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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Dialing It In: Kahne, Stewart, Hendrick Combination Bad for the Competition

If people are already fed up with the amount of success Hendrick Motorsports has enjoyed with Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson over the past decade, prepare to be enraged. By bringing 30-year old Kasey Kahne to the team with a multi-year commitment, the talent level at HMS has just shot through the roof, and most likely so will the win totals. For while those at Hendrick are eagerly anticipating this new addition, the competition should be worried – very worried.

From what was revealed in Wednesday’s teleconference with Rick Hendrick and Kahne, the deal will go forward starting after the conclusion of the 2010 season. After leaving Richard Petty Motorsports, Kahne will go to a team that has yet to be determined for 2011. Then, when Mark Martin’s contract is up at the end of the 2011 season, the veteran driver will cut back his schedule and vacate the No. 5 car for Kahne.

The likely scenario sees Kahne heading to Stewart-Haas Racing next season before making the move to the No. 5 car for many years to come. Being a satellite team of Hendrick Motorsports, SHR would be a sensible one for Kahne to make his transition to the Hendrick organization. During Wednesday’s teleconference, Hendrick said he would be OK with Kahne driving for Stewart, claiming it wouldn’t be a violation of NASCAR’s four-car rule:

“I have no ownership whatsoever in that team,” he insisted.

Right, just the engines under the hoods.

Once the deal goes through, the New York Yankees of NASCAR will then employ some of the most successful drivers in NASCAR today – Gordon, Johnson, Martin, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Kahne – the best team money can buy.

So what does this mean for everyone else? We already hear grumblings from fans how Johnson’s dominance has made the sport boring and no fun to watch. Since 2004, Kahne has 11 wins, while Hendrick cars have a staggering 74 (out of 223). In fact, when including Stewart-Haas Racing, there are only two drivers – Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch – that have won titles in the last 10 years who are not in some sort of Hendrick equipment today.

With Johnson coming off a string of four consecutive championships, the competition had already shifted how it races the Hendrick organization. We have seen that in a team like Richard Childress Racing. Behind the eight ball in the beginning of 2009, RCR regrouped and refocused its entire organization, changing its management structure towards a teamwork-oriented focus with the goal of beating their Hendrick rivals. Despite missing the Chase entirely, the three-car team ended the year strong and has shown early in 2010 they are ready to compete with Hendrick for the title.

But by adding Kahne to the mix, the level of competition at Hendrick simply increases over the next few years in a move that puts them even further ahead of the pack.

“It’s a golden opportunity for us, and it’s an investment in our future because of Kasey’s age,” Hendrick said during Wednesday’s teleconference.

In addition to the level of competition Kahne brings to the table, he also brings his ability to lure sponsorship dollars. At a time when teams are scrambling to find funding, Kahne’s good looks and connection with a younger crowd simply give Hendrick another leg up on his competitors; this time, it’s at the negotiating table, not the racetrack.

“Clearly, he would be a sponsor’s dream for anybody,” the car owner said in making his sales pitch to reporters Wednesday. “He fits in any and every category. He’s got all positives.”

For Kahne, the few glimpses of success over the last few years have been overshadowed by the drama behind the scenes. With ownership of the team transferring from Ray Evernham to George Gillett, and then with the addition of Richard Petty, instability has caused concern for the Washington native. That frustration led to poor performances and, ultimately, his decision to sign with Hendrick.

Now locked in a multi-year deal with one of the best teams in the history of the sport, Kahne has the confidence to go out there knowing he has the equipment capable of winning week in and week out. And as Kahne proved in 2006, that can be a dangerous thing for the other 42 drivers in the garage.