Before Kasey Kahne could join Hendrick Motorsports in 2012, first he had to spend a purgatory year at Red Bull Racing. In his one season with Red Bull Kahne recorded one win, a number of Top-10’s and called it the “most fun season” of his NASCAR career. So the question is, could Kasey Kahne have saved Red Bull if he didn’t have a contract with Hendrick for the 2012 season?
How Did Kahne Even End Up At Red Bull?
After signing a deal with Hendrick during the 2010 season HMS needed to find a place for Kahne to run the 2011 season.
Red Bull Racing had an open seat for the 2011 season after not re-signing Scott Speed to the #82 car. So in the fall of 2010 after being released from his contract by Richard Petty Motorsports, Kahne took over Brian Vickers #83 car for the final 5 races of the season. Vickers was sidelined in 2010 due to a blood clot condition.
In 2011, Kahne would move to the #82 car which was renumbered to the #4, and Vickers took over his regular #83 car once again.
In June of 2011, the AP reported that Red Bull planned to leave the sport at the end of the 2011 season. With Kasey Kahne on a 1-year loan, Brian Vickers underperforming, and without high profile drivers clamoring to join the team it was the end of the road for the team. Red Bull development driver Cole Whitt did run the final two races of the season in a third car for the team. With Whitt being the last hurrah, Red Bull closed up shop on December 8th of that year.
Red Bull failed to embed themselves with the 18-36-year-old demographic in the United States as it had in Formula 1. NASCAR fans were less impressed with the Austrian energy company. Instead, they more enamored with slapping green M’s on the back of their F-150. Combine that with drivers who didn’t necessarily fit their mold of young, interesting, and incredibly fast. Red Bull’s foray into NASCAR was a disheveled mess.
At one point in the 2008 season, 50-year old Mike Skinner hopped in the #84 car for seven races. AJ Allmendinger and Scott Speed were rushed into the Cup Series after open-wheel careers. Brian Vickers who gave the team their first win before suffering from blood clot issues. Those blood clot issues saw a slew of drivers run through the #83 seat that season. From Boris Said to Casey Mears, to Mattias Ekstrom, to Reed Sorenson, Red Bull never stood a chance. The approach that worked in Europe when it came to drivers didn’t work in NASCAR.
Could Kasey Kahne Have Saved Red Bull?
Kasey Kahne joined Red Bull Racing for the 2011 season while the team faced an uncertain future. Joined by longtime Crew Chief Kenny Francis the two helped resurrect Red Bull. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to keep Red Bull in NASCAR.
Kahne recorded 1 win at the Phoenix Fall race, 8 Top-5s, and 15 Top-10s finishing 14th in the point standings. It wasn’t the best year of Kasey Kahne’s career but he said it was “the most fun” year of his career.
Red Bull had been clamoring for a driver like Kasey Kahne. A young, vibrant, marketable driver who looked great on adverts while also performing on the track. He was exactly what Red Bull envisioned when they came to the sport. Unfortunately, they got him at the worst possible time.
If Kasey Kahne had joined Red Bull before signing his deal with Hendrick there is a strong possibility Red Bull continues in NASCAR past the 2011 season. Kahne enjoyed himself so much that year that he likely turns down any deal to stay where he’s at.
Red Bull could still be in NASCAR if they got Kahne earlier than 2011. Signing Kahne to a long term deal then could have convinced another veteran driver to join the team. Just like that Red Bull and their red rear wheels could have been a stalwart in the Cup garage.
Instead, Red Bull exited the sport after the 2011 season. Kasey Kahne moved to Hendrick in 2012 where he saw mediocre results in his 6 seasons with the team. And NASCAR missed out on a great opportunity for a young brand to continue in the sport.
Of course in typical Red Bull fashion, they’d have threatened to quit every 18 months if they stayed.
Follow us on Twitter @ApexOff