The Frontstretch: Breaking News – Kahne Released From RPM, Almirola In UPDATED 5:15 PM Friday by Jay Pennell -- Thursday October 21, 2010

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Five days after leaving the racetrack early at Charlotte, Richard Petty Motorsports announced late Wednesday evening that Kasey Kahne has been released from the team effective immediately. Aric Almirola has been named the driver of the No. 9 Budweiser Ford for this weekend’s race in Martinsville, Va.

The statement explained the driver lineup for the No. 9 car has yet to be determined after Martinsville. However, sources are saying a deal is being worked on that could put Marcos Ambrose, the full-time driver for 2011, in the car while Bobby Labonte takes his place at the No. 47 Toyota. Labonte, who is going to be running for that team full-time next year, has been switching between a hodgepodge of underdog, single-car teams while awaiting a return to fully-funded competition this February.

Almirola tweeted after the switch, “Oh, what a crazy world I live in! There’s never a dull moment, that’s for sure.”

Kahne, who is headed to Red Bull Racing at the end of the season, will now pilot the No. 83 Toyota for the final five races of 2010.

Saturday night in Charlotte, Kahne struggled with his car, wrecked off Turn 4 and left the track before the end of the race, claiming the next morning at his charity 5K run that he got sick. J.J. Yeley jumped in the car to finish the remainder of the race. According to multiple reports Kahne was later criticized by someone on the team, saying the driver “needed to start doing his part.”

This move before the end of the season is sure to shake up the garage area and those in free agent and lame duck positions.

Friday, October 22nd – Kasey Kahne and Jay Frye meet with media at the Martinsville Speedway discussing the decision to have Kahne join Red Bull Racing prior to the end of the season, what went wrong at Richard Petty Motorsports and the future of both organizations:

“A lot of things happened this week,” Frye said to open their media session. “Obviously, we’re really excited to get a head start on 2011 season. This is something we obviously didn’t anticipate happening, but it did and we couldn’t be more happy about it.”

“I’m excited,” Kahne said. “It’s a big change for myself. I’ve been doing, really, the same thing for six and a half years. To make a change like this it’s new people, new cars, new manufacturer, new sponsors, everything’s different. It’ll be a big change for myself, just starting to work with new people. I look forward to it. I’ve been looking forward to next year and now we just have a little head start on that.

“I was with the guys yesterday, putting seats in the cars and just trying to get prepared as well as we could for today and this weekend, the atmosphere and the excitement up at Red Bull right now, it was nice to be a part of that. I’m looking forward to the last five races and getting started this weekend.”

Taking questions from the media, Kahne and Frye addressed many of the contentious issues they have faced in the past few days and weeks.

Here are some of the key moments from that session:
What led to Kahne’s split with RPM:
Kahne: “I was leaving, I was going on starting next year. It made sense for RPM to start working on their things for next year and for myself to get with the Red Bull guys at this point. It’s kind of a jump start on next year is what I see it as.”

Does RPM owe Kahne money:
“I’m paid up to date from RPM. I’m paid up to date. They’ve met their commitments there, and it has been good that they have. I thank them for that.”

Can RPM survive past Martinsville:
“I’ve heard a lot, I think everyone has. That’s just speculation. I think it’s a lot of talk. For me, I hope RPM keeps rolling, I hope they finish out the season and put together another great season next year. That’s what I want them to do, I want that team to keep going. There’s a lot of good people there that deserve to have jobs and deserve to keep working on these race teams… you’d have to ask RPM about some of the other stuff to get the right answers, because I think a lot of it could just be speculation.”

Who asked for the release:
“It was a mutual release, and, for me, I think that’s a good thing for both sides. I’m happy and they’re happy about it.”

Being called out for leaving track last weekend:
“It’s what happened. I raced, I put a commitment in. Anyone who questions my commitment doesn’t know me very well and doesn’t know how much I love the sport and how much I put into racing. I don’t think there’s anybody out there that puts as much in as I do throughout a week. Some guys may, some guys may not. I feel like I do everything I need to do to be the best I need to be and we kept having problems, I was sick to my stomach, it was time for me to call it a day and that’s what I did. I’m happy I did it and I’m ready to go onto this weekend.”

“I’m definitely not a quitter. I’ve done a lot for that company for a long time and we’ve gone our separate ways and that’s the way it is. I feel like I’ve done a lot for that company and they’ve done a lot for me and I’m glad [to have spent] my last six and a half years there.”

Extra crew chief for Red Bull Racing in 2011:
(Kenny Francis will stay with the No. 9 team throughout the rest of the season and will join Red Bull Racing at the end of the season. Kahne will work with Red Bull Racing crew chief Jimmy Elledge for the final five races of the year.)

Frye: “We, over the next couple of weeks, will be evaluating where we’re at with people. There’s nothing imminent on anything at this point. We’re excited to get to work with Kasey this weekend. Jimmy did a great job when it came a few years ago to get A.J. going and then with Scott helping him get up to speed as well. We’ve got some really, really good people and it’s just our job to find places and roles for them in our organization.”

Why is this happening now:
Kahne: “It started Monday and we just kind of put it together and got it figured out and we went our separate ways. I think there were a lot of things on both sides that just made sense. Next year, for me, it’s one year, but it’s a short year. I’m happy trying to get prepared early, know a little more about the company, the cars, the engines, the things that I’m going to be driving next year. I want to come out and win next year, and the only way to do that is to be prepared and get off to a great start at the start of the season.”

Budweiser commitments for remainder of year:
Kahne: “We’ve worked it out with the Bud guys, and I’m still doing my appearances and meet-and-greets throughout the rest of this year for Budweiser.”

Future of Scott Speed:
Frye: “There are performance clauses within his contract, we don’t really get into contract discussions, but our plan is to have two cars. We’re monitoring Brian’s health. Brian appears to be on course and doing great. We’re also monitoring Scott and his performance, where he’s at and what’s going to happen next.

“We’re going to have, at this point, two cars and possibly three drivers. At that point, decisions will have to be made. It’s not necessarily the case that decision has been made yet.”

Updated with more reaction about RPM and Red Bull from Martinsville Speedway garage.

Jimmy Elledge, crew chief No. 83 Red Bull Toyota:
Evaluating Scott Speed:
“Scott’s talent has never been a question, he’s got a lot of talent, he’s got a lot of ability. That’s not really, anymore, all you have to have. You have to have a lot of things to put it all together. Sometimes those things take time to develop, come together and fall into place. Sometimes, they never fall into place. What the future holds I really don’t know. For him, what’s got to happen is he has to run good and run good consistently.

“It sounds simple, but it’s a performance based business and the amount of money our owners and sponsors have to fund us to make sure we have all the things to do the job correctly, it’s our job to put all the pieces together. If you’re falling short in your area, it will expose itself sooner or later. You just have to perform better.”

On the crew chief situation for 2011:
(Not only will Red Bull Racing have three drivers for two cars in 2011, with the addition of Kenny Francis, the team will also have three crew chiefs, with Francis working with Kahne.)

“This is Kenny’s deal for next year. I’m just the fortunate one to stand in for him in the interim time right here. It’s not a secret there’s too many people and not enough cars at the moment. There’s going to be changes that are going to be made. What those are, I don’t know yet. We’ll just wait and see what happens, whatever happens, happens.”

Scott Speed, driver No. 82 Red Bull Racing Toyota:
Jay W. Pennell, How do you respond to those inside your team saying you need to pick it up a bit?

Speed: “I don’t have a response right now, honestly. Thank you.”

Slugger Labbe, crew chief No. 98 RPM Ford:
“I know there’s a lot of rumors going around, but as far as the 98 team, nothing has been affected one way. They already put the motor in the Talladega car. I’ve got nothing negative to say because it hasn’t affected us in one way. I can’t say anything wrong, because nothing has happened to the 98 team. The other guys, I don’t know the situation.

“I still have all my race tires here, nothing has changed so, I hope whatever is going on they get it worked out, but it hasn’t affected the 98 team in one way.”

AJ Allmendinger, driver No. 43 RPM Ford:
Jay W. Pennell, I asked you last week about your situation at RPM and you described it by saying, “at least there’s light at the end of the tunnel. It’s not like there’s a train coming back at you to hit you.” Do you still feel that way now?

Allmendinger: “I feel like the train is coming back now.Honestly, I’m not exactly sure what’s happening. I don’t have any hardcore answers about what’s going on inside the team. There are certain people that need to answer those questions.

“For me, all I can do is focus on driving the race car. Can’t fix anything else. I feel bad for my guys that work so hard, my guys here at the race track, back at the shop, my guys that get told things like we might not be going to Talladega – which we are, we got the cars and the motors. They’re the ones that work really hard and bust their butts. All I can do is take care of it as best I can, just try to keep us focused on coming to the race track.

“We can’t fix what’s going on and I don’t know the true answers. We still have fast race cars. We’re still working hard. The last couple of weeks we’ve had a couple of setbacks when it comes to engine problems during the race, but we’ve been running well, so that’s all we can focus on.”

Pennell: Are you worried about your situation for next season?

Allmendinger: “I’d be freaking lying to your face if I said, ‘It’s all good.”

Pennell: What about Talladega or Texas? Are you worried about making it to those races?

Allmendinger: “I can’t worry about it, honestly. If I let that take away from this weekend, then it doesn’t really matter. If I go out there and suck it’s kind of irrelevant when it comes to anything. There’s definitely question. I think (we’ll be at) Talladega, for sure, and I think we’re getting our stuff together for Texas and things like that, but there’s nothing set in concrete. For me, it’s working hard at the race track and making sure we’re running well.

“To me you’ve always got to look at the worst case scenario, and if it’s the worst case scenario and we have to go work on other stuff and make that happen. That’s why I pay Tara Ragan for and my management to work on that so I can worry about the race car.”

Marcos Ambrose, moving to RPM in 2011:
“I believe in the program over there (at RPM). I made the choice to commit to them because I believe it is a great fit for me. I wish them the best of luck to get themselves sorted out and back on the right path.”

“I’m not involved in the decision making (at RPM). All I can do is voice my commitment to them. I believe the choices I made were right, I still do. I’m looking forward to the opportunity, they have a great program with assistance from Roush and the program’s a great place. With Stanley coming on board supporting it, it’s a great place for me to be. I was joking about it when we ran well in Richmond, but I believe in the program over there and want the chance to drive for Richard Petty Motorsports.”

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