NASCAR playoff driver Kasey Kahne to drive for Leavine Family Racing in 2018 – CBSSports.com
Kasey Kahne will drive the No. 95 Chevrolet Camaro for Leavine Family Racing next season. The 2004 Rookie of the Year has been with Hendrick Motorsports for the past five seasons and learned in August not only that would he not return but the team would be scrapping the No. 5 in exchange for NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott’s No. 9, which will be driven by his son Chase Elliott.
Since arriving at Team Hendrick, Kahne has six checkered flags. The most recent one coming at the 2017 Brickyard 400 when he dramatically clinched his spot in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. In addition to the win he has four top-10 finishes and began his title pursuit with a 21st-place finish at Chicagoland last weekend.
“The opportunity will be a challenge, but also a lot of fun,” Kahne said in an interview with NASCAR.com. “I enjoy a challenge and I enjoy working with people. The best part about it is us all being a team and trying to improve every single weekend and learning from what we do one week and improving the next. I think that’s something we’ll be able to do. And I’m really excited about it.”
Kahne will now be making the move to his fifth team over 14 years. Along the way he’s made stops at Evernham Motorsports, which later became Gillett Evernham Motorsports, followed by Richard Petty Motorsports, the Red Bull Racing Team and eventually Hendrick Motorsports. His best season came in 2006 with Evernham when he won six races in addition to finishing eighth in the final standings. The highest Kahne has ever finished in a championship series was fourth in 2012 when he first joined Hendrick.
Michael McDowell has driven the No. 95 for Leavine Family Racing since 2014 and is set to be replaced by the 37-year old Kahne. McDowell, 32, has had a lackluster career thus far. In 10 years, he has participated in 240 races and only accumulated five top-10 finishes, none of which came with a checkered flag.
“Michael is a personal friend of mine and I love him dearly,” team owner Bob Leavine said in an interview with NASCAR.com. “He spoke to the group this morning and said how much he appreciated the support and being a part of this family. He’s a class act and a professional. He’ll always be a part of this family.”
McDowell joins notable veterans without a home for next season such as former champions Kurt Busch and Matt Kenseth as well as Busch’s current Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Danica Patrick. It is unclear whether these drivers will find the rides and sponsors to race again in 2018, however the same thing could have been said for Kahne prior to this announcement.
All this of course happened shortly after Hendrick Motorsports announced that veteran crew chief Darian Grubb would be replacing Keith Rodden on Kahne’s team for the remainder of the playoffs. Grubb has spent time with Denny Hamlin and NASCAR legend-turned team owner Tony Stewart and even won a championship with Smoke in 2011. He had been working behind the scenes for Team Hendrick before the promotion.
The addition of Grubb to the No. 5 team could very well be an audition to see if he’s fit to commandeer 19-year-old William Byron in the No. 24 next season. It’s a win-win for Kahne and Hendrick. Kahne gets a new and experienced championship-caliber crew chief while Hendrick gets to see what they have in store for the future.