Friday, April 16, 2010
Gillett says RPM will rebound
By Terry Blount
FORT WORTH, Texas -- Foster Gillett, the managing partner of Richard Petty Motorsports and son of team owner George Gillett Jr., said Friday the team will recover from Kasey Kahne's decision to leave RPM after this year and sign with Hendrick Motorsports.
Gillett said he knows Kahne's departure, along with some financial difficulties his family is experiencing, have caused doubts about RPM's future.
"Many people last year were saying the same thing," Gillett said. "You know what? We're still here. We survived and thrived and we'll do it again. When change like this happens, it opens up opportunities for others. We are focusing on the opportunities we have more than what we lose."
Kahne, who drives the No. 9 Ford for RPM, announced Tuesday he is leaving the organization at the end of the season. He will drive the No. 5 Chevy for Hendrick no later than 2012. On Friday, 51-year-old Mark Martin ended any speculation that he would abandon the Hendrick seat early, saying he would be driving in 2011. He said also plans to be racing in 2012, though it isn't clear how much or for whom.
"To have the opportunity with Rick Hendrick and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports, to me it's an unbelievable opportunity," Kahne said Friday before qualifying fifth for Sunday's race at Texas Motor Speedway. "Now I'm focused again on just making sure that the 9 car, our whole Budweiser Ford team, works well together and communicates well together, do everything we can the rest of this season to perform, enjoy ourselves, win races. And I still feel like we have a shot at the Chase."
The move leaves RPM in limbo after losing its star driver. The other three drivers for RPM -- AJ Allmendinger, Paul Menard and Elliott Sadler -- also have contracts that expire at the end of 2010.
"It's a work in progress next season for our driver lineup," Gillett said. "That's not a secret. We are working to have the best drivers we can. Richard preaches to us to focus on building the best race cars we can and we'll have sponsors and drivers."
Gillett said he hopes to keep Budweiser, which sponsors Kahne's car.
"My family has a wonderful relationship with Anheuser Busch," Gillett said. "We will put out a maximum effort to keep them. If they ask me to run through this wall, I'll do it."
George Gillett is in the process of restructuring a $90 million debt on a loan that's in default. The Gillett family also is trying to sell its interest in the Liverpool soccer team of the English Premier League.
"It's no secret that my family is looking at all our options and doing all we can," Foster Gillett said. "The more liquidity we have, the better it is for NASCAR.
"This is a process we're trying to go through. We're nearing closure on that and I think good news is ahead. We've made a number of enormous changes to get better. I really believe in what we've done."
RPM merged with Yates Racing in the offseason and switched from Dodge to Ford. RPM's top driver in the standings after seven races is Menard in 15th.
Gillett had good things to say about Kahne and believes the No. 9 team will race well the rest of the season. Kahne ranks 26th in the standings, but made the Chase last year.
"We are focused more on what we can do while we have him," Gillett said. "A lot of teams would take a 30-race contract with Kasey. He's one of the best guys in the sport and we are honored to have him.
"I know what a gentleman Kasey is. He's a quality person and he has great ability as a race car driver. If you give him great equipment he'll go win, and I believe we have a championship-caliber team in the 9. I know Kasey will do his best to uphold all his commitments."
Gillett emphasized that he and his father are committed to NASCAR for the long haul.
"My family made a choice to be in NASCAR," he said. "We've learned some hard lessons and I have to take responsibility for how things have gone. We've had some hardships, but we've gone through worse."
Gillett also said he has no hard feelings about Rick Hendrick signing Kahne.
"I've learned a lot out of this from watching Mr. Hendrick," Gillett said. "I'm 34 and I want what he has. These things are cyclical. Mr. Hendrick is on a wonderful run. He has wonderful people because he treats them well. The bar has been set high and they are wonderful champions. But if he slips up, we'll gain ground."
Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.