Leavine Family Racing has announced today that Kasey Kahne will drive their #95 Chevrolet in the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Kahne, who found out last month that he had lost his Hendrick Motorsports ride for next year to William Byron, will take the place of Michael McDowell in the Leavine Family Racing car, starting with Daytona Speedweeks in February.
I feel like (Leavine has) really made a lot of gains in the past couple years,” Kahne said today, “It’s pretty cool to watch, anytime you see a small team do what they’ve done in our sport.
“The opportunity will be a challenge, but also a lot of fun. I enjoy a challenge and I enjoy working with people. The best part about it is us all being a team and trying to improve every single weekend and learning from what we do one week and improving the next. I think that’s something we’ll be able to do. And I’m really excited about it.”
Kahne entered the NASCAR Cup Series full-time in 2004 for Evernham Motorsports and surprised many with three second-place finishes in his first four races. His first win came the following year at Richmond, followed up by an even better third year when he won six races in 2006.
After brief stints with Richard Petty Motorsports and Red Bull Racing from 2009 to 2011, Kahne made the switch to Hendrick Motorsports for 2012. His first season saw him achieve his best championship finish to date, earning fourth in the standings after having made it to the championship playoffs that year. Since then, however, his results saw a downturn in fortune; with Kahne failing to finish inside the top ten in the championship since 2012.
During the last few seasons, the possibility of Kahne being replaced at Hendrick Motorsports became more and more likely; eventually leading to last month’s announcement that he had lost his drive to young star William Byron. Today’s news, however, is much better for Kahne, who now knows he will be on the grid next year. Leavine Family Racing’s co-owner, Bob Leavine, said that Kasey’s most recent win at Indianapolis in the Brickyard 400 was the moment he knew for sure that Kahne was right for the team:
“After Indy, I really saw his confidence level rise,” Leavine said of Kahne, “That was great for him. I told him, ‘You are going to be the guy here, the star on our stage and you don’t share it with anyone.’ And the experience he brings will help our guys’ confidence.”
Kahne will be replacing Michael McDowell in the #95 car. McDowell, who has been racing for multiple teams in the Cup Series since his debut in 2008, joined Leavine Family Racing in 2014. In that time, he has taken four top ten finishes; including the best finish of his and the team’s tenure in the series when he took fourth at this year’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway. Leavine was full of praise for McDowell when the news of his incoming replacement broke today:
“Michael is a personal friend of mine and I love him dearly,” Leavine said. “He spoke to the group this morning and said how much he appreciated the support and being a part of this family. He’s a class act and a professional. He’ll always be a part of this family.”
With many driver swaps looking to be taking place for next year’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, there is still a chance for McDowell to remain on the grid. Whilst it is unlikely that Michael could land a spot in one of the sport’s top teams, there are many teams lower down the order that could utilize his near-decade’s worth of Cup Series experience. There may even be an opening in the NASCAR XFINITY Series for McDowell to take a ride; a route that recent Cup drivers such as Casey Mears and Michael Annett.