Holding A Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Friday October 22, 2010
Editor’s Note: For the latest timeline on the Kasey Kahne saga, please check out our Breaking News section by clicking here to find out the future of RPM, how we got to this point, and so much more.
Who quit on whom?
That was the question around NASCAR Nation this week after Kasey Kahne’s early departure from his No. 9 after he spun in Saturday night’s Bank of America 500, and it certainly does bring up an interesting follow-up: who gave up first?
Kahne said he was sick, but he was well enough to blast his crew on the radio and to run a 5K race the next morning. Perhaps the most incriminating statement, though, was that if the car had been better, he’d have stayed in it.
That’s not sick, that’s quitting.
A team member accused Kahne of lying down during the race; that is, not putting forth the best effort. Kahne fired back, saying that the team has given him subpar cars since he announced his departure from Richard Petty Motorsports effective at the end of this season. He claimed that the team is using bad brake fluid in his cars and that they won’t listen to him.
In the end, it’s probably a little of both, but given the big picture, more of it falls squarely on Kahne’s shoulders. After all, he quit first. With his announcement that he will leave RPM at the end of the season for Red Bull Racing, a move that will eventually land him at juggernaut Hendrick Motorsports in 2012, Kahne basically told his team they weren’t good enough anymore.
Certainly, if reports that RPM owes Kahne money are true, that makes his frustration understandable. Editor’s Note: Kahne said he was paid “up to date” by RPM as of this morning. However, I can’t help but think of A.J. Allmendinger, who not only has remained loyal to the team for two years, but who also went without pay for a good chunk of that so the money could be funneled into his race team instead. I can’t help but wonder why, if RPM breached Kahne’s contract by not paying him, why the driver chose to stick around instead of moving over to Red Bull as soon as that deal was announced. After all, given that Reed Sorenson is a fill-in driver for the injured Brian Vickers, who will be back in January, it makes sense that the team would have gladly jumped at the chance to have three or four months to work toward 2011. If Kahne wasn’t getting paid, why did he stick around and badmouth his team, all of whom are likely going to be out of work in a couple of weeks and weren’t pulling in the percentage of winnings that Kahne was, either? Why not just step away, sue for the money, and be done with it? Why wait until Saturday and then throw the team under the bus for something they had no control over? George Gillett was the one not paying Kahne, not his crew.
I’m all for bettering your career, and Kahne did just that. But the timing of his announcement (and he announced the Hendrick move first, meaning he made the statement nearly two years before it actually happens) was poor. If Kahne expected the best of everything from RPM, he should have delayed the announcement until much later. Had the news been kept under wraps, it’s entirely likely that the organization’s main focus would have been the flagship No. 9.
Instead, Kahne made his bed, and the team’s focus understandably shifted elsewhere – to the No. 43, a former icon of the sport currently driven by Allmendinger. It’s kind of a no-brainer, really, to put the effort into the team that is your best hope and the driver who has been loyal to winning in your machine. Once Kahne quit first, the team couldn’t quit on the others who would still help them survive.
Yet if the driver is to be believed, his team slipped below just putting more effort into the No. 43. They’ve practically sunk to sabotage, the latest accusation from Kahne surrounding brake issues he says were preventable. He claims it’s the brake fluid his team uses, but it’s the same product used by his three teammates without incident, which leaves either the team’s setups or Kahne’s driving to blame for the failures. If the team did give up on Kahne, I still don’t buy that they would ever do anything intentionally to hurt him. However, if they’re really mailing it in to the point of being so careless that they put the driver’s safety in jeopardy… well, let’s just leave it at they don’t deserve a role on any team in the sport. There is zero excuse for that kind of negligence.
On the other hand, what incentive does the race team really have for giving up at this point? First of all, it’s unlikely that crew chief Kenny Francis, who is presumably still on Kahne’s good side, since he will accompany Kahne to Red Bull and Hendrick, would put up with anything blatantly dangerous from the team he commands. It’s even a stretch to imagine that he’d tolerate laziness at any level. Not only that, but the team will be back next year with Marcos Ambrose behind the wheel, and in a sport where teams learn about the equipment literally every week, why would they want to get behind the other teams before Daytona? So while they may be apathetic about Kahne, it’s more likely that the failures are due to trying new things, either to help the team get ready for 2011 or to help the RPM organization as a whole.
Sure, it’s no fun to be the R & D guy, but what did Kahne expect after he decided to bail? He told his team with his announcement that they weren’t good enough for the likes of him. The team as a whole simply has more to gain by working to help the guy who wants to be there. That’s really not a personal knock on Kahne in itself, but Kahne apparently made it one, to the point where the team accused him of mailing it in for most of the summer.
Fast forward to Saturday, though, and Kahne was the one who is at fault. While it’s never wise to burn bridges, you also have to wonder what Rick Hendrick thought of Kahne’s exit and excuse. One of Hendrick’s drivers at the time, Kyle Busch, did the same thing at Texas a couple of years ago when his car was wrecked. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was there to take over, and when Earnhardt joined Hendrick Motorsports the following year, it was ultimately at Busch’s expense. That was probably not the deciding factor, but you have to wonder if it played a role. It took two months from “no room at the inn” to transforming the ultra-talented Busch into the odd man out, a move that happened despite him putting up better numbers than Casey Mears – the ultimate team player during his tenure.
Yet Saturday night really boils down to Kahne’s matter-of-fact statement; if the car was better, he might have stayed in. But it wasn’t, so he quit. Compare that to Kevin Conway’s run in the Coca-Cola 600 this May, where he was ill throughout the race – physically sick to his stomach in a car far worse than Kahne’s on any scale – and still stayed in the seat for 600 miles. Say what you want about Conway’s talent, but you can’t doubt his dedication.
What Kahne showed on Saturday was not. And at the root of it all, Kahne gave up first. I’m not so sure J.J. Yeley shouldn’t have been given the reins for the rest of the year after that. Yeley stepping in for Kahne also makes you wonder, would the team have put a random driver in an unsafe car, leaving him at risk of getting injured? Would Yeley have even taken that chance? I doubt it.
Kasey Kahne essentially gave up on his team when he inked the deal at Hendrick Motorsports. His team may have become apathetic toward the driver, but really, who’s to blame for that? They should have given their best effort, but they didn’t. The crew chief, who is also leaving, should not have allowed it – but he did. The driver could have gotten behind his team and his teammates for his remaining time at RPM, but he didn’t, either. So in the end, nobody held up their end of the bargain – it’s just that the driver dropped his end first.
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