As a lifelong fan of the Kansas City Royals, I know the phrase "wait 'til next year" all too well. And heck, even I'm guilty of it recently, wondering what the Royals would do with possibly a new general manager, a new manager, and $12 million off the books in the form of Jose Guillen's rotten contract. I've countlessly fired up my XBox and rebuilt the virtual-Royals and Chiefs, hoping that one day they'd find someone as smart as myself to be in charge.
In the Sprint Cup Series, there's no rebuilding. You either have it or you don't. And if you don't have it, you better get it soon, for fear of losing your job or your sponsor. Maybe that's Corporate America's fault, as many big time sponsors don't want to shell out millions for a driver who may be good in a couple years. They want one who's marketable now, and who could win races now. So "wait 'til next year" is still a relatively new phenomenon in modern NASCAR.
Recently it had been picking up steam as three of the last four seasons have had major big-name driver drama more than a dozen races before the Chase. Dale Earnhardt Jr. started it in 2007, Tony Stewart followed suit in 2008, and now Kasey Kahne has proven that things really do come in threes this week. But unlike Junior or Smoke, Kahne's deal with Hendrick Motorsports is for 2012, not the next season.
So wait 'til two years?
Silly Season was already bad enough with the aforementioned moves. No other sport allows its participants to sign contracts before their current contracts are up. And in the case of the NFL, offseason contract drama and the draft have made it virtually a 12 month sport even though teams are only in pads from late July to early February. Heck, the NBA is looking at their most popular summer in ages as LeBron James will sign his next contract. Instead of falling off of the casual basketball fan's radar as baseball trudges on and NFL training camp gets ready to start, the NBA will be making headlines on SportsCenter (and Yahoo! Sports, of course) almost every day from after the last game of the NBA Finals until LeBron signs his next contract and beyond.
And to take it a step further, what if in July James announces that he's signed a contract, but at the press conference says that he's signed to play for the New York Knicks in the 2012-2013 season, and that his plans for the upcoming year were still to be determined.
How awkward would that be? That's what just happened in NASCAR, minus the fact that there's still 29 races left in the 2010 season.
With the pending announcement of Kahne's signature on the deal, Hendrick Motorsports has set a dangerous precedent that's sure to change the way that contracts are handled in motorsports. No longer is it only fair game to sign contracts for the upcoming season, but for years in advance.
To be fair to Kahne and Hendrick, they're not antagonists simply by making this deal. With RPM's future in limbo, Kahne had to maximize his value as soon as he could, and with options available for the 2011 season (*cough* Stewart-Haas *cough*) Rick Hendrick would be a fool to not go after Kahne.
As we've seen before, NASCAR contracts are a lot different than contracts in other sports, and something like this is only acceptable in American motorsports. And quite frankly, it shouldn't.
Brian France, Mike Helton and others need to take a strong look at how contracts are dealt with in the Cup Series. A simple solution would be to take a page from the NFL or MLB and allow in-season contract negotiations only with drivers and their current teams. If a driver wants to make a move at the end of the season, or a team does not want that driver to return, the contract simply has to expire and once the clock strikes midnight on Dec. 1, other teams can contact said driver to begin negotiations. And of course, all contracts signed would have to include the upcoming season.
But I don't put the odds of that happening anytime soon, so we're left with a new precedent in NASCAR, as there are officially 65 points races until Kahne starts his driving duties for his new contract. Doesn't that seem like an eternity? It's now plausible that if something isn't done, that someone could sign a contract to take over Jeff Gordon's car when Gordon finally retires.
Oh wait ... I just did.