Kasey Kahne’s racing future, despite a rocky 2014 season is now secure. The driver signed a three-year extension with Hendrick Motorsports Thursday, keeping him in the No. 5 Chevrolet through the conclusion of the 2018 season. HMS also added a new primary sponsor; LiftMaster will pair with Kahne for three races a year, beginning next season to join existing backers Great Clips, Time Warner Cable and Farmers Insurance.
“I’ve found a home at Hendrick Motorsports,” said Kahne, whose contract was set to expire at the end of 2015. “We have incredible people and partners supporting us, and I couldn’t be more excited about the direction we’re headed as a team and a company. It’s the right place for me, and I’m looking forward to being here for a long time.”
Kahne came to HMS in 2012 after a one-year “layover” stop at now-defunct Team Red Bull. Initial results were promising, with four wins and two Chase appearances in his first two seasons but 2014 saw a slump in progress. Nearly missing the Chase, it took a win at Atlanta to sneak in under NASCAR’s new format and the No. 5 team ended the year with just three top-5 finishes, Kahne’s lowest total in seven years. The poor performance, especially compared to the other three HMS cars (who collected 12 wins) caused longtime crew chief Kenny Francis to be reassigned over the offseason. Speculation started mounting Kahne needed an incredible season next year to save his job; instead, owner Hendrick signed on the dotted line for more.
“It’s extremely gratifying to work with a driver like Kasey,” said Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports in a Thursday release. “I think the world of him both as a driver with championship-level talent and an overall terrific young man. Our whole organization has a great deal of respect for how hard he works, the professionalism he displays with our partners and the way he carries himself every day. We’re committed to winning races and competing for titles with him for many years to come.”
Kahne, 34, has 17 wins on the Sprint Cup level for his career, 83 top 5s, 146 top 10s and 26 poles. Best known as an intermediate track specialist, he’s earned three Coca-Cola 600 trophies at Charlotte, his greatest success coming in the sport’s longest race.
Kahne’s re-signing, along with Keith Rodden coming over from Chip Ganassi Racing to be his new crew chief settles personnel at the No. 5 team for the coming years. Now, speculation will now mount as to where young Chase Elliott will land; the Hendrick development driver just captured the Nationwide Series title for JR Motorsports at age 18. Elliott, who will run a limited Cup schedule in a fifth HMS Chevrolet next season is widely expected to move up full-time in 2016. However, NASCAR’s four-car, full-time rule precludes Hendrick from expanding and three of their drivers are now signed to long-term deals. Jeff Gordon has a lifetime contract with HMS and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is signed through 2017.
Jimmie Johnson, paired with the organization since 2002 also has his Hendrick Motorsports contract expiring in 2015 but is widely expected to re-sign along with crew chief Chad Knaus. Johnson, according to a conversation with Jenna Fryer of the Associated Press denied Elliott would move to the No. 48 car in 2016, claiming “someone else is in line for retirement before me.”
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