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Kasey Kahne: 2018 NASCAR Season Driver Preview

Kasey Kahne

Kasey Kahne

On one hand, Kasey Kahne had a pretty decent 2017 season. He won at Indianapolis — one of NASCAR’s premier races — after a two-year victory drought, and that catapulted him into the playoffs.

On the other hand, well, that’s about it. Kahne’s win and playoff berth were deceptive highlights of an otherwise lackluster season, one that ultimately led to his release from Hendrick Motorsports with one year left on his contract in favor of youngster William Byron. Kahne’s season average finish was 19.4; he posted zero stage wins under a new system where those were critical; and he had more DNFs than top 10s. If not for the Indy win, Kahne would not have had a playoff appearance at all. That win saved Kahne’s season, but not his ride.

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By appearances, Kahne’s move to the No. 95 at Leavine Family Racing for

the 2018 season

is a step down. The team certainly lacks the top-tier resources of Hendrick Motorsports. But there are a couple of upsides. One, the team has undergone vast improvement over the last couple of years. The No. 95 saw a gain of eight positions in average finish since 2015. Driver Michael McDowell’s point finish (26th) was not far off from where Kahne would have been without that playoff-clinching victory.

Second, there’s virtually no pressure on Kahne. After six seasons at Hendrick — where Kahne never quite lived up to expectations — he’s in a situation in which he can concentrate on helping the team move forward without the intense scrutiny that comes with driving a top-flight car. Top finishes will be looked at as a bonus, not a weekly expectation.

What does Kahne bring to the team? While he has had more past success than McDowell, their 2017 seasons weren’t far apart in performance. But while McDowell is nearly five years younger, Kahne still packs plenty of star power. He’s got a passel of loyal fans, which for the team means merchandise sales, and more important, a better chance at a significant increase in sponsor income. 

Travis Mack also moves to the No. 95 from Hendrick Motorsports to serve as Kahne’s crew chief. Mack was the car chief for the No. 88 team of Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2017. Mack has not served as a full-time crew chief at the Cup level, but at 34, he’s a young talent who knows his way around a race car. If he and Kahne mesh, it could be a fruitful partnership.

Leavine Family Racing continues a technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing, using RCR chassis and Earnhardt Childress Racing engines. ECR turns out some of the most reliable power plants in the business. The No. 95 has not suffered a single engine failure since the partnership began last year.

So, what can we expect from Kahne this season? He brings LFR a veteran presence, and one who’s been successful enough to know what a winning car feels like. Landing a driver with Kahne’s experience and star power who’s still under 40 was a coup for the single-car organization.

Communication will be key. Kahne has a tendency toward radio silence when he’s frustrated, and for a new crew chief and growing team, feedback will be extremely crucial moving forward.