CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — Kasey Kahne says it’s “been a while” since he has looked forward to a test session.
But at 37 and entering his 15th Cup season, that’s the case for the former Hendrick Motorsports driver.
Because as his new crew chief, Travis Mack says, “It’s all about Kasey.”
When Kahne next gets in a Cup car, it will be in January at an open two-day test at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. It will be his first time behind the wheel of a car owned by Leavine Family Racing.
After six years driving the No. 5 Chevrolet as one of four HMS drivers, Kahne will be LFR’s lone focus in the No. 95 Chevrolet.
The Las Vegas test will be the most significant test Kahne has been part of in at least three years.
“I haven’t had a test in three years that wasn’t at a repaved road course or a short track or a Kentucky repave that we come back with completely different tires from what we tested,” Kahne said Tuesday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, where LFR revealed his Daytona 500 car. “To me it’s the first time in three years that I’ve actually been able to go and learn things and you can use them at an upcoming race. This will be completely different. It’s good for myself, it’s good for our team to have that going into a new season.”
New season, new team, new crew chief, new car number.
Kahne admitted the 2018 season may be the first time he’s ever really had a truly “fresh” start in his career, despite having competed on four teams through the first 504 starts of his Cup career.
“It’s a fresh start all the way around,” Kahne said. “It’s not just a different owner or a different manufacturer. It’s a fresh start everywhere. I think that’s really good for me. I think it’s probably the first time ever that it’s fresh, completely new in all aspects. So yeah, it’ll be interesting but I think it’s good.”
And Kahne needs to be good.
In his last three seasons at Hendrick, Kahne earned just one win – the 2017 Brickyard 400 – while accumulating nine top fives (three each season). In 2012, his first year at Hendrick, he placed fourth in the final standings. In the following five seasons, he never finished better than 12th.
In September, it was announced Kahne wouldn’t be returning to Hendrick. He’ll be replaced by rookie William Byron in 2018.
Despite the lack of recent success, the 18-time Cup winner says his passion for racing on Sundays hasn’t wavered.
“I don’t understand why I would be done,” Kahne said. “I don’t understand why I can’t go out and win like I’ve won other years in the past. To me, I still have the desire and the passion that I’ve always had, so I don’t understand why any of that has changed, I feel really good and think in the right situation can still do really, really well.”
But Kahne understands why his time at Hendrick ended. And he’s kind of relieved.
“I think if results were better, I would still be there,” Kahne said. “But the results weren’t good enough. It’s hard to really understand where (the cause of) that lies or why or whatever. But that’s just the way it is and it’s racing.
“I’ve moved on and they’ve moved on and it’s all perfectly fine. I don’t have any bad feelings at all. I think Mr. H(endrick) is a great guy. My team and all those guys put in a huge effort. I don’t have any hard feelings, but I’m glad I’ve moved on, because what we were doing there was not working. To have that over with is great.”
He heads into the new chapter of his career with a rookie crew chief in Mack, who also arrives from HMS, where he had worked since 2004. Last year, Mack served as the car chief on the No. 88. He got his first chance to crew chief in the regular-season finale at Richmond after Greg Ives was suspended one race.
Kahne, Mack and the rest of LFR — roughly 30 employees in total — will begin to grasp what the No. 95 team is capable of with the Las Vegas test.
“I feel like it’s great place to get two full days, 15, 16 straight hours of just driving and communicating and learning each other, learning the car, learning setups,” Kahne said. “Between myself, Travis, the engineers at LFR, working with the RCR group, it’s just a completely new deal. So to have 15, 16 hours to work on all that stuff is awesome. I didn’t think we would get that test going into the year. I just thought we would show up to Daytona to race, go to Atlanta, race. With that, I feel it’s really a big benefit for us.”