BROWN: Declining Performance Could Spell Kasey Kahne’s End At Hendrick Motorsports

Rence Brown 1 Comment

Kasey Kahne's less-than-stellar performance has led to rumblings of him losing his Hendrick Motorsports ride when his contract expires in 2018. (Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR photo)

Kasey Kahne’s less-than-stellar performance has led to rumblings of him losing his Hendrick Motorsports ride when his contract expires in 2018. (Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR photo)

CALABASAS, Calif. — Let’s just cut right to the chase: statistically, there is no disputing that Kasey Kahne has been slumping since his tenure with Hendrick Motorsports began.

In his five seasons with the organization, he has only recorded five victories in a span of 180 races. That’s in stark contrast to his two current teammates who have been with the organization as well through that time — Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson — who have eight and 22 wins, respectively, in the same five-year period.

Those lackluster statistics have begun to fuel the fire that Kahne could be out of a ride when his contract expires in 2018, if not before.

However, the 17-time Cup winner fueled those thoughts further when he spoke about the possibility of not returning to the team if his performance doesn’t improve.

Team owner Rick Hendrick recently signed Camping World Truck series sensation and current points leader William Byron to a multi-year development contract, with tentative eyes towards a 2018 jump to the Cup level, meaning someone at some point in Hendrick’s future will have to step aside to make way for Byron.

At this point, all signs seem to be leaning towards Kahne being the one to take the drop, and the driver said basically as much.

“If I haven’t performed by 2018, I need to leave,” Kahne admitted. “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.”

That begs the question, though: “Is there something wrong with the equipment or the driver?”

When it was announced in 2010 that Kahne would leave an ugly and souring relationship with Richard Petty Motorsports to replace the departing Mark Martin in the No. 5 Chevrolet for 2012, pundits perked their ears up, expecting a big surge from the potential superstar after his one-year stop-gap at Red Bull Racing. 

Kahne didn’t disappoint, showing terrific pace in his first two seasons at HMS, winning races and having the confidence to run up front. Perhaps the change of scenery was what Kahne needed, once again putting him at the forefront of positive conversation while bringing back memories of a younger, more hungry Kahne that dominated early in his career.

Kahne's early career showed flashes of brilliance, including his first of three wins in the Coca-Cola 600 in 2006. (NASCAR photo)

Kahne’s early career showed flashes of brilliance, including his first of three wins in the Coca-Cola 600 in 2006. (NASCAR photo)

Keep in mind, in his rookie campaign Kahne ran with the best and by his sophomore season in 2005 he would win, solidifying his place as a superstar at the Cup level. By his third full-time season in 2006, he would rank first overall in season victories for the series, thus cementing himself in the conversation as a title contender for years to come.

However, along the way, something seemed to change Kahne’s fortunes. Suddenly, he went from being a title contender to just contending for possible top-10 finishes.

It began when there was a crew chief change for the No. 5 team, where longtime crew chief and confidant Kenny Francis was relieved of his duty atop the pit box. The two began their careers together and this obviously was a tough change for Kahne. It showed in his performance.

Then came the introduction of the Gen 6 car, and reduced horsepower seemed to have an effect on Kahne as well when he struggled getting acclimated to the new body and the aerodynamic changes. For a man who grew up running with almost 900 horsepower in sprint cars, the drastic reduction of the Cup motor’s horsepower seemed to have stalled Kahne’s progress after he had started to make a turnaround.

His confidence almost seemed to disappear altogether. It almost felt as if Kahne wasn’t putting in quite the effort that he was before. While his teammates were being rewarded with checkered flags and the chance of basking in the limelight, Kahne seemed to be in the dark, fading helplessly away into NASCAR obscurity.

Are they excuses? Certainly not, but one has to think that they could be some items that might have a correlation to his dismal performances the last two years.

Kahne’s 2016 campaign is his worst by far with only two top-five finishes and six top-10 finishes to this point in the season. He hasn’t visited Victory Lane since the Labor Day race at Atlanta in 2014 and to add salt to an already-opened wound, in the 6,427 laps he has completed in Sprint Cup competition in 2016, he has yet to lead a single lap– a far cry from when he led 677 laps in 2013 and even paced 66 laps last season.

In a day where statistics are what define an ordinary athlete from an elite, wins mean everything. While 17 career victories are nothing to scoff at, Kahne’s current weekly pace of top-15 to 20th place results are unacceptable next to his teammates, who are all are fighting for solid top-10 finishes and are in position to make the Chase for the championship at the conclusion of Richmond International Raceway’s Chase cutoff race in three weeks.

In the current format however, one race can cure all problems. Where a win locks and qualifies you for the Chase, Kahne could reap huge dividends for he and his team moving forward.

He won his way in at Atlanta in 2014, and he has a shot to do the same at two of the next three races on the schedule.

This weekend the Cup Series heads back to Michigan International Speedway, a track that Kahne has had success at before, winning in 2006. Then two weeks later, Richmond Int’l Raceway makes its return, home to Kahne’s first-career Cup win. 

Time is of the essence for Kahne at this point. He needs to win to wake up from the nightmare of the last two years and get back on his way to performing at the high level that was once so common for him.

Otherwise, he may just have to face his own self-proclaimed fact: that he may not be around at NASCAR’s top level much longer.

The opinions expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Race Chaser Online, the Performance Motorsports Network, their sponsors or other contributors.

 

About the Writer

Rence BrownRence Brown is Race Chaser Online’s West Coast-based correspondent, who currently resides in California and carries a deep passion for NASCAR, but is a follower of multiple forms of auto racing across multiple disciplines.

Brown, 23, is going back to school to pursue a journalism degree at Pierce College.

Email Rence at: rcorencebrown@gmail.com

Follow on Twitter: @RenceTheFence

Email Race Chaser Online: news@racechaseronline.com

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