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Monday, April 19, 2010
Hendrick has something up his sleeve


CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- While sifting through all the news conference transcripts from the weekend at rain-plagued Texas Motor Speedway -- and hoping they finally get to race Monday -- the following comment by Mark Martin jumped out.

"I'm going to drive for a long time, and I might get involved in other capacities as well," Martin said. "For the first time ever, I would consider an opportunity like Tony Stewart had. I don't want to be an owner, but if I can be an owner like Tony Stewart, maybe I want it."

Maybe this is part of the master plan Rick Hendrick has for Kasey Kahne in 2011.

Stick with me here.

Martin made it clear Friday that he doesn't plan to give Kahne the wheel to the No. 5 Chevrolet at Hendrick Motorsports before 2012. He also made it clear he plans to drive in 2012 and perhaps beyond.

But until now the 51-year-old Martin never showed any interest in owning a team.

So what if Hendrick offered to supply Martin engines and chassis for a new team as he did Stewart in 2009, when the two-time Sprint Cup champion took over Haas Racing? Stewart proved such an arrangement could work from the get-go, putting his car and teammate Ryan Newman's in the Chase in their first season.

Maybe the ownership could be part of third team at Stewart-Haas. Maybe it could be with another Chevrolet organization that could use the experience and expertise of a veteran such as Martin to take it to another level as Stewart did at Haas.

Hendrick could put Kahne in that car for a year and then flip the drivers in 2012 when Kahne is scheduled to replace Martin. If you really want to use your imagination, Kenny Francis and many of his crew now with Kahne at Richard Petty Motorsports could move over and run that team, making it even stronger as a start-up organization.

Take it another step and sponsor Budweiser could move there as well, backing Kahne for a year and then moving to Martin. According to reports, Budweiser isn't likely to move to HMS with Kahne anyway because of Hendrick's longtime affiliation with Pepsi.

Think about it: This would solve Hendrick's dilemma of what to do with Kahne, keep Martin in racing with sponsorship and give HMS another way to circumvent NASCAR's four-car cap.

You also need to consider that Stewart and officials at JR Motorsports, the most obvious choices for Kahne to land next year, said they'd had no conversations about Kahne before Hendrick announced the deal last week.

And as owner Joe Gibbs said over the weekend, he believes Kahne already knows where he'll be racing in 2011.

You know Hendrick has something up his sleeve, and helping make Martin an owner might just be it.

"I've been in the sport long enough to know and have the confidence to know that really interesting opportunities come up," Martin said. "And they will, and they'll be fun and exciting, and I'll explore driving and other things as well."