NASCAR: Kahne extension shouldn’t alter Chase Elliott’s future timeline

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This morning, Hendrick Motorsports has confirmed Kasey Kahne for a three-year extension through 2018. His contract had been set to expire at the end of 2015.

This is likely to be one of several contract-related stories you’ll soon hear or read about with Hendrick, in a year that has already featured several partner pieces of news (Nationwide upping with the 88 team, 3M moving to the 24 team).

First off, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is good on a multi-year deal. The 88 team likely will need to fill the races that were covered by the National Guard next season – the team hasn’t publicly confirmed its exit but did well earlier this year to prepare for the possibility, and this was before the National Guard issued its own statement of withdrawal – but other than that things should be good to go.

Jimmie Johnson is next to get sorted. “Six-time” is good through 2015, and you figure he would be next in line for an extension. The question you have with JJ is whether Hendrick would extend it to a lifetime-type contract as is currently the case with Jeff Gordon.

Which then brings us to Gordon, and where he fits in with Hendrick protege and Nationwide (now XFINITY Series) champion Chase Elliott, who’s only 18 but of course is destined to move up to Cup – eventually.

Gordon’s new 3M deal is locked in through 2017. Other partners including Axalta, Drive to End Hunger, Panasonic, and Pepsi are all part of the 24 team’s partner lineup.

The question really is how long Gordon wants to drive full-time, because the 24 car is earmarked for Elliott down the road. According to Gordon during a Twitter chat, that could be several years.

The car number doesn’t appear as though it would switch to the 9 – as Elliott has run in Nationwide/XFINITY – as Richard Petty Motorsports’ Sammy Johns shot down that notion when announcing Sam Hornish Jr. for next year and beyond.

So where can Elliott fit? He’ll run a full XFINITY season next year and try to do what has been done three times in the last 16 years: win back-to-back titles. Dale Jr. did that in 1998 and 1999, Martin Truex Jr. in 2004 and 2005 and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in 2011 and 2012 (maybe Elliott needs a Jr. in his name?). In each of those second seasons, Earnhardt, Truex and Stenhouse made their Cup debuts.

So it stands to reason you’ll see Elliott making his Cup race debut in 2015 – somewhere. Doug Duchardt, Hendrick GM, confirmed the likelihood of that on SIRIUS XM Radio.

Hendrick Motorsports added an extra part-time car since running Johnson for a couple of races in 2001 for Kyle Busch in 2004, and Brad Keselowski in 2008 and 2009.

If Elliott is ready to make the jump in 2016, as he should be, he’d replace Gordon in the 24 only if Gordon opts to leave on his own (the decision should be Gordon’s choice, not Hendrick’s).

Assuming Gordon stays past 2015 into 2016 as is likely, Elliott could be off-loaded into a Stewart-Haas Racing seat (SHR utilizes Hendrick engines and chassis), or another Hendrick/Chevrolet satellite team such as HScott Motorsports.

The other thing to consider too is the commercial side of the equation. NAPA is now out at the Cup level and hypothetically could move back in with Elliott. If NAPA comes in, then Hendrick would have to figure out a way to mix-and-match NAPA with its existing commercial partners on the 24. NAPA, traditionally, has run most if not all 36 races as a primary sponsor at the Cup level, rather than share with an existing primary partner.

It would likely be easier for NAPA to come in as a primary sponsor to another car to run the bulk of the schedule, rather than try to share the spotlight with the 24’s primaries.

The takeaway from today’s Kahne news though is that it doesn’t affect Elliott’s outlook as much as you might think.

Hendrick believes enough in Kahne long-term – at 34, he is nine years younger than Gordon, six younger than Earnhardt and five younger than Johnson – to invest in him knowing he will eventually have to prepare for the future by losing one of those three drivers in the next several years.

And that’s where Elliott still fits in. He’s still a part of the long-term plan for Hendrick Motorsports.

But his actual Hendrick Motorsports arrival date may have just been pushed back a year or two.

F1 aggressive on COVID-19 testing, social distancing enforcement

F1 COVID-19 testing
Mario Renzi - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images
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With big hugs and wide smiles, McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown exuberantly celebrated the first podium finish of Lando Norris’ Formula One career. His exuberance earned a warning from Formula One and FIA officials during the era of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and subsequent F1 testing.

“Obviously I got excited with Lando on the podium and embraced him after the race,” Brown said with a laugh during a news conference Friday. “You get caught up in the emotion and excitement of the event, but it was suggested maybe I don’t do that again if we get a podium anytime soon.”

MASK WARNING: NASCAR tells teams to avoid ‘complacency’

Now in its second race weekend of 2020, F1 has taken an aggressive approach to maintain a paddock free of COVID-19. Before teams hit the track last week for the season-opening Austrian Grand Prix, F1 and FIA officials said more than 4,000 tests were conducted over a week with no positive tests.

In order to enter the track, any F1 personnel (which includes drivers and team members) must have a negative COVID-19 test. Private testing was used ahead of those traveling to Austria. After entering the track, personnel are tested every five days with private medical teams at events along with extra screening.

The results of F1 COVID-19 testing also will be made public every seven days. More than 8,000 tests were conducted through Saturday.

It’s a much different tack from NASCAR and IndyCar, neither of which is conducting COVID-19 testing (and with NASCAR recently distributing that warned teams of “complacency with protocols).

Though Brown, who also oversees Arrow McLaren SP Motorsports in IndyCar, demurred when asked whether the U.S.-based series should be taking a cue, he praised F1 COVID-19 testing for being a best-in-class example.

“I don’t know exactly what every other racing series is doing, so it would be difficult for me to say they’re doing it right or wrong,” Brown said from Austria. “All I can really do is speak to what Formula One is doing, and they’re doing an unbelievable job with 5,000 tests, and people flying in from different parts of the world. The minute that someone — and there’s not been many instances – has taken a mask off, you’re getting a letter or a phone call saying put your mask back on.

“I think all sports should be looking at all sports and seeing who’s doing what and what are our best practices, but I’ve got nothing but great things to say about how the FIA and Formula One and the countries they’re racing in are executing because it feels extremely safe here.”

Brown said it’s unlikely the European-based circuit will do F1 COVID-19 testing at races in the United States, Brazil, Mexico and Canada because the events likely will be scrubbed. Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas, was scheduled to play host to F1 on the Oct. 23-25 race weekend but just canceled its MotoGP race.

“We’d very much like to race at all those circuits,” Brown said. “Unfortunately, my opinion is it’s probably unlikely we’ll race at any of those venues this year. That’s obviously due to the COVID situation. … Let’s see what happens, but certainly it seems like the spikes in Texas are pretty severe and Brazil and Mexico and Canada a little less so. But if we miss them this year, we certainly look forward to going back to those venues next year.”