The future is beginning to look bleak for Kasey Kahne. The Hendrick Motorsports driver has not won a Sprint Cup Series race since 2014. With a driver lineup that includes Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and rookie of the year leader Chase Elliott, Kahne has acknowledged the need to step up his performance. For the remainder of the 2016 season into 2017, this could be Kasey Kahne’s last chance at Hendrick Motorsports.
Kasey Kahne’s Last Chance at Hendrick Motorsports
Kahne’s Career Thus Far
Kasey Kahne’s career started very similar to that of Chase Elliott or Kyle Larson. Like Larson, Kahne had a great deal of promise but despite strong performance was unable to claim his first victory in his rookie season. Kahne replaced Bill Elliott in the No. 9 Dodge for Evernham Motorsports. These were big shoes to fill, but Kahne quickly became the face of Dodge in NASCAR. With Evernham being such an instrumental part in the manufacturer’s return to the sport, Kahne’s marketability was used to its full potential. He graced commercials and billboards not unlike the early years of Jeff Gordon‘s career.
Kahne has been far from a slouch throughout his career in NASCAR’s top level. Kahne brought the No. 9 car to victory lane eleven times from 2005-2010. However Kahne went to the ill-fated Red Bull Racing Team to close out 2010 and throughout 2011. From 2012 onward, Kahne has raced for Hendrick Motorsports. In this time, he has managed six victories.
Despite a relatively successful career in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Kahne has always been held up to his potential. He was sold early in his career as the future face of the sport. Upon coming to one of the sport’s top teams, it was assumed that this prophecy had been fulfilled. However, considering his hype and the nature of the team he drives for, Kahne is seen as past his prime. Having not won a race since 2014 has not helped his stake with the team. It is unlikely that Kahne would be unable to attain a ride in the Cup Series for a long time to come. However, it is likely that 2017 is Kasey Kahne’s last chance to race for Hendrick.
Chase Elliott is no longer the only young phenom that has been claimed by Hendrick Motorsports. William Byron has been taking the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series by storm. Competing in his first full season in the series, Byron has claimed five victories across 13 starts in 2016. The 2015 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East Champion had an unusual introduction to motorsport. Unlike the more traditional dirt racing roots of Jeff Gordon or Kasey Kahne, Byron began his career through iRacing. His success has thus become a testament to racing simulations and introduced a new means of motorsport training and conditioning.
What does Byron have to do with Kahne? Byron has just been signed by Hendrick Motorsports. Of the 18-year old driver, owner Rick Hendrick has said: “It’s been impressive to watch him come up through the ranks and have success at every level. What he’s already accomplished this season has been remarkable. On top of all his ability, he’s a terrific young man from a great family, and we think he has a very bright future with our organization“. Signing with Hendrick Motorsports is often like finding the Golden Ticket to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Like the Golden Ticket, there are only so many to go around. Only so many kids get to experience the wonder of the chocolate factory. There is a chance that Kahne’s Golden Ticket has been given to William Byron.
Must Perform by 2018
Rick Hendrick has insisted that William Byron has not been brought to the team as a replacement. Of the signing, Hendrick said “William has all to do with our future down the road. What’s going to happen three to five years from now, nobody knows“. However, Hendrick did acknowledge the possibility of retirement. With Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s future in the sport coming into question, it is possible that Byron could be seen as his replacement. Should Earnhardt Jr. make a full recovery and return, Kasey Kahne’s last chance could be in full swing.
Kahne himself was impressed with the young Byron. Despite the implications towards his own career, Kahne felt it was a good move for the organization: “…I told Mr. H, ‘Good job. Way to go. He seems like a good kid to have.’ There had to be other people who wanted him as well“. Despite Hendrick’s assurance that the Byron signing was in the interest of the team’s future, Kahne was clear in how he perceived the signing. While steering away from the idea that Byron is out to take his seat, Kahne stated: “If I haven’t performed by 2018, I need to leave. It’s pretty simple. That has nothing to do with William Byron or anyone else. If I haven’t performed by then, it’s time to go do something different. That’s just the way racing and life is“.
With this statement and the deadline of 2018, it appears that this is recognized as Kasey Kahne’s last chance to drive for Hendrick Motorsports. To him, this appears to be less to do with young signings but rather what he perceives as being his own poor performance.