Leavine Family Racing

Kasey Kahne: New partnership with Leavine Family Racing ‘makes a lot of sense’

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Kasey Kahne said he won’t have to worry about the future of his racing career again until next “May or June.”

That will be about five months into what Kahne said is a one-year deal with Leavine Family Racing, which was announced Tuesday as his next stop in a NASCAR Cup career that will enter its 15th year next season.

Kahne will drive the No. 95 Chevrolet for the one-car team after six seasons driving the No. 5 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. Kahne said the deal came together over the weekend after the two parties began having conversations in mid-August.

Kahne, who is part of the current Cup playoffs, looks to help improve a team that before 2016 had never competed in more than 20 races in a season. He said he hopes to do that with “a little bit” of the knowledge he’s accumulated “along the line” of his career, which spans stops at Hendrick, the defunct Evernham Motorsports, Red Bull Racing and Richard Petty Motorsports.

It’s his time with Red Bull Racing, which lasted 41 starts from 2010-11, that inspires some of his confidence in Leavine Family Racing.

“To me that was strictly people and a company that wanted to keep getting better and they were finishing up, they were done,” Kahne said. “And they didn’t take anything from us. They just let us go and build and we did it all the way to the end. I loved it. That was a blast. This is a deal, I feel like it’s structured more closely to that and that’s kind of the direction I’m thinking and Bob’s (team owner Bob Leavine) thinking that we’re heading. It makes a lot of sense to me.”

This will also be the first time Kahne’s been part of a single-car effort in his Cup career.

“I think it’s great the way Leavine is one car,” Kahne said. “Everything we do, we do together. We learn from it and grow and build from it every single week. To me, that makes a ton of sense for myself and for some of the things I’ve done over the years. I’ve seen better results over the years in a situation more similar to this. I think I’m really looking forward to that side of things where we’re all just working together in one area and it’s making that 95 faster each week and that’s it.”

Also a benefit for the 37-year-old driver is that he’ll get to spend more time to compete in sprint cars. The owner of Kasey Kahne Racing, he said he’ll get to play in the dirt when “it makes sense” with his Cup schedule.

“To me, the Cup deal is what always comes first to me, because that’s what I’ve put the majority of my time into on the racing side,” Kahne said. “As long we’re taking care of all those things, then yeah, I’m going to race my sprint car and get to enjoy doing that again. … Do it when it works out with scheduling and when it makes sense with the time I have with Leavine and have with (his son) Tanner, KKR, all the little things that I have going on. I look forward to that, being able to run dirt again.”

As part of the deal, LFR will continue the technical alliance it’s had with Richard Childress Racing for the last two seasons. But Leavine said a possible relationship with Hendrick was explored.

“I think the final decision came down to our existing relationship with RCR and what we had achieved in two years,” Leavine said. “It’s hard to abandon that relationship because they’ve been very good to us. Likewise, because of Kasey’s relationship with HMS, we wanted to give them an opportunity and Mr. (Rick Hendrick) and I had visited. So we had to for ourselves and for Kasey’s benefit because he was familiar with that side of the table or the equation. … So there’s a lot to be said about how we had improved the last two years and that’s hard to just throw out and not take into account the relationship we had built at RCR.”

Over the last two seasons, with Michael McDowell driving the No. 95 (and Ty Dillon part-time in 2016), the team has earned one top five and three top 10s. But the team has an average finish of 21.6 through 27 races this year. That’s just under two positions below Kahne’s average finish of 20th this season.

“I know none of the cars at RCR or ourselves are running the way we want to, but I see some improvement coming and we just did not want to jump off that ship at this time,” Leavine said. “They wanted us there with Kasey in the car also. So that was meaningful. So we’re taking advantage per say of Kasey as well as our two-year relationship with (RCR) to move forward and continue to improve our program.”

Silly Season scorecard features many drivers still looking for rides

Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Image
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Kasey Kahne is off the job market after signing to drive next season with Leavine Family Racing. His arrival means that Michael McDowell, the current driver of the No. 95 car, will be gone after the season.

Leavine Family Racing, which has never won a Cup race, gets an 18-time Cup winner in Kahne, who won the Brickyard 400 in July.

Here’s a look at where Silly Season stands as Cup teams head to New Hampshire Motor Speedway for Sunday’s playoff race.

ANNOUNCED RIDES FOR 2018

— Kasey Kahne to join Leavine Family Racing and drive the No. 95 car. (announcement made Sept. 19)

Ty Dillon signs a multi-year contract to remain at Germain Racing and drive the No. 13 car. Sponsor Geico also extends its deal with the team (announcement made Sept. 5)

Chris Buescher signs a multi-year contract to remain at JTG Daugherty and drive the No. 37 car. (announcement made Aug. 18)

Matt DiBenedetto will remain with Go Fas Racing in the team’s No. 32 car (announcement made Aug. 12)

William Byron will drive the No. 24 at Hendrick Motorsports, replacing Kasey Kahne (announcement made Aug. 9)

Paul Menard moves to Wood Brothers Racing to drive the No. 21 car (announcement made July 26)

Ryan Blaney moves to Team Penske to drive the No. 12 car and signs a multi-year contract extension (announcement made July 26)

Brad Keselowski agrees to contract extension to drive the No. 2 car for Team Penske (announcement made July 25

Alex Bowman will drive the No. 88 at Hendrick Motorsports, replacing Dale Earnhardt Jr. (announcement made July 20)

Erik Jones will drive the No. 20 at Joe Gibbs Racing, replacing Matt Kenseth (announcement made July 11)

OPEN/POSSIBLY OPEN RIDES

— No. 10: Danica Patrick is out after this season at Stewart-Haas Racing. No replacement has been announced. 

— No. 27: Richard Childress Racing states it will announce plans for a third Cup team at a later date with Paul Menard joining the Wood Brothers for next season.

— No. 41: Stewart-Haas Racing declined to pick up the option on Kurt Busch’s contract for next year on Aug. 1. Even so, the team tweeted that it expected Busch back with sponsor Monster Energy for next year. Busch told reporters Aug. 5 at Watkins Glen that “there are a couple of offers already, so we’ll see how things work out.’’  

— No. 43: Richard Petty Motorsports announced Sept. 12 that Aric Almirola will not return to the team. Smithfield also is not returning. Smithfield and Richard Petty Motorsports exchanged terse statements about their parting. RPM is selling Darrell Wallace Jr. to prospective sponsors.  

— No. 77: Furniture Row Racing has sold the charter to this team. Although the team is still looking for sponsorship for the team, Joe Garone, team president, said the chances of the organization running only one car next year is “high.’’

AVAILABLE DRIVERS

Matt Kenseth: Out of the No. 20 after this season. Doesn’t have anything announced for next year. At Bristol, Kenseth was asked about his plans for 2018. He said: “I’m not worried about (2018) even really one percent anymore to be honest with you. I’m just not concerned about it.’’  

Kurt Busch: With Stewart-Haas Racing declining to pick up his option for next year, Busch is a free agent. Even with Stewart-Haas Racing’s action, there’s still a good chance Busch signs a deal to remain with the organization.

Danica Patrick: She will not return to Stewart-Haas Racing after this season. Patrick has not announced any plans for next season. She’s not looking for a ride in the Xfinity Series. “Cup only,’’ she said.  

Aric Almirola: Won’t return to Richard Petty Motorsports, team announced Sept. 12.

Michael McDowell: Will not return to Leavine Family Racing with Kasey Kahne joining the team next season.

Darrell Wallace Jr.: Richard Petty Motorsports is selling Wallace to prospective sponsors for the No. 43 car for next season. He gained interest from RPM after driving in four races for the team while Aric Almirola was injured.

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Kasey Kahne to join Leavine Family Racing in 2018

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Brickyard 400 winner Kasey Kahne will drive for Leavine Family Racing next season, the team announced Tuesday.

The move will keep Kahne in the Cup series for a 14th consecutive season.

“I want to thank Leavine Family Racing for this opportunity and will work as hard as possible to help them continue improving,” said Kahne in a statement from the team. “I am ready for this challenge and look forward to making a fresh start. Bob and everyone at Leavine Family Racing put a lot into their program and I’m excited to become a part of it.”

The 37-year-old Kahne, scheduled to make his 500th career Cup start next month at Kansas Speedway, joins a single-car team seeking its first Cup win.

Kahne has 18 career victories and 173 top 10s. He debuted in Cup in 2004 with car owner Ray Evernham. Kahne also has raced for Richard Petty Motorsports, Red Bull Racing and Hendrick Motorsports — his home since the 2012 season. Kahne won six of his 18 wins with Hendrick.

Kahne goes to a young team that is growing in the sport.

Leavine Family Racing debuted in 2011 but didn’t run a full schedule until last season, split between Michael McDowell (31 races) and Ty Dillon (seven races).

The team had nine top-20 finishes last year. It has recorded 13 top-20 finishes this season, including its first top-five finish — fourth place by McDowell at Daytona in July.

McDowell had been with the team since 2014.

“We look at this as an opportunity to go to the next level,” said LFR team owner, Bob Leavine in a statement. “This deals partially with performance, because obviously, Kasey is a playoff-caliber driver. He has a wealth of information being with a larger organization like Hendrick Motorsports, and we think that will help us. We also look at this as an opportunity for marketing to be able to sell sponsorship.

“Overall, we think Kasey is a good fit and felt we needed a change. There is absolutely nothing that Michael (McDowell) did, it was just a matter of us having to make some changes to help us move up the ladder and be a factor in the playoffs. I know Kasey will bring things that will help us, and I believe our environment will be conducive to his confidence level, which will in turn raise our confidence level. It just seemed like the right time and the right fit for our team.”

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Kasey Kahne hopes to have plans for 2018 set soon

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CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — Kasey Kahne hopes to know soon where he’s racing next season, but he says he’s pondered a schedule that could include sprint cars, IndyCar and NASCAR.

Kahne, though, is not counting on the No. 10 Cup ride at Stewart-Haas Racing.

I don’t really think the 10 is an option,’’ Kahne said Wednesday at NASCAR’s playoff media day at the Hall of Fame. “It hasn’t seemed to be throughout. I’ve talked to them and things, but they’ve obviously been working in other areas. 

“I don’t know exactly what I’m doing yet, but I hope to figure it out pretty soon.’’

Asked about the No. 95 car at Leavine Family Racing, which is piloted by Michael McDowell, Kahne said: “I think the 95 is still an option.’’

NBC Sports reached out to a spokesperson for Leavine Family Racing for comment but had not heard back from the team.

Kahne said he doesn’t believe he has to bring sponsorship for a Cup ride for next season.

The 37-year-old admits he’s intrigued about the idea of racing in different series. He owns a World of Outlaws sprint car team. He has always wanted to race in the Indianapolis 500 but that never worked out with the NASCAR teams he was with at the time.

Kahne’s focus remains on NASCAR, saying “I don’t want to get too far away from it because I think I still have some strong years left in me racing in the Cup Series.

“I’ve looked at everything and I’ve talked to everybody. There was a good bit of interest in different areas, but it’s all up to the teams and manufacturers and how they want to align and what all they can do and want to do.’’

His tweet Tuesday night supporting Smithfield Foods, which is moving to Stewart-Haas Racing from Richard Petty Motorsports next season, made it appear as if he was angling for a ride at SHR. Not so, said Kahne.

“People kind of think whatever they want, but I thought that I was supporting Smithfield for staying in the sport,’’ Kahne said. “And I thought that was cool that they are still in NASCAR. Me and (son) Tanner do eat bacon a couple of days a week and it’s Smithfield, and I think that is how it should be. 

“Just with all of our sponsors in the sport … if I see them and I’m at the store to get something I’m going to go to that sponsor. That was really it. I thought people might take it that way (trying for a ride), but I knew that the No. 10 was not my car so it wasn’t about that. It was about thanking Smithfield for being a part of NASCAR.”

While he tries to sort through his future, Kahne also will prepare for the playoffs. He qualified with his Brickyard 400 win in July — his only top-10 finish in the last 16 races.

He and his Hendrick Motorsports teammates — Jimmie Johnson, Chase Elliott and Dale Earnhardt Jr. — have struggled this summer. Johnson, Kahne and Elliott, who are all in the playoffs, have combined for four top-10 finishes since the Brickyard 400.

Kahne has no concerns about being viewed in a lame-duck situation heading into the playoffs and his final 10 races with Hendrick Motorsports.

“We talked last week, myself and every guy on my team and they all want to do the best they possibly can in my final 10 races, and I want to do the best I can for them during my final 10 with them,’’ Kahne said. “Yeah, I feel like we have as good of an opportunity to run well in these final 10 that we’ve had all season long.

“Excited to go to Chicago and get it started.’’

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Michael McDowell to pay tribute to Alan Kulwicki with Southern 500 paint scheme

Leavine Family Racing
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Michael McDowell and Leavine Family Racing will honor 1992 Cup champion Alan Kulwicki with their paint scheme for the Sept. 3 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

Kulwicki, who died in a 1993 plane crash, worked out of the shop Leavine Family Racing operates. McDowell will drive a car that commemorates Kulwicki’s 1986 rookie season.

Kulwicki served as team owner, driver, crew chief and chief mechanic that season and went on to win Rookie of the Year honors.

“At LFR, we look to bring the same relentless underdog mentality Alan had to the track each week,” said LFR team owner Bob Leavine in a statement. “We can’t wait to honor Alan by bringing our WRL Chevrolet to Darlington in September.”

Alan Kulwicki’s car in 1986. (Photo from Leavine Family Racing)

Said McDowell in a statement: “The history that our shop contains is indescribable. I am really looking forward to honoring Alan, and I hope I can do my own ‘Polish’ victory lap at Darlington in his memory!”

McDowell enters this weekend’s race at Watkins Glen 25th in the points. He has four top-20 finishes in the last six races.

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