Kasey Kahne will not return to Hendrick Motorsports and the #5 car for the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, the team announced on Monday morning. Although his contract runs through 2018, the team has elected to end his deal a year early.
“Kasey has worked extremely hard,” team owner Rick Hendrick stated. “He’s a tremendous teammate and person, and he has been totally dedicated to our program since day one. I’ve always believed that he’s a special talent, and I know he will thrive in the right situation. We will do everything we can to finish the season as strong as we can.”
Kahne, who has been racing for HMS since the 2012 season, has struggled in recent years compared to his teammates. After finishing 4th in points in 2012, he has finished outside the top-10 in the years since, while also missing the playoffs in every instance since 2014. Although he has six wins with the team, his most recent one, the 2017 Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis, came after two winless seasons and a losing streak lasting 102 races, which dated back to the 2014 Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta.
Through the first 22 races of the 2017 season, he sits 19th in points, though his win at Indianapolis, barring any surprise developments over the remaining four regular season races, locks him into the playoffs. The Indy win came at a crucial time for the Washington native, who was 22nd in the standings before surviving a chaotic race at the Brickyard for his 18th career Cup victory.
“I’d like to thank Rick and everyone at Hendrick Motorsports for their hard work and dedication, along with providing me a great opportunity and success over the last six years,” Kahne said.
“We won six races together and I’m coming off of one of the biggest wins of my career at the Brickyard, which has given the #5 team a lot of momentum heading into the playoffs. We still have a lot of racing left in 2017 and finishing strong is our top priority. I look forward to what the next chapter in my career holds.”
With Kahne out of the #5 car, speculation has arisen over who would take over the ride for 2018. A commonly-discussed potential replacement is JR Motorsports driver William Byron; the 19-year-old Xfinity Series rookie leads all Xfinity drivers with three wins in 2017 and sits 2nd in the championship behind teammate Elliott Sadler. Although a member of the Team Hendrick pipeline, some feel Byron is too inexperienced to move into a full-time Cup ride, especially as 2017 is just his second season in a NASCAR national series (he ran the full Camping World Truck Series schedule in 2016, where he won a series-high seven races and finished 5th in the standings). Additionally, Hendrick has admitted the team is “not ready to cross that bridge yet,” alluding to Byron joining the team.
Another candidate whose name has been brought up include Matt Kenseth, who will not return to Joe Gibbs Racing following the 2017 season. HMS driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is retiring at the end of 2017 (with Alex Bowman taking over his #88), has expressed confidence in the 2003 champion finding a ride for 2018. Hendrick described Kenseth as “a tremendous talent.”
The #5 car loses two primary sponsors for 2018: Farmers Insurance (who is sponsoring the team for 12 races in 2017) and Great Clips (10 races). Despite the sponsorship depletion, Hendrick intends to run four cars next season.
On social media, Kahne’s teammates offered their support for their departing friend.
“.@kaseykahne is a great friend and fit into the @TeamHendrick system seamlessly. I look forward to seeing what he achieves going forward. 👊🏼” – Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr)
“Wishing @kaseykahne all the best, he’s been an amazing teammate and friend.” – Jimmie Johnson (@JimmieJohnson)
Chase Elliott quoted Johnson’s tweet and added, “This is an understatement. Still lots to go this year though!”
“I’ve always enjoyed working with teammates but my three HMS teammates are as good as it gets,” Kahne responded. “Let’s finish strong guys!”
Kahne’s final race in the #5, the season-ending Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, takes place on November 19.
Featured image courtesy of Edwin Locke, UPI