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 sacrifice...you 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."

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