Confusion reigns at Richard Petty Motorsports
Depending on which way the wind is blowing, Richard Petty Motorsports could be driving Dodges this week, Toyotas next and Fords the month after that.
But if you want a straight answer as to what direction the company is headed, you'll be hard-pressed to find answers.
Since Atlanta, attempts to reach Foster Gillett, who is listed as the managing partner of RPM, have been futile. He has not returned calls or text messages.
On Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, I posed the question to Kasey Kahne, driver of the No. 9 Budweiser Dodge: Who is calling the shots?
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"Well, that's a tough question because I really don't know who it is either," Kahne answered honestly. "So, I don't know. There are not a lot of answers out there right now. I don't know if it's because we're in the middle of a lot of things, we just don't have a person in that position. I think Robbie Loomis is supposedly going to be that guy, but I don't think that he is yet.
"Is it Foster? You can't get anything out of Foster. So it's hard to say who that is and I think that's because we're in a lot of different things right now, but when you're in things, you still need to keep your team and your guys, your company behind you knowing what's going on and we don't have that. Hopefully, we get it soon. The sooner we get that, the better everybody will be."
After the first Sprint Cup practice at New Hampshire, I went in search of Loomis. He appeared to be debriefing with Elliott Sadler and his crew chief Wally Rogers. There were two questions that needed answering: Who is running the RPM show? Is it true that the No. 44 will be running a Ford before the end of the season?
"I'm only worried about the Chase right now," Loomis said.
So what are you doing hanging out with the No. 19? "Kasey's running fine."
And although the rumor spread from drivers to mechanics that "Foster was saying" the 44 would be a Ford at Dover, Loomis refused to address the question.
This is how the wheel turns at RPM. Even before the company became Gillett Evernham Motorsports, paranoia pervaded that organization. The addition of the Petty entourage only added to the management confusion. President Tom Redden was relieved of his duties in May. Dee Cordell, Senior Vice President of Sponsorship, left shortly thereafter.
Certainly, the Gilletts were enamored with the Petty brand, but they also incurred expenses that came with the deal. The additional salaries — and lack of necessary sponsorship — led to a sizeable loss of manpower on the shop floor.
So one day before the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series entered the final race of the regular season, RPM announced its intent to switch to Ford in 2010 — a decision that Kahne learned about from a reporter four days prior to the announcement.
A day later came the inevitable blow-up between team owner George Gillett and Vice President and Managing Director of Competition Mark McArdle, the only manager — before and after the RPM merger — to provide a weekly track presence. A statement sent out from RPM on Thursday formalized McArdle's departure.
Kahne believes that McArdle did "a nice job" for RPM during his eight-year tenure. But with the current disarray of the company and McArdle's recent growing distance from the Gilletts, his absence won't likely make a difference.
"He's changed some things that I think have helped and benefitted us," Kahne said. "He's worked really hard and put in a lot of time. They had their issues with things and he's gone. He's been gone a week now and I think our team can step up and do a good job and they've shown it throughout the year. The company has showed it through good times and bad; they just keep working hard for all the cars."
Kahne, who qualified 11th for Sunday's Sylvania 300, has held up considerably well through all the confusion and transition. His early record in the No. 9 Dodge is more reflective of a younger driver adjusting to the outside distractions. In six Cup seasons, this marks just his second appearance in the Chase. Now, at 29, in the third year of his relationship with crew chief Kenny Francis, the pair has learned to distance itself from the drama at RPM. Although Kahne still feels the team is "a big part of Richard Petty Motorsports," he credits Francis with the No. 9 crew's ongoing success.
"When it's time to work, when it's time to go out on the track, we just block it out and go out and do our jobs," Kahne said. "I think a lot of that leadership comes from Kenny Francis and just how dedicated and strong minded he is to figure out how to win races and figure out how to run well. His team is behind him and they do the same thing. It's nice. We all know what's going on. We go out and close it out and just race. It's pretty nice to go out and see those guys do that each week.
"As far as the rest of the company, I think they're trying to build it and make it better; that's their ultimate goal. So it's difficult to see the paths that they're taking and how it's all working out and if it's the right way or wrong way, I don't know. That's one thing that, over this last couple weeks, I think our team has just tried to stay out of it and just do our thing. We'll find out soon enough I guess on what happens next."
What happens next for Kahne, won't likely be announced until sometime next year. His contract runs out with Gillett at the end of 2010. Popular opinion has the driver headed with Budweiser to Stewart-Haas Racing or without the brewer to Joe Gibbs Racing. Either way, competitive cars and stability will certainly be a selling point for any team courting Kahne for 2011.