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.”