AP source: Kahne to drive for Hendrick in 2012

Kasey Kahne has completed a deal to drive for Hendrick

Motorsports in 2012 but still needs to iron out his plans for next

season, The Associated Press has learned.

A person familiar with Kahne’s plans spoke to the AP on the

condition of anonymity Tuesday because portions of Kahne’s deal are

still being worked out.

Most notably, it’s not clear where Kahne will drive in 2011. HMS

is currently at NASCAR’s four-car limit, and Kahne is working out a

deal to succeed Mark Martin in the No. 5 car in 2012. Martin has

one more season left on an extension he signed last year, and owner

Rick Hendrick plans to honor that deal.

“I’ve actually thought a lot about that but I’m not sure what

I’m going to do next year,” Kahne said after taking batting

practice with the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park on Tuesday.

“I’ve given it some thought though.”

Earlier in the day, Richard Petty Motorsports announced that

Kahne informed them he’s leaving the team at the end of this

season.

“Kasey is a very talented driver, and I have enjoyed watching

him race,” said team co-owner Richard Petty. “We all wish him

nothing but the best and hope he succeeds in anything he chooses to

do.”

Kahne’s deal with Hendrick is done, but he still must figure out

where he’ll race in 2011. Among his options are a potential ride

with Stewart-Haas Racing, which has an alliance with Hendrick,

another Chevrolet team, or, should Martin opt out of the final year

of his contract, Kahne could get the No. 5 a year early.

A spokesman for Hendrick said the team owner was traveling

Tuesday night and not available for comment.

Kahne has been with a version of the team that is now known as

RPM since 2004, when he jumped from Ford’s development program to a

Sprint Cup Series ride for then-owner Ray Evernham. Ford tried to

fight the defection in court, but Kahne prevailed and built a

successful brand as one of NASCAR’s young superstars.

Budweiser, which enjoyed tremendous success with Dale Earnhardt

Jr., hooked on with Kahne in 2008 when Earnhardt moved to HMS and

that team declined the beer sponsorship. With Kahne, Budweiser

launched a popular re-branding that helped Kahne’s brand.

Mark Wright, vice president of media, sports and entertainment

marketing for Anheuser-Busch, Inc., said Budweiser is currently

focused only on the current season with Kahne.

“There have been no discussions relative to our sponsorship as

of yet. We look forward to having those at the appropriate time,”

Wright said.

Kahne has been unhappy with his overall team performance the

last year or so, and has been uncharacteristically vocal with his

criticism.

Although he has 11 career wins and two berths in the Chase for

the Cup championship, Kahne has not felt he’s had the equipment to

contend for a championship. He was openly critical most of last

season, when he overcame a hectic merger between Gillett-Evernham

Racing and RPM and severe financial issues inside the organization

to win two races and finish 10th in the Chase.

Still, a person familiar with Kahne’s negotiations told AP he

had decided before the season-opening Daytona 500 he would not

return to RPM next season. His initial plan was to move to Joe

Gibbs Racing, but those plans were contingent on sponsorship that

had to be locked in by April 1.

When no deal materialized, Kahne began negotiating with Hendrick

in earnest. So convinced he wants to be with NASCAR’s top

organization, he’s willing to be patient through 2011.

He’s off to a slow start this year, in large part to bad luck,

and has just two top-10 finishes through seven races. He’s 26th in

the standings.

AP freelance writer Bill Arnold in San Francisco contributed to

this report.