On Tuesday afternoon, Leavine Family Racing announced Kasey Kahne will join the organization next season, replacing Michael McDowell. Hendrick Motorsports will release Kahne at the end of the 2017 season, and he was without a ride for a handful of weeks. McDowell now joins the circus of remaining free agents for the upcoming 2018 season. But thankfully for Kahne, he now has a ride.
Will Kasey Kahne’s move to Leavine Family Racing for the 2018 season resurrect his career?
Too Little Too Late
I’d be lying if I said I expected Kahne to become the first free agent from this season to find a full-time ride for next season. After all, there’s still a proven champion in the form of Matt Kenseth, an extremely marketable young budding star in Darrell Wallace Jr. and a still retired Carl Edwards, among other names.
But this sport works in mysterious ways. Kahne is still a capable driver of finding Victory Lane (see this year’s Brickyard 400), with some help, of course, and is also one of the most popular drivers in the sport. Being from Enumclaw, Washington, the Pacific Northwest fan base also has a loyal following to Kahne.
With that being said, Kahne’s move to LFR won’t make him the driver he once was.
Marry the smaller, underfunded team of with the now B-list driver of Kasey Kahne, and you have nothing more than a whole lot of being on the cusp of contending for wins and top 20 finishes.
The Kahne who was baby-faced, inexperienced and showed speed at Evernham is gone. So is the one we saw briefly as Red Bull Racing began, and so is the one that had a promising, championship caliber future at Hendrick Motorsports before ultimately regressing below the mean and struggling to compete for top 10s week in and week out.
That’s the reality of the situation. And we’re never going to get that Kahne back.
I’ll admit when I’m wrong, though. Earlier this year I said that “Kasey Kahne just doesn’t have it anymore.” He then went on to win at Indianapolis and make me look dumb.
But the point remains: this move isn’t doing much. Sure, a change of scenery can’t hurt Kahne. His tenure with HMS has been dismal and LFR is a team on the rise with promise. Heck, there have been comparisons to them being the next Furniture Row Racing, and that’s worked out pretty well for the Denver, Co. team.
Three drivers that come to mind for me that were in a similar situation as Kahne are Ricky Rudd, Bobby Labonte and Dale Jarrett. Those three went from larger teams to smaller ones. Some hoped for a change of pace, some hoped for more wins, and some just needed a new challenge.
Kahne needs all three of those things, but I wouldn’t bet on LFR providing that for him in the near future.
In this day and age of the sport, with super teams like JGR, HMS, SHR, Penske and now FRR, where does LFR fit in? Below them, that’s where.
Add up all those drivers and you get 16 spots. Then Kahne. Obviously he will not be outrun by all those drivers weekly, but more than not, he probably will be. Heck, if he couldn’t outrun them in a Hendrick car, what makes us think he can do better in the No. 95?
Kahne is a step up from McDowell, who did absolutely nothing wrong and got screwed out of a ride because of the business, by the way, so this was a move the team had to make.
The only remaining question is: was it the right one long term?
I don’t dislike Kahne, and I don’t like bashing on him. But the reality of this situation and the circumstances surrounding it dictate one realistic result for 2018: mediocrity. – Davey Segal
Kahne Will Rise
First off, let me just say that Kahne is lucky to have landed a gig, let alone this gig.
He lost all of his sponsors and has endured a couple of lackluster years in a row. It would have made perfect sense for him to have not landed a ride at all next season. With that said, signing with LFR is the perfect opportunity for Kahne to get a fresh start. He may even outperform his years at Hendrick Motorsports.
Kahne is a good driver. No, he is a great driver. He has 18 wins to his credit. No disrespect intended, but many want to put Buddy Baker in the Hall of Fame for having the exact same number of wins.
LFR is a team on the upswing. Last year was the first ever full time season for the team that has been around since 2011. Now, current driver McDowell sits inside of the top 25 in points for the first time in his career.
McDowell has been a huge part of that team’s rise, but Kahne has what it takes to take that organization the rest of the way.
I know Kahne’s tenure at HMS will be considered a failure, but he has seemed to do better at smaller teams where he is the primary driver. Kahne had a lot of success when he was with the two-car teams of Evernham Motorsports and Red Bull Racing.
The instance that this move most reminds me of is when Kurt Busch went to drive the No. 78 at Furniture Row Racing in 2013.
FRR, like LFR, started out as a small part time team a few years earlier. With Regan Smith behind the wheel, the team transformed into a full time competitor, even winning the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
However, it was not Smith that turned FRR into the title contender that it is today, it was Busch. He led the team to its first ever playoff appearance, paving the way for its eventual dominance with Martin Truex Jr.
At the time of the signing, nobody wanted Busch. His situation was a little different than Kahne’s, but like Kahne, it seemed like the 2004 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion was done. That is, until he got with a smaller team and it rejuvenated his career.
Part of Kahne’s problem at HMS and Busch’s problem when he was at Team Penske was the high expectations. Kahne, like Busch did at FRR, now enters a situation with low expectations, and as I like to say, “low expectations, high reward.”
Now, it’s not like I think Kahne will go out in the No. 95 and dominate en route to a championship. Not even close. But I do believe that he can turn the No. 95 from a top-25 team to a playoff contender.
Kahne will lead LFR to the point where it puts it own Truex-type driver behind the wheel and transforms into a force to be reckoned with. – 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.