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Silly season moving up

The term “silly season,” as used in the NASCAR world, means the stretch of time, usually late in the season, when teams, drivers and sponsors make changes in anticipation of the upcoming season.

In years past, silly season would begin in early September and last up until Speedweeks at Daytona the next year.

With much-sought-after sponsorship money becoming more scarce and top talent at a premium, each of the three parties—team owners, drivers and sponsors—are beginning to make announcements earlier and earlier. We are in full silly season mode in late April.

Two huge moves, Kasey Kahne signing with Hendrick Motorsports and Shell Pennzoil moving its sponsorship to Penske Racing, over the last 10 days have the potential to cause a mighty big domino effect on the make up of the 2011 season.

Rick Hendrick continues to prove that he is he best, by far, car owner in racing. No one even had an inkling that Kahne could end up in his camp after his contract with Richard Petty Motorsports expires after this season. The reason for that is Hendrick already has four drivers, the maximum under current NASCAR rules, under contract for next season.

The plan is for Kahne to step into the No. 5 car in 2012. Mark Martin is under contract to drive that car in 2011. So what happens to Kahne in 2011? Speculation abounds on that question, but I would bet just about anything that Rick Hendrick already has a solid plan in place.

Whichever car Kahne races in 2011, it will be a Chevrolet powered by Hendrick engines and on Hendrick chassis. Those facts narrow down the field considerably. A third Stewart Haas car is an obvious choice and bringing up the Nationwide team of JR Motorsports is another option. I think Kahne’s ride in 2011 is not so obvious; it will be the No. 5.

Even though Mark Martin is under contract to run for Hendrick in 2011 and says he will be racing somewhere on into 2012, Martin will not want to hold up the future of HMS or Kahne. He will step aside, allowing Kahne to drive the car. Martin could end up in a third Stewart Haas car, or a fourth car.

The other big announcement that could affect the plans of Tony Stewart is that Shell Pennzoil will move its sponsorship money from the No. 29 of Kevin Harvick to the newly numbered 22 of Kurt Busch and Penske Racing. And with Kahne moving teams, it would seemingly put the very lucrative sponsorship deal of Budweiser up for grabs.

At Penske, Busch, fresh off a recently signed contract extension, will drive the Shell Pennzoil 22 Dodge and Brad Keselowski will move to the “blue deuce” Miller Lite car.

Kevin Harvick is in the final year of his deal with Richard Childress Racing and this announcement could seal the deal that Happy will move to another team. Harvick is deeply tied to Chevrolet and will undoubtedly stay within that camp, so again the options are limited.

Could Harvick move over to his buddy Stewart’s team to drive a third, or possibly fourth, car? Makes sense to me, but it might make too much sense. There is still a slight possibly that Harvick remains with Childress. Maybe the Budweiser sponsorship would do the trick and keep Harvick at RCR.

Whatever happens, it will be fun to watch … and I get the feeling we are just getting started.