Kasey Kahne’s career has been really successful so far. Kahne has 16 career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victories in his first 10 and a half seasons in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.. However, the next eight races on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule may be the most important stretch in his career.
Kasey Kahne signed a four year contract with Hendrick Motorsports prior to the 2011 season. Kahne spent the 2011 season driving for Red Bull Racing though as he waited for a place at Hendrick to open up and had an impressive season with that organization. In his first of a four year deal at Hendrick Motorsports Kahne showed why Rick Hendrick was so high on him. He won two races, including the crown jewel Coca-Cola 600 in May and finished fourth in the point standings. It was a solid debut season at Hendrick Motorsports for the Enumclaw, Washington native.
It looked like Kahne picked up right where he left off beginning the 2013 season. He won two races to get into the Chase and was one of the favorites to win the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. However, when the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup started Kahne began to struggle. He finished 12th in the Chase, last of the 12 Chase drivers. It was a disappointing Chase for Kahne but when 2014 rolled around everyone thought that those struggles would go away. However, those struggles have carried throughout the 2014 season and right now Kasey Kahne is a disappointing 18th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings. He is the only Hendrick Motorsports car not currently in the 16 car Chase field and his teammates take up the first three spots in the point standings.
As we approach the last eight races before the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup these eight races could be the most important of Kasey Kahne’s career. The next race on the schedule is the Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Kahne and his #5 Chevrolet team tested last month so expectations are high. Kahne also won at New Hampshire Motor Speedway back in the 2012 season.
He needs to do the same or Kahne’s career at Hendrick Motorsports could be over before anyone intended. Kahne just turned 34-years-old in April and many thought that Kahne may finish his career at Hendrick Motorsports.
Prior to signing with Hendrick Motorsports Kahne spent a wild four seasons at Evernham Motorsports/Gillete Evernham Motorsports/Richard Petty Motorsports, driving the #9 car. Many people figured once Kahne got to a stable race team that things would blossom. While his first year and a half were solid with Hendrick Motorsports, the last year and a half has been a struggle. That is why these next eight races are essential for Kahne. He needs to make the Chase to prove he can still compete with the big time drivers in NASCAR. After New Hampshire comes Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Pocono Raceway. Two tracks that take similar setups and two tracks that horsepower are essential, which bodes well for Kahne since Hendrick Motorsports has been fast all season long. Kahne also has a very good track record at Bristol, Atlanta and Richmond, all three of those tracks are in the final eight races. If Kahne can't make the Chase with this schedule, it will be looked at as a disappointing season.
Hendrick Motorsports also has a dilemma coming up in the near future. Chase Elliott, a Hendrick Motorsports development driver, is currently running in the NASCAR Nationwide Series for JR Motorsports. Elliott signed a two year contract with JR Motorsports with sponsor NAPA Auto Parts. Dale Earnhardt Jr, co-owner of JR Motorsports, has said that Elliott is on a two year program in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and after two seasons he would then head to Hendrick Motorsports in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. If all goes according to plan Elliott would be a rookie in the Sprint Cup Series in the 2016 season.
With the four car team limit per organization in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series there has to be someone who would have to leave Hendrick Motorsports to make room for Elliott in 2016. Six time series champion Jimmie Johnson has a lifetime contract with the organization so he is not going anywhere anytime soon. Dale Earnhardt Jr is signed through the 2017 season, meaning he too will stay with the organization.
That leaves two drivers. Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne. Jeff Gordon, like Johnson, also has a lifetime contract at Hendrick Motorsports. However, there are rumors Gordon may retire soon due to a lingering back injury. If that’s the case Chase Elliott could take over the #24 car. However with Kahne’s struggles recently one has to wonder if Hendrick will just move Elliott into the #5 Chevrolet for the 2016 season. Gordon would continue to race and Kahne would be a free agent. It is very important for Kahne to make the chase in 2014 and show he is still an elite driver in the business.Hendrick Motorsports, Kasey Kahne, Motorsports, NASCAR, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series