Kasey Kahne has had his fair share of success at NASCAR’s premier level, but none as of late. In fact, the driver of the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet has 17 wins in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series over 14 seasons yet hasn’t won a race in almost three full seasons, 97 races to be exact.
Will Kahne ever win a race again in the Cup Series?
Time To Move On
We can’t sugarcoat it any longer: Kasey Kahne just doesn’t have it anymore.
Kahne does have two top-five finishes this season, but that’s only one shy of his total top fives from last season. That shows that he hasn’t been competing or finishing races out for the past couple years. He also only has three top-10 results thus far in 2017.
Driving one of the elite vehicles in all of motorsport, that shouldn’t be acceptable.
Kahne is no Jimmie Johnson, and I’m by no means saying that Kahne’s lack of championships warrants his ouster of the No. 5 ride. But when you look at the totality of Kahne’s performances for the past three full seasons, really, it’s simply not good enough.
Out of the “Power Five” teams in the Monster Energy Cup Series (Gibbs, Hendrick, Stewart-Haas, Penske and Furniture Row), there are only two-three drivers out of the 16 that come to mind in terms of underperforming. Danica Patrick from Stewart-Haas Racing, who sits 23rd in the standings, maybe Dale Earnhardt Jr. from Hendrick Motorsports and Kahne, who sits 21st in the standings.
Patrick has been rumored to be out of the No. 10 ride as soon as the end of 2017, and we know that Earnhardt Jr. is hanging up his MENCS helmet at seasons end as well. But someone we are unsure of is Kahne. We know that his contract runs through the 2018 season, but a lack of sponsorship for the upcoming season and poor performance could throw a wrench into Kahne’s NASCAR plans next year.
Plus, Kahne has other interests outside of the MENCS, which is completely fine. In fact, more than fine. If a driver doesn’t have a real passion for something outside of NASCAR racing, they’re an anomaly in the garage nowadays. Kasey Kahne Racing (KKR9), his dirt track team, has grown and grown since its inception, much in part thanks to Kahne himself. He can be found on social media constantly posting about KKR9 and everything that comes along with it.
That’s, of course, completely speculation on my part, but I’ve felt this way for the past couple years. Kahne isn’t and has not been 100 percent focused on NASCAR, and that’s the main reason why his performance on-track has suffered drastically.
In all fairness to him, though, HMS as a company hasn’t been up to snuff. Put aside the Johnson for a second and look at everybody else. Chase Elliott dazzled in his rookie season, but hasn’t had as solid as a sophomore season he’s wanted. Earnhardt Jr. can’t seem to finish inside the top 15 and Kahne has been, well, disappointing to say the least.
Kahne hasn’t made the playoffs the past two seasons and shows no signs of making them this season. He has only won more than two races in a single season once, more than a decade ago in 2006 with the now defunct Evernham Motorsports. He’s lost two main longtime sponsors in Farmers Insurance and Great Clips. He has a huge investment personally and professionally in his dirt team. He has a young child that he wants to see grow up, and there are multiple young drivers in the HMS pipeline chomping at the bit.
As much as I’d like to see Kahne win another race in his career and compete week in and week out, it ain’t happening. – Davey Segal
Kahne Will Rise Once More
I do not know when, where or how, but Kasey Kahne will find his way into Victory Lane again at some point in the future.
Despite the slump, despite the winless streak and the playoff drought, Kahne still knows how to win. Deep down in his soul, he still knows the route to the Winner’s Circle.
It is not a Danica Patrick situation where the results and wins have never been there. Kahne has 17 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series wins to his credit. He has made it to the playoffs five times in his career.
Kahne’s drought is not a reflection of him being old and washed up. He is 37 years old. My rule of thumb is that a driver has approximately 20 years of being competitive. Kahne has been in the Cup Series for 14 years, so he has six more years left in the tank where he has the potential to win races.
Kahne won at least one race a year in eight of his first 11 seasons in MENCS. Most of those years were spent with some teams that were in sketchy financial situations as seen when he continued to win in the No. 9 as it went from Evernham Motorsports to Gillett Evernham Motorsports to Richard Petty Motorsports. He even won a race with Red Bull Racing the year it closed its doors.
Imagine the success Kahne could have had if those teams were on steady ground during that time frame.
So the question lingers, if Kahne had so much success with struggling teams, why has he in turn struggled with the superpower Hendrick Motorsports?
There are two main reasons, with the first one being the crew chief.
Kenny Francis was Kahne’s crew chief from 2006 to 2014. He followed Kahne from Evernham to Red Bull to Hendrick and the pairing amassed 16 wins, averaging just under two per season. Kahne has never made the playoffs without Francis.
In Kahne’s first season at Hendrick, he finished a career-high fourth in the standings with Francis as his crew chief.
Like so many other crew chiefs, once he tasted success, Francis took the opportunity to further his career. He was promoted to be HMS’s Vehicle Technical Director.
In stepped Keith Rodden to take the reigns of the No. 5 Chevrolet, whose claim to fame is that he won the 2014 All-Star Race with Jamie McMurray. Other than that, Rodden has done nothing as a crew chief. Now in his fourth season as a crew chief and third with Kahne, he has yet to win a points-paying race or make the playoffs.
Typically, in this situation, it would be expected for the team owner to swap crew chiefs. Hendrick could swap Rodden for the No. 88 crew chief since both cars are struggling or bring in someone new altogether.
Kahne could win again if he got a better crew chief, but the problem is that Rodden is likely a good friend of his. The two go way back, as Rodden has worked on Kahne’s car since the Evernham days and slowly worked his way up to becoming his crew chief.
Kahne is being loyal to his friend and the result is a career-long winless streak and the loss of two major sponsors in Farmer’s Insurance and Great Clips. On the current trajectory, Kahne will be without a seat in the Hendrick stable if he keeps Rodden as the crew chief.
Earnhardt Jr. was plagued by a similar problem when he had his cousin, Tony Eury Jr. as his crew chief. You never want to fire family, but he only won two races during that span. When Steve Letarte started calling the shots for the No. 88, Earnhardt won five races in the next four seasons.
The other issue for Kahne is that he is the fourth Hendrick driver, or the “forgotten Hendrick driver,” as I like to call him. HMS is one of the greatest teams of all time, but it has always struggled to field three or four equal cars.
In the 1990s, Jeff Gordon and Terry Labonte were winning championships while Ken Schrader and Ricky Craven accomplished little. A decade later, Gordon and Jimmie Johnson were dominant, but Labonte, Joe Nemechek, Brian Vickers and Casey Mears had mixed results.
With Johnson’s continuous record-breaking, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s retirement tour and Chase Elliott’s quest for his first victory, Kahne is the team’s afterthought.
Given the way that he can thrive with a smaller team, I believe Kahne would quickly find a way to win if he went somewhere like Furniture Row Racing, Wood Brothers Racing or JTG Daugherty Racing to replace Erik Jones, Ryan Blaney or Chris Buescher, since all three are on loan from bigger teams. He might also be a good fit in the No. 10 at Stewart-Haas Racing.
Look how a change of scenery has rejuvenated the careers of Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer.
The bottom line is that if Kahne can find a team that appreciates him and a crew chief that knows how to win, then he will be a force to be reckoned with in the NASCAR garage once again. -Michael Massie
About the author
Davey is in his fifth season with Frontstretch and currently serves as a multimedia editor and reporter. He authors the "NASCAR Mailbox" column, spearheads the site's video content and hosts the Frontstretch Podcast weekly. He's covered the K&N Pro Series and ARCA extensively for NASCAR.com and currently serves as an associate producer for SiriusXM NASCAR Radio and production assistant for NBC Sports Washington. Follow him on Twitter @DaveyCenter.
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