Hendrick Motorsports announced on Monday that they will not retain Kasey Kahne for the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. This will leave the #5 Chevrolet vacant, with a replacement driver expected to be revealed in the coming weeks or months.
“I’d like to thank Rick (Hendrick) 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 in a team release. “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 (No.) 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.”
Kahne, who joined Hendrick Motorsports back in 2012 – his eighth year in the Cup series having previously driven for Ray Evernham, Richard Petty Motorsports and Red Bull Racing. His term at HMS began strongly, with two wins at Charlotte and Loudon before going on to finish fourth in the standings at the end of the season. Another two wins followed in 2013, but he was eliminated from the running in ‘the Chase’ early after a hard crash at Loudon.
Another two wins followed in 2013, but he was eliminated from the running in ‘the Chase’ early after a hard crash at Loudon. 2014 was also a struggle, with Kahne picking up just one victory at Atlanta Motor Speedway. After that, Kahne would remain winless for almost three years – only returning after scoring an upset win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway last month.
It was during this 102-race winless streak that many started speculating that Kahne could be ousted from HMS due to his poor performances in comparison with his team-mates who picked up twenty-one wins during that time.
“Kasey has worked extremely hard,” said Rick Hendrick, team owner, “He’s a tremendous team-mate 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’s replacement in the #5 Chevrolet has yet to be named, but the most likely candidate at this point seems to be William Byron. The 19-year old is currently in his rookie season in the NASCAR XFINITY Series where he drives for JR Motorsports; the team co-owned by Hendrick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Byron has picked up an impressive three victories so far at Iowa, Daytona and Indianapolis, with a further nine top ten finishes in the twenty races run so far.
The replacement in the #5 car could be announced in the coming days or weeks. If Byron is appointed, HMS could look decidedly younger next year; especially with the retiring Dale Earnhardt Jr’s #88 Chevrolet being taken over by twenty-four-year-old Alex Bowman.
As for Kahne, there’s still a chance that could remain in the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series next year. With Matt Kenseth being released at Joe Gibbs Racing at the end of the year to be replaced by Erik Jones, Furniture Row Racing will have a seat available if they remain a two-car team.
Additionally, Kurt Busch and Stewart-Haas Racing appear to be on rocky ground, with the #41 Ford possibly becoming vacant for next year. The #27 at Richard Childress Racing is also going to be free after it was announced that Paul Menard would be moving to Wood Brothers Racing. Any of these seats could end up going to Kahne if he chooses to remain in the Cup series next year.