With ‘silly season’ in full swing as the NASCAR season approaches its finale, this year it seems instead like a game of ‘duck, duck, goose’, with some lucky drivers being tapped for new rides while others are left in lame duck situations, biding their time until their new ride opens up for the 2011 season.
One of the lamest of ducks is Kasey Kahne, currently at Richard Petty Motorsports. Kahne’s lame duck status was created earlier this year when it was announced that the driver was signed by Hendrick Motorsports for the 2012 season.
Team owner Rick Hendrick wanted to snare Kahne to ultimately replace Mark Martin, driver of the No. 5 HMS car, whose contract is up at the end of 2011. Hendrick said that he took this unusual signing route as he was encouraged by his other drivers, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt, Jr., to snag Kahne as quickly as possible.
“In Kasey, we saw an opportunity to cement a big piece of our future,” Hendrick said. “He possesses incredible talent and a tremendous dedication to his craft, and we know he will be a great fit within our company.”
But in one of the strangest ‘silly season’ twists, Kahne was not only left as a lame duck at Richard Petty Motorsports but was also left out in the cold without a ride for the 2011 season. Hendrick, making good on a promise to Kahne that he would figure something out, brokered a deal that will put Kahne behind the wheel of a Red Bull Racing Toyota, creating yet another lame duck situation for the driver for the next season.
“RPM is working on their future and I am not part of that,” Kahne. “It’s kind of a tough situation to be in to tell you the truth. I didn’t think I would struggle with it but I do at times.”
Richard Petty Motorsports has yet another driver that also fits the lame duck status. Elliott Sadler announced in July that he was a free agent, saying that he “had no future plans with the race team” for 2011.
“I don’t fit into their future plans,” Sadler said of RPM. “So we are definitely going our different ways, but we need to end up this season as strong as we can.”
If Sadler cannot find another ride in the Cup Series, he has alluded to the fact that he would entertain a ride in the Truck or Nationwide Series. Sadler has been “having a blast” driving for Kevin Harvick, Inc. periodically in both a truck and Nationwide car.
Ironically, there is yet a third lame duck driver at Richard Petty Motorsports, Paul Menard. Bringing his own family money and sponsorship to the table, Menard announced that he too was leaving RPM and will drive for Richard Childress Racing in 2011.
Menard has had quite a journey, starting his career with Dale Earnhardt, Inc., then moving to Yates Racing, which eventually became Richard Petty Motorsports as part of the merger. Menard, behind the wheel of either the No. 30 or No. 32, will join the three current RCR Chase contenders Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton and the recently penalized Clint Bowyer for the 2011 season.
In spite of their lame duck status, two of the three RPM drivers are sitting in the cat bird’s seat for the upcoming Cup race at Kansas Speedway. Kasey Kahne scored the pole position and Paul Menard will start right next to his current teammate on the outside pole for Sunday’s Price Chopper 400.
While there are lame ducks this ‘silly season’, there are also some very lucky ducks, especially this race weekend. One of those lucky ducks, Trevor Bayne, did not start out so lucky earlier in the week when he was abruptly released from Diamond Waltrip Racing.
Yet the young, talented driver luckily landed with both feet on the ground and an immediate ride in the Nationwide Series for Roush Fenway Racing. The 19 year old will be piloting the No. 17 in the Kansas Lottery 300.
In a twist of fate, Bayne also may have potential ties back to Richard Petty Motorsports. SceneDaily.com reported that the young driver may also be a candidate to replace lame duck Sadler in the No. 19 RPM Cup car, which is affiliated with Roush Fenway, pending sponsorship.
“We are pleased to be able to sign a driver of Trevor’s caliber and character,” Jack Roush said. “Trevor has exhibited a distinctive ability to run fast, up front and compete side by side with veteran drivers in a relatively short amount of time.”
“We feel that he possesses all of the tools necessary to grow into a top-level driver,” Roush continued. “We look forward to working with him t o hone his skills as we move forward down the road.”
Bayne also made another driver a very lucky duck as he vacated his DWR ride. Ryan Truex, younger brother of Martin Truex, Jr. and two-time champion in the K&N Pro Series East, will join his big brother in the Nationwide Series this weekend, piloting the No. 99 OUT! Pet Care Toyota Camry.
“This will be fun,” Truex said. “My mom and dad will be a nervous wreck but we’ll see what happens. I hope the OUT! Pet Care people will be pleased and I hope we put on a good show.”
The final lucky duck, at least this week in NASCAR is the driver nicknamed the GOAT. Ricky Carmichael, who has been slugging out in the Camping World Truck Series, will be making his Nationwide debut at Kansas, driving the No. 10 Braun Racing Toyota.
“It has been really quick,” Carmichael said. “I got a call from our team owner last week and he said, ‘Hey there’s a possibility we might be able to run you in the Nationwide race next weekend in Kansas. Would you be up for it?’
After not even a second had passed, Carmichael said ‘yes’ to the offer. “I couldn’t believe the things that I was hearing,” Carmichael said.
Whether lame duck or lucky duck, NASCAR’s elite will take to the mid-west track in Kansas for the Nationwide race on Saturday and the Cup race on Sunday. And as lucky ducky Carmichael said, “We’ll just go there and do the best we can.”