At first glance Kasey Kahne's early exit from Richard Petty Motorsports isn't that big of a surprise. Kahne isn't the first driver to leave an organization before his contract officially expires to get a jump on next season. We've seen several high-profile drivers in recent years make an early exodus from their lame duck status in attempt to get a head start on the next phase of their careers.
But dig a little deeper and the story reveals some bigger issues and the potential for disaster at Richard Petty Motorsports. Kahne's unhappiness with the organization, which came to a head after last Saturday night's race in Charlotte when he left the track after crashing with Sam Hornish Jr. but not before voicing his frustration about what he believed to be inferior equipment and the lack of leadership within the team, was something made known months prior.
When Kahne signed an unprecedented agreement to join Hendrick Motorsports two years down the road in 2012, he vowed to give his total effort to RPM and the No. 9 ride before exiting. And indeed there were times when Kahne and the team looked to be on the same page with results to prove it, most recently a fourth place finish in Fontana two weeks ago.
However more often than not Kahne was saddled with equipment issues including a series of brake failures that finally seemed to add up to last Saturday's explosion.
All along Kahne has insinuated his team may not have had the resources originally promised. It seems he may be right on target with that assessment.
No sooner was Kahne's official release from the team announced before information about the financial instability of RPM began to surface. Money issues with team co-owner George Gillett, who is also involved in the contentious sale and purchase of Liverpool Football Club of the English Premier League, have apparently leaked down into the Petty operation. The financial strain is so severe, there were reports that Roush Fenway Racing, which through a partnership agreement supplies equipment to RPM, has halted its assembly line and after Martinsville the Petty stable would dry up.
It now appears the team is safe through Talladega but after that, all bets are off.
With this swirling whirlwind of negativity, it's no wonder Kahne's level of comfort was off even with just five races remaining on his deal.
Since what is currently known as Richard Petty Motorsports was founded by former championship-winning crew chief Ray Evernham in 2000, the organization has gone through what seems like a yearly reshuffling. Gillett came in for a partnership in 2007, after a failed deal with the Boston Ventures Company did not yield any additional funding or sponsorships, and since then the team has restructured several times to its current four car lineup.
That was supposed to contract to a two-car effort in 2011 with A.J. Allmendinger signed to continue driving the iconic No. 43 entry and Marcos Ambrose set to take Kahne's spot in the 9 ride. Sponsorship was reported to be in place for that effort.
However the recent turn of events has many wondering if there will even be a RPM entity next year with several sources reporting many team employees have been inquiring about opportunities with other organizations.
No one from RPM has publicly commented on the proceedings other than the official release which was distributed late Wednesday evening announcing Kahne's exit. Kahne will address the assembled media Friday afternoon at Martinsville.
Perhaps he will shed some light on what for now appears to be a very dark situation.