How silly was NASCAR's annual "silly season" of preseason personnel moves? If judged on timing and duration, it counts as downright hilarious.
What kind of silly season has its first domino fall 22 months before the actual season begins? This one did, with Kasey Kahne (LEFT) deciding to join Hendrick Motorsports' 2012 roster...on April 14, 2010. The dust didn't clear on major seat-shuffling until AJ Allmendinger landed in Roger Penske's No. 22 Dodge just before Christmas 2011.
The long-running silliness will soon subside when cars finally hit the track leading up to Saturday night's Budweiser Shootout at Daytona International Speedway. The annual exhibition may shed light on how the new faces will fit in their new places ahead of the season-opening Daytona 500 (Feb. 26, 1 p.m ET, FOX), but plenty of questions still remain. Many questions are expected to be directed toward Kahne, one of the season's biggest wild cards.
The only drivers on more of a tear than Kahne during the home stretch of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup last season were title contenders Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards. Kahne could have been content to play out the string as a place-holder driver for the lame-duck Red Bull Racing team, which shut its doors just weeks after the season ended. Instead, he closed out his one-year Red Bull stint with seven top-10 finishes in the last eight races, highlighted by a convincing win at Phoenix International Raceway in the penultimate event of the season.
Momentum may be an abstract concept, but for Kahne, the biggest intangible on his side heading into 2012 is stability. Even though Kahne was a constant at the wheel of a red No. 9 for the first seven seasons of his career, the last four of those were spent in the turbulence of team restructuring as Evernham Motorsports became Gillett Evernham Motorsports, which eventually merged into Richard Petty Motorsports.
With the uncertainty behind him, Kahne enters the season with a four-year deal at one of NASCAR's most powerful teams.
"I have four years here that I know it's going to be stable and be competitive and have great people and a great team around me," said Kahne, who finished last in the 2011 edition of the Shootout. "To be able to be a part of all that is something that I haven't had. It's definitely nice to have it, makes you feel pretty good about where you're at. It's taken time. I've had some really good years in Cup and I've learned a lot from everything, and now I'm just in a really solid situation and need to take full advantage of it."
The 75-lap Shootout (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, airing live on FOX) will offer a glimpse into how NASCAR's new aerodynamic package will perform in race conditions and whether the two-car push technique will turn, as expected, into a rarely used tactic. Friday's two practice sessions (5:00 and 6:30 p.m. ET on SPEED) should reveal more.
What the Shootout won't do is necessarily predict a Daytona 500 champion; no one has swept both events since Dale Jarrett accomplished the feat in 2000.
The race distance will again be 75 laps (187.5 miles), consisting of two segments – 25 and 50 laps. Both green-flag laps and yellow-flag laps will count. Between segments there will be a 10-minute pit stop allowing teams to pit to change tires, add fuel and make normal chassis adjustments.
After the Shootout, attention shifts to pole qualifying for the Daytona 500. The first two spots in the "Great American Race" will be determined on Sunday. Hendrick Motorsports has won three of the last four poles.