NASCAR’s new Hall of Fame in Charlotte will be opening its doors next month and will begin enshrining some of the great individuals who have made the sport what it is today. Both Bill France Jr. and Sr. will be in the first-ever class, along with Richard Petty, Junior Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Sr. All five of those men are very deserving as well as some others that will no doubt be joining these five in the years to come, but at some point the Hall needs to go ahead and reserve a spot for Rick Hendrick.
Rick and his Hendrick Motorsports now own the series, and it seems that the run could continue for quite some time as he has signed Kasey Kahne to join his talented stable of drivers who now dominate the sport.
Hendrick already has nine Sprint Cup Series titles as an owner, including the last four with driver Jimmie Johnson. With a lineup that also includes four-time champion Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt Jr., there is no reason to believe that title number 10 is not close at hand.
At the heart of Hendrick’s success are the people he brings in to work for his organization and his ability to install in them the idea that each of the individual four teams is actually stronger when they work together for the good of the entire organization.
It’s a model that is dominating the sport at this time, and with the recent announcement of Kahne’s signing, HMS should continue to be the yardstick by which all other teams are judged.
Kahne’s departure from Richard Petty Motorsports after this season does create somewhat of a log jam at HMS as NASCAR rules state that an owner can only field four teams. All of Hendrick’s drivers are under contract for next season but it is the last year for Mark Martin who began running full time for Hendrick in 2009. Kahne will take over Martin’s ride in 2011, but until then Hendrick must find a ride for him outside of HMS.
Odds are that ride will be for Stewart-Haas Racing that now fields cars for Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman. This is the second year for that operation which is a satellite operation of Hendrick as Stewart-Hass gets much of its equipment including engines as well as tech support from Hendrick.
The relationship that Stewart- Haas has with HMS got that organization off to a fast start last season and saw Tony Stewart make a run for the title as he was first in the points when the 26- race schedule ended before being realigned for the Chase. Stewart has said that he would like to add a third team but that sponsorship had to be in place before that would ever happen.
Hendrick’s relationship with Chevrolet would narrow down the teams that Kahne could drive for next season, and being with Stewart-Haas would be in many ways like he is already part of HMS. It would be the same equipment that he would be stepping into the following year and that would give him a leg up when he takes over the ride that Martin is vacating.
It would be a win-win situation for Stewart-Haas as it would give them the opportunity to establish a third team with the bulk of the financial support generated by Hendrick. Kahne’s present sponsor Budweiser may or may not follow him next season, but finding a new sponsor shouldn’t be a difficult task for Hendrick knowing that the following year Kahne would be driving under the HMS umbrella.
All of this sounds great for Kahne, but let’s not forget that he will be replacing one of the sport’s greatest drivers. In fact, it was Martin that first approached Kahne about coming over to HMS during the 2009 season. Martin said at Texas last weekend that he plans to finish his contract with Hendrick in 2011 and that he will be driving full time in the series in 2012.
That will make him the hottest free agent in the sport when the 2011 season gets underway and it is likely that he will be able to write the storybook ending to his career that he deserves. It would be ironic if after next season what actually takes place is that all Martin and Kahne do is to swap rides and both of them continue on with their careers.
Race Preview — Event: Aaron’s 499. Track: Talladega (2.66-mile tri-oval, 33 degrees of banking in the turns). Date: April 25, 1 p.m. TV: Fox. Radio: MRN. Defending champion: Brad Keselowski.