LOUDON, N.H. - Kasey Kahne knows his Richard Petty Motorsports team can't afford a slow start when the Chase for the championship begins on Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
"We need to keep team morale up and keep everybody thinking 'Hey, we can have a shot at it,'" Kahne said.
It's about the only thing the driver of the No. 9 Dodge knows for sure these days.
Kahne's return to NASCAR's 12-driver Chase after a two-year absence has given RPM a much-needed confidence boost, but it's done little to quell the uncertainty surrounding the team.
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Last week RPM unveiled a plan to merge with Yates Racing in 2010, a deal that remains short on details other than a switch from Dodge to Ford. Days later vice president Mark McArdle left the team after an apparent falling out with RPM co-owner George Gillett.
Ask Kahne who's speaking for RPM these days and he just shrugs.
"There's not a lot of answers out there right now, I don't know if it's because we're in the middle of a lot of things or we just don't have a person in that position," Kahne said.
Kahne and crew chief Kenny Francis are trying to block everything out and just focus on building fast cars, but it hasn't always been easy. The lack of strong leadership or a coherent message can be distracting, though Kahne is quick to praise his team's determination despite the constant whispers about the future.
"It's been nice to see how hard those guys are working and the good job that they do when sometimes they really don't know what is going to happen the next day," Kahne said.
Neither does he.
While Kahne feels like a "major part" of RPM, he's not exactly close with teammates Elliott Sadler, A.J. Allmendinger or Reed Sorenson, either on the track - no other RPM driver is in the top 20 in points - or in the garage.
Though there isn't necessarily a rift, Kahne's contract with RPM expires at the end of 2010. In a sport where teams thrive on continuity - see Hendrick Motorsports - RPM's blurry future could weigh on Kahne's decision.
"It crosses my mind, it has to," he said. "You think about what other teams are doing and where we're at and we're actually running really well. It crosses my and things, but I still like the people I work with."
Maybe nobody more than Francis.
"If I didn't have him, I'd be a mess," Kahne said. "I just call Kenny and we talk about racing."
There's been plenty to talk about over the last three months. Kahne surged into the Chase behind wins at Sonoma and Atlanta, and his ability to salvage respectable finishes on days when he didn't have the best car helped him end a frustrating two-year stretch on the outside of NASCAR's playoffs looking in.
Kahne has only four finishes in the bottom half of the field this year, including just one in the last 16 races. He'll need to do even better if he wants to end Jimmie Johnson's three-year run atop the sport.
"We're going to have to step our consistency up and run further (up front)," he said. "We've had a quieter 8-13 (finish) consistency and we're going to have to sneak that up a little higher into the top 10 and probably win a race or two if (we) want to win a championship."
It'd be a lot to think about even without the off-the-track drama at RPM. A little peace of mind would be nice. So would some answers. From anybody.
"You still need to keep your team and your guys and your company behind you knowing what's going on, but we don't have that," he said. "Hopefully we get that soon. the sooner we get that the better it'll be."