Watch the rumor mill go round… sheesh! Will it ever stop? Probably not. Especially with major players making statements regarding about what they would like to do, not necessarily what they can do under current contracts. Such as, you ask?
We’ve all watched the Kasey Kahne Silly Season — face it, the man owns the annual musical chairs competition this year — with an alarming level of fascination.
So, Rick Hendrick has signed Kahne for a 2012 seat at Hendrick Motorsports. OK. It seems that Hendrick will be “supporting” the James Finch No. 09 machine in 2011 so that Kahne will be taken care of for the lame-duck season until he can settle into Mark Martin’s No. 5 the following year.
Right — we’ve got the golden child, the chariot and now we just need a genius behind the scenes. How about Ray Evernham? On the face, it sounds much too good to believe.
On Wind Tunnel Sunday night, Ray said he was eager to return to Hendrick. Not as a crew chief, but in some other capacity. His current contract over at Richard Petty Motorsports holds a non-competitive clause, however the past Cup champion crew chief is actively pursuing options that would make his wishes come true.
From our side of the fence, the rumor mill has Evernham potentially working with Kahne behind the scenes, ensuring everybody’s favorite not-quite awesome Cup driver the best possible chance in holding down the fourth corner of the Hendrick stable come 2012.
I sit here and seriously wonder what exactly Evernham would bring to Kahne’s Cup career, at this point?
Evernham is a unique talent in the Cup garage. He excels at developing driver talent. It was Ray’s calm direction and voice that permitted Jeff Gordon to find his stride in his early years as a driver. Evernham acted as a mentor in every facet of the sport and the rising superstar ate up the knowledge and poise the man atop the pit box provided.
When Ray departed from Hendrick Motorsports in 1999, it was with the intention of building his own racing stable and ultimately a dynasty. His hopes for the future he settled upon a young kid from Enumclaw, Wash. Kahne appeared everything that Jeff Gordon had once been… young, camera friendly, smart, talented and eager to win. Media and fans alike lined up the Evernham prodigies and comparisons flew.
Kahne seemed destined to find all the success that the No. 24 Dupont Chevy enjoyed over the previous 12 years. He never did. Since Kahne’s rookie season in 2004, he has totaled a respectable 11 wins and climbed as high as eighth in the year-end standings, but his star has never rocketed quite the way that Evernham hoped.
It’s now been six seasons since Kahne wore a rookie stripe. By the time he could join forces with Evernham in the No. 5, he’ll be a nine-year veteran of the sport. But, I don’t know how much more developing Kahne really needs.
It’s safe to say that Kahne now possesses the vocabulary to effectively communicate with a team and even provide direction to them, as a well-experienced pilot. His driving ability has never been under question. Kasey maintains a screaming flock of female fans with his quiet smile and easy persona. If he is being provided a top-level car by the Hendrick shops, can somebody tell me just what Ray will be bringing to Kahne’s career? Moral support?
I have no doubt that Ray’s knowledge and experience as a champion crew chief and previous owner of a competitive Cup stable will be of invaluable help to the reigning Hendrick organization. And it’s nice to know that one can come back home when life hasn’t quite panned out the way you hoped.
I just hope we can all stop painting his return to the fold in such a fairy-tale light.
Yes, it would make all parties involved happy to see Ray Evernham return to the shop where he enjoyed his greatest achievements in this sport. And Kasey Kahne might enjoy the friendship and camaraderie of continuing to work with the man who brought him up in the NASCAR world, but none of us should expect this particular partnership to reap more awards than it already has in the past.
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