CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Kasey Kahne will finish this season driving for Red Bull Racing, a move made possible when Richard Petty Motorsports granted him an early release, presumably to dump the remainder of his contract.
Kahne will finish this year in the No. 83 Toyota, Red Bull said Thursday. He's signed to drive for Hendrick Motorsports in 2012 and is moving to Red Bull next year as a one-season stopgap.
With the early switch, Red Bull now must make the final two payments on Kahne's contract, and he could be owed at least $2 million.
"With our agreement only being for one year, there is a great sense of urgency to get started on 2011," Red Bull general manager Jay Frye said. "With Kasey coming earlier than planned, we are excited to have a five-race head start."
Two people familiar with Kahne joining Red Bull said he'll replace Scott Speed next year in the two-driver lineup. Kahne will take over Speed's No. 82 team, but the car number will be changed to No. 4 to mimic what Kahne uses in sprint car competition.
The two people spoke on condition of anonymity because Red Bull has not announced its full 2011 plans.
The flurry of activity came as uncertainty swirled around RPM, which is co-owned by George Gillett Jr. and seven-time NASCAR champion Richard Petty. The organization has been plagued by rumors of shaky financial footing for almost two years, and it's heated up again as Gillett tried last week to block a sale of the Liverpool soccer club to John Henry and his New England Sports Ventures group.
This past week has been chaotic for RPM, which had its final falling out with Kahne in last Saturday night's race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Kahne wrecked fairly early, and after his No. 9 Ford was repaired, he said he was too ill to get back on the track.
The team used J.J. Yeley to finish the race, and Kahne was up early Sunday morning running a 5K as a fundraiser for his foundation. He said after the run that his brakes had failed for the third time this season, second time in three races, and he was tired of the nonsense at RPM.
He also said a RPM employee he refused to identify questioned Kahne's commitment.
"I was told that I needed to start doing my part; (that) is what one guy told me last night after the race," Kahne said. "I can't control the issues I've had this year. I don't know how many parts I've broke. If I really thought about it, I could come up with all kinds of stuff.
"You can't control that as a driver. I'm doing my part. I just need the car. I work as hard as anybody out there."
RPM said it will use Aric Almirola in its car this weekend at Martinsville Speedway.
The team signed AJ Allmendinger to an extension to stay in the No. 43 — Petty's iconic car — and is adding Marcos Ambrose to the lineup next year.
Ambrose is replacing Kahne, and Elliott Sadler has said he's been told RPM is not bringing him back next year.