In light of this crazy day of news surrounding the future of Richard Petty Motorsports or lack thereof – we’d like to sort out what’s fact and speculation from our end as of 11:00 PM Thursday night. Let’s start with a timeline of events to set the stage for what’s going on:
*Saturday Night, October 16th* – Kasey Kahne wrecks his No. 9 Ford during the race at Charlotte, forcing the car behind the wall. Complaining of brake issues that caused the Lap 125 crash, he gets disgruntled after a confrontation with an RPM employee in which he’s told to “do his part.” Kahne claims he’s gotten stomach sick, leaves the racetrack and J.J. Yeley is tabbed to finish the event. The car winds up 38th, 120 laps off the pace in what turns out to be Kahne’s last ever race in a seven-season career with RPM.
*Sunday Morning, October 17th* – Kahne runs a 5K for his Foundation, claiming he still wasn’t feeling well but completes the run nonetheless. He then rips into the RPM organization, criticizing the way they’ve handled this season and making it clear he’s tired of what he called inferior equipment and preparation.
“I can’t control the issues I’ve had this year,” he reported to “SB Nation.”:http://www.sbnation.com/nascar/2010/10/17/1756819/kasey-kahne-charlotte-jj-yeley-richard-petty-motorsports-rpm-nascar-news-2010 “I don’t know how many parts I’ve broken, how many shifter handles, control arms, brakes – if I really thought about it, I could come up with all kinds of stuff.”
“I can’t control that as a driver. I’m doing my part; I just need the car. I work as hard as anybody out there.”
*Monday, October 18th* – RPM VP of Competition Robbie Loomis responds to Kahne in an article with “SceneDaily’s Bob Pockrass.”:http://www.scenedaily.com/news/articles/sprintcupseries/Kasey_Kahne_having_tough_time_dealing_with_adversity_in_final_weeks_with_Richard_Petty_Motorsports_team_official_says.html
Perhaps the most biting quote was this one:
“When you know that [you’re leaving and it’s] in the back of your mind, it gets harder and harder when you’re having adversity to fight through it. The real champions in life learn how to fight through those things even on the bad days. It’s all part of a growing process for us all.”
“When he gets over there [at Hendrick], with being around Jeff [Gordon] and Jimmie [Johnson], he’ll get to learn a lot through them and how they deal and fight with adversity, too. It was disheartening for all of us. We felt so good going into the race.”
*Wednesday, October 20th* – Kasey Kahne is released as driver of RPM’s No. 9 car for the remainder of the 2010 season. Aric Almirola, who was scheduled to drive Red Bull Racing’s No. 83 instead is named to replace Kahne, clearing the way for the 30-year-old to join Red Bull Racing five races early.
*Thursday, October 21st* – Kahne is officially named as driver of the Red Bull Racing No. 83 car for 2011. Red Bull Racing confirms they’ll only have two cars, one for Kahne (whose number will change to 4) and Brian Vickers, returning full-time to Cup competition this February. JTG Daugherty Racing announces Marcos Ambrose will finish the year in the No. 47, leaving the No. 9 seat open for the final four races beyond Martinsville.
Alright, that should bring you up to speed with the moment the walls started collapsing on RPM itself. Let’s separate what we know from speculation…
*FACT:* RPM had its cars for Talladega briefly repossessed by Roush. That happened Wednesday into Thursday, Roush angry over a lack of payment for chassis and engines that reaches well into the millions. It’s a touch ironic he’s going after RPM now, with his team largely turned around on the heels of that team’s Research and Development in late spring and early summer. But sources say that while partial payment allowed the ‘Dega cars to reenter RPM’s inventory, Roush has no plans to supply the organization with any piece of equipment beyond November 1st.
*FACT:* Kahne is owed back salary by RPM. He won’t admit it on the record, but multiple sources tell Frontstretch.com Kahne hasn’t been receiving a paycheck to drive the No. 9 car in some time, fueling his internal frustration that boiled over in public Saturday night. “Dave Moody”:http://www.sirius-speedway.com/2010/10/source-rpm-owes-kahne-roush-more-than.html has reported the exact amount to be anywhere between $1 and $1.25 million, with Roush being owed almost ten times that amount for chassis and engines.
*FACT:* Roush isn’t the only one looking for cash. Sources tell Frontstretch.com that a bank loan taken out by Gillett and held up by a group of outside investors to keep the team afloat has been given nearly a dozen extensions for repayment over the last 12 months alone. A highly-placed source told us those involved are now looking to recoup their money in the wake of Gillett’s sale of his soccer team, Liverpool FC, as they no longer see the value in tying up their money in a rapidly declining sport.
All other rumors out there at this point are just speculation. There is no confirmation RPM crewmen were told they would have no jobs after Martinsville; in fact, sources we spoke to today were certain that no matter what happens, the four-car team would be able to run through Talladega. High-level meetings are taking place to see what, if any, financial remedy can be found within the next seven to ten days that would keep the team on the track the rest of the season.
And as for Ambrose and A.J. Allmendinger, RPM’s two signed drivers for next season? There’s no word yet on what would happen should this deal fall apart. Ambrose has a contract with Ford, who is willing to support his racing down in Australia if he so chooses while the ‘Dinger could well be a candidate to drive the No. 6 Ford for Roush in 2011, replacing a struggling David Ragan. However, our Matt Taliaferro tells us there’s language in the UPS contract that prohibits a driver change, meaning the sponsor would need prior approval to take Ragan out of the seat.
— Tom Bowles
*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, Frontstretch.com:* 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, Frontstretch.com:* 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.”
— Jay Pennell
*Saturday, October 23rd* – Robbie Loomis, Richard Petty Motorsports’ Director of Competition, addressed the organization’s situation Saturday morning in Martinsville. Making a brief statement and answering a few questions, Loomis shed little light on the future of RPM
“First of all, I want to thank Kasey. Kasey did a great job for us and if you look at the banners in the shop, a lot of them are there from Kasey and I really wish him well in his new deal. I think that started a lot of the stir and speculation throughout the whole week, but we’ve been working really hard and everyone is working hard. I couldn’t be prouder of the job the guys have done with the Aric Almirola seat change on Thursday at the last minute, and we’re just looking forward to continuing into 2011 and finishing this year up strong. I’ve heard a lot of things about our relationship with Roush and Roush has been great to us. They’ve been a great sponsor, a great provider and work for us in a lot of different ways to help us from the engine shop side with Doug Yates has been amazing. If there’s anything I have not felt good about is they had three cars make the Chase and we didn’t. That’s up to us to get our program better, but I think Robbie Reiser and the whole organization over there has always done everything we’ve wanted. They work really hard to provide good cars for us.”
*IS THIS TEAM GOING TO FINISH THE SEASON?*
“I think it’s our full intention to go forward. Like I said, most of the things we’ve been working on throughout the week is, ‘What do we look like in 2011? What’s our driver lineup look like the rest of the year since we lost Kasey?’ I told the guys yesterday, I sat back at lunch and said, ‘Look, this is no different than running a race when you’re a crew chief. I’ve been right here at Martinsville leading a race and all of a sudden hit a pothole and you’ve got to figure out what to do and how to react to it and move forward.’ That’s what we’re looking forward to do with Richard Petty Motorsports. I think a lot of people have their thoughts and prayers with Richard. He’s dealing with Lynda and she’s going through some issues and Richard is with her. His thoughts are with her. We might see Richard up here tomorrow. As you guys know, he usually comes to Martinsville on Sunday, but right now he’s spending a lot of time with Lynda.”
*WHAT GIVES YOU CONFIDENCE YOU CAN MOVE FORWARD THIS YEAR AND NEXT?*
“Like I said before, there’s been a lot of speculation about a lot of things, there always has been in this sport, but what gives me confidence is that we’ve always had the ability to move forward. We do our best today. I was thinking riding up the road this morning with Dale (Inman) and I said, ‘You can’t look too far out in the future because today is all that we really have,’ and many of you know that from being around this sport.”
*ANY DECISION ON IF ARIC WILL REMAIN IN THE CAR PAST THIS WEEKEND?*
“Most of the things we’ve been working on has been our models for 2011 and what our race teams look like moving forward. Aric is somebody we were looking at to drive for us next year and the timing of it didn’t work out and come together, so he got the deal with Dale Jr’s Nationwide deal, which is a great opportunity for him and a strong organization. For us, we had Marcos Ambrose come available and we’re real excited about AJ and Marcos as we go into next season. All of the drivers have really stepped up. I know AJ met with all the guys yesterday and have really been team leaders. I called Marcos last night and putting a good qualifying lap up there was encouraging for that, too.”
*HAVE THERE BEEN ANY CHANGES IN THE TEAM?*
“There hasn’t been any change. Max Jones, our president, has been working really hard with the Roush crowd and everybody on the plans for the future. I think it’s been a collective effort. The only change we’ve really had is Kasey and his spotter, Cole. I like Cole, Cole is a great spotter for Kasey, those are the two guys that are gone.”
*THE GILLETT’S STILL OWN THE TEAM?*
“Yes. The Gillett’s, they’ve been through a lot obviously – everyone knows that. They’ve worked really hard to be a four-car team last year and continue it this year, and now we’ve got to look at what our teams are gonna look like going into next year.”
*YOU’LL BE IN TALLADEGA?*
“Yeah, we’ll be at Talladega. I hope we’re all in Talladega. It’s our full intention to keep rolling right along.”
*IS IT TRUE THE KING IS TRYING TO GET A GROUP OF INVESTORS TOGETHER AND GAIN MORE CONTROL OUT OF THE ORGANIZATION?*
“I don’t want to speculate on anything like that. Like I said, there are a lot of people working collectively together to make this thing more successful as we go forward in the future. Like Richard said when he came down on Thursday, he said, ‘Look guys, we’re in the same business. We’re trying to provide winning race cars and give them to AJ Allmendinger and Elliott Sadler and our drivers that are driving the cars today, so the game hasn’t changed. It’s the same thing we’re doing.’”
– Jay Pennell