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Gillett Talks Racing Without Kahne

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, April 16 2010

Foster Gillett, right, co-owner of Richard Petty Motorsports, says he has faith that driver Kasey Kahne will honor his commitment to the team. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Fort Worth, Texas – The co-owner of Richard Petty Motorsports fully expects lame duck NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Kasey Kahne to fulfill his contract with the Ford Racing team in 2010.

“Not only do I expect that, the one thing that I do know well is what a gentleman Kasey Kahne is,” Foster Gillett, son of team principal George N. Gillett Jr., said Friday morning at Texas Motor Speedway. “I really, really believe that not only will he fulfill his contract and his commitment to us, but he’ll do it to 
the best of his ability. He’ll uphold all of the commitments that he has.”

Kahne, who turned 30 last Saturday, stunned RPM management earlier this week when he signed a multi-year contract with rival Hendrick Motorsports beginning in 2012. Team-owner Rick Hendrick confirmed that Kahne will drive the No. 5 Chevrolet currently occupied by Mark Martin, although Kahne’s place in the organization for 2011 remains unclear.

Despite being blindsided, Gillett spoke glowingly of Kahne, driver of the No. 9 Budweiser Ford Fusion.

“I think a lot of people explain him as kind of a racer’s racer,” Gillett said. “If you give him great equipment, he’ll go and win and I think that’s our focus. I really believe we have a championship-caliber team in the No. 9 team as a whole, with the driver and the sponsor and all the people that are a part of it. Our goals haven’t changed. We show up here to win with that car. We show up to win with all of our cars and we look forward to trying to get him into the Chase and compete for a championship.

“I think that one of the most important things to me in all of this is my family has had a wonderful relationship with Anheuser-Busch and that’s part of why they’re on this car. At the end of the day there’s a commitment from me and from our team and from him to do the best we can for our wonderful sponsor.”

Kahne, who made his Cup debut with Evernham Motorsports in 2004, has won 11 series races – including two in each of the last two seasons. He has 16 pole positions, 43 top-five finishes and 79 top-10s. That said, Gillett noted that Sunday’s Samsung Moblie 500 at TMS is only the eighth of 36 events on the 2010 schedule. Kahne qualified for the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup last year and finished 10th among the 12 drivers. His best career points finish has been eighth in 2006 for owner Ray Evernham.

“I think many different owners or teams in this sport would take a 30-race contract with Kasey Kahne to try and do the best they can,” Gillett said. “He’s probably one of the nicest people in this sport. He’s one of the greatest racers and we’re pleased to have had him for as long as we have, and we’re focused on our next 30 races with him to see what we can do. We want to win races. Obviously, when there’s a change like this it opens opportunities for others. I think we’re trying to focus more on what opportunities we have than what we might potentially lose.”

Chief among the possible defectors could be Budweiser, one of the series’ highest-profile sponsors.

“What I can tell you is we will put maximum effort into keeping Anheuser-Busch,” Gillett said. “If they tell me I need to run through the end of that wall to keep them, I’m going to do my best. I think they’re a wonderful sponsor. They’ve been wonderful to my family for many years, and I think that we take great pride in our association with them. We will do everything we can. I believe our relationship with them has been successful and you have to put that into the mix, but this just happened.

“I believe all constituents involved hoped and felt that Kasey Kahne would be driving the No. 9 car with Budweiser on it, so I think this has been a change of direction. We’ve got to reflect on that change in direction. I think ourselves and Budweiser will go through their own evaluations on how we go forward, and I think everybody involved – at least on our end –would hope that it would result in Anheuser-Busch staying with Richard Petty Motorsports.”

Gillett declined to say if Kahne has a non-compete contract that prevents the driver from taking Bud with him to another team. “That’s a contractual, private matter and we’re going to keep it there,” said Gillett, whose current lineup also includes Elliott Sadler, A.J. Allmendinger and Paul Menard. Of that group, only Sadler (three wins) has visited Victory Lane in NASCAR’s premier series.

“It’s a work in progress next season as far as our driver lineup,” Gillett said. “I don’t think that’s a secret. I think we talked about that at Media Day and we’re working as hard as we can to have the best drivers possible. I think it’s no secret that my family is looking at all of our options and doing all that we can. 
As far as we’re concerned, as a family, and everything that is involved in NASCAR, the more liquidity we have as a family, the better it is for NASCAR.”

The Gillett family merged the Dodge Motorsports team founded by Evernham with Petty Enterprises last year, and changed the name to Richard Petty Motorsports in deference to the seven-time Cup champion. For the current season, the team merged again with Yates Racing.

Gillett reiterated his family has a long-term commitment to NASCAR.

“My family made a choice to be involved in NASCAR,” Gillett said. “It’s something we want to do. It’s not something we’re going to leave. I think we’ve learned some hard lessons. I think I have learned some hard lessons. I have to take full responsibility for the way this has gone. I hoped we were having a different press conference. I think Mr. Hendrick is one of the most wonderful owners in this sport. I think I’ve learned a valuable lesson from him this week and how this goes, so I look forward to getting better every day, doing a better job for all of our drivers and sponsors, and our commitment is to be here and win races and championships.

“When I reflect upon this, obviously, it’s something we need to learn from. I think every change of direction provides opportunity, so I’m really focused on what we’ve done well versus what we’ve not done well. But I think from my formal involvement here, starting in Darlington, it hasn’t even been a year. I think a lot of people would be proud of what we’ve achieved if it were their team.”

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, April 16 2010
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