide Series team and expects JRM will continue to run in that series. Particularly in light of JRM's commitment to Danica Patrick in Nationwide, Hendrick said he doesn't see the team moving up to Sprint Cup. But he added, "That could change subject to Danica's decisions."

• This is likely the last Hendrick driver movement for several years. Jimmie Johnson will probably finish his career at HMS, Jeff Gordon has backed away from possible retirement talk and Dale Earnhardt Jr. is still getting settled in. Said Hendrick: "I'll probably retire before I need anybody else."

• Is there any possibility Kahne could drive the No. 5 car beginning next season instead of 2012? Only if Mark Martin changes his mind about wanting to compete in another full campaign, Hendrick said. "It would have to be Mark Martin (saying) he does not want to do what he told me he wanted to do," Hendrick said. The team owner said he asked Martin "point-blank" if the driver wanted to race full-time past next season, and Martin said no.

• The onus falls on Hendrick to find Kahne a ride for next season, but the owner said team officials "haven't talked to anyone in detail" yet about 2011. Hendrick said he knows it might look strange to sign a driver for 2012 and not have a plan for 2011, but said, "To me, it was worth it. Whatever amount of don't have a Kasey Kahne come along every day." However, Hendrick expects to have Kahne's 2011 plans sorted out with in the next 90 days.

• Hendrick doesn't see a problem with employing Kahne while the driver races for another team. He feels the situation will be acceptable under NASCAR's four-team cap rules even if Kahne drives for an affiliate like Stewart-Haas Racing. "Sure it will," he said. "I have no ownership whatsoever in that team."

• This is a "dream" for both Hendrick and Kahne. Said Hendrick: "(Kasey) would be a sponsor's dream for anybody. He fits in any and every category. He's got all positives." And said Kahne: "It's been on my mind for a long time. As a race car driver, Hendrick Motorsports is one of the places you dream of driving for."


Instant Reaction: Kasey Kahne Reportedly Signs With Hendrick

Kasey Kahne has signed a contract with Hendrick Motorsports to drive its No. 5 car beginning in 2012, two sources said Tuesday.

Kahne's plans for 2011 are unclear, but he will take over the No. 5 car the following year for Mark Martin, whose contract is signed through next season.

That means Hendrick's driver lineup in 2012 will be Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne. The deal is specifically to drive the No. 5 car, meaning Kahne would not replace another driver.

Kahne had made it clear at the end of last season he was unhappy at Richard Petty Motorsports and was looking elsewhere. At Homestead, he all but confirmed he would not return to the team, which is seemingly in disarray with financial troubles and a lack of leadership.

But in January, Kahne tried to back off his comments – perhaps knowing being a lame-duck could ruin his shot at a good season – and said: "A lot of teams have showed interest, and that's nice to know. I'm open [to staying] right now, because I don't know exactly what we have. ... I feel like it's something I definitely need to pay attention to and not say, ‘Man, I don't want to be here,' because this could be a spot where I do want to be."

As it turned out, it wasn't a spot he wanted to be. Kahne had indicated he would not make a decision until the summer, which made the timing of his Hendrick move a bit surprising. But given his slow start (averaging a career-low 24th-place finish, 26th in points), perhaps Kahne already figured this season was a wash.

Hendrick Motorsports is by far the best team in NASCAR, so it makes sense for Kahne. And Kahne fits the "Hendrick image" of having a calm, respectful, clean-cut personality.

But next year, all four seats are already filled. Or, as Hendrick once said, "There's no room at the inn."

That could leave Kahne driving a third car for Hendrick affiliate Stewart-Haas Racing for a year. At least that makes the most sense. For now, though, Kahne's 2011 ride hasn't been determined.

Still, the situation seems a bit odd in that Rick Hendrick – an avowed Mark Martin fan – is saying goodbye to the ultra-respected Martin before the driver has said he's ready to step away. It seemed for awhile as if Martin would finish his career with Hendrick; that may not be the case now, unless Martin recently decided 2011 will be his final season.

Last month, Martin told SB Nation that he loved driving more than ever.

"There's no beach in the world I'd rather be on than (at the track), and if there was, I'd be there," he said.

So at this point, there are more questions than answers. And more than just about Kahne and Martin.

Where does this leave the other big-name free agent, Kevin Harvick? Joining Stewart-Haas never sounded like a good idea for Harvick, who we could imagine might clash with team owner Tony Stewart. Those are two strong personalities that might not click in a owner-driver relationship.

Could Harvick bring his own team to Sprint Cup racing? Perhaps he could join Joe Gibbs Racing in a fourth car.

How about Budweiser? Does the sponsor go with Kahne or switch to another driver?

And what happens to Kahne's No. 9 team at RPM? Will crew chief Kenny Francis, engineer Keith Rodden and others who have made up the core of the team be able to leave RPM for Kahne's new organization?

If so, would that ultimately mean No. 5 team crew chief Alan Gustafson – who is said to be an even better crew chief than Chad Knaus – switch to another Hendrick driver? Gordon and Earnhardt Jr. fans would salivate over that possibility.

Some of the fallout from Kahne's decision will spark moves we cannot yet foresee. Since Silly Season has gotten an earlier-than-expected start, it's going to be an interesting summer.

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