Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Kasey Kahne Out At Petty and In With Hendrick, or At Least a Subsidiary of HMS

Kasey Kahne has agreed to a contract to drive for Hendrick Motorsports beginning in 2011, a source told on Tuesday.

Richard Petty Motorsports, which has Kahne under contract for this season, confirmed Kahne is leaving the organization.

Exactly whether Kahne will drive for a Hendrick team or for Hendrick affiliate Stewart-Haas Racing is still to be determined. Stewart-Haas, which features drivers Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman, gets chassis and engines from Hendrick.

Kahne is in the final year of his contract at RPM. His sponsor, Budweiser, also is in the last year of its contract with RPM. It was unclear whether Budweiser would follow Kahne to Hendrick.

RPM officials confirmed Kahne told them Tuesday he would not return to the organization after this season.

"Kasey is a very talented driver, and I have enjoyed watching him race," co-owner Richard Petty said in a statement. "We all wish him nothing but the best and hope he succeeds in anything he chooses to do."

Kahne, 30, who entered the Cup series in 2004 with Evernham Motorsports, has 11 career victories and has qualified for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup twice. He is 26th in the 2010 standings.

The Evernham team, founded by former Hendrick crew chief Ray Evernham, was purchased by George Gillett in 2008, forming Gillett Evernham Motorsports. The team was renamed Richard Petty Motorsports last year after Gillett formed a partnership with Petty.

RPM merged with Yates Racing and switched from Dodge to Ford after last season.

"Drivers like Kasey Kahne are the very reason we got into this sport," Gillett said. "Kasey has helped us get to where we are today. We wish him well in his future, however we have the rest of this season to race together, and we’re looking forward to a successful remainder of the year."

All four Hendrick drivers—Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt Jr.—are signed beyond next year. The organization is prohibited from fielding a fifth Cup team under NASCAR’s team cap rule. Stewart-Haas, which debuted last season, has two Cup teams.

Bires out, McMurray in at JR Motorsports
JR Motorsports has released driver Kelly Bires from his contract and will replace him with Jamie McMurray for at least nine of the remaining Nationwide Series races this year.

Bires, 25, had a seventh-place finish at Auto Club Speedway in California in the second Nationwide race of the season but has not had a finish better than 12th since. He did not lead a lap in the five events he competed in this year in JRM’s No. 88 car.

"We are extremely appreciative of Kelly Bires and wish him the best," JRM co-owner Kelley Earnhardt said. "Internally, it was evident the chemistry that is imperative for us to succeed in this highly competitive industry was simply not there.

"That is the fault of no one person. We owe it to our fans and sponsors to make necessary adjustments in an effort to put our best product on the track, and we’ll continue evaluating our progress until we are confident that our full potential is being reached."

McMurray, who has seven career Nationwide wins and currently drives for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing in the Sprint Cup Series, will drive for JRM in the next six Nationwide races (Texas, Talladega, Richmond, Darlington, Dover and Charlotte) as well as at Chicagoland in July, at Atlanta in September and the October race at Charlotte.

Stenhouse gets new crew chief
Mike Kelley, who started the 2010 season as the crew chief for Roush Fenway Racing driver Carl Edwards in the Nationwide Series, will now be the crew chief for Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Kelley replaces Ben Leslie, who will assume Kelley’s most current role as director of competition for the organization’s Nationwide program.

Stenhouse is 28th in the standings after six races.

Kelley was replaced by Drew Blickensderfer as crew chief for Edwards’ Nationwide Series team in February.

"I missed working on top of the box with a single group of guys," Kelley said. "The other role I was doing is very important and I enjoyed it, but I missed the camaraderie of working with one group of guys. It’s a whole fresh start for me now."

Keyed-Up not racing at Texas
Keyed-Up Motorsports, one of the 45 Sprint Cup teams that had entered each of the first seven races this season, is not among the 46 teams attempting to qualify for the Samsung Mobile 500 this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.

The team, which qualified for two races with drivers Casey Mears and Scott Riggs, had its best performance of the season when Riggs finished 28th Saturday at Phoenix.

But the unsponsored team is not entered at Texas as the team announced it will scale back to a partial schedule. Doug Richert will remain with the team as crew chief.

"I set out with this team to race, not start and park," owner Raymond Key said. "However, a reduced schedule will allow us to continue operations and focus our time on specific aspects of racing to make us stronger when we return to the track."

Driver changes for Phoenix, Tommy Baldwin teams
Mike Bliss is expected to replace Aric Almirola in Phoenix Racing’s No. 09 Chevrolet this week at Texas, with Johnny Sauter taking Bliss’ spot at Tommy Baldwin Racing.

TBR announced Tuesday that Sauter would drive for the team at Texas and the following week at Talladega.

Almirola, who qualified for four of the first seven Sprint Cup races for Phoenix, said Monday he has mutually agreed to part ways with the team and will focus on competing for the Camping World Truck Series title with Billy Ballew Motorsports.

NASCAR suspends truck crewman
Ryan Sebek, a crewman for the Ryan Hackett Racing team in the Camping World Truck Series, has been suspended indefinitely from NASCAR for violating the sanctioning body’s substance abuse policy. Sebek is the 16th crewman suspended since the implementation of random drug testing at the start of the 2009 season.

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