Leavine Family Racing gives Kasey Kahne much needed ‘fresh start’

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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.”

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NASCAR viewer’s guide for Charlotte Roval

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Sunday provides a final chance for drivers to advance to the Round of 8 and keep their Cup championship hopes alive.

Talladega winner Chase Elliott is the only driver who has advanced to the next round. That leaves seven spots available going into Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Roval (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Chase Briscoe holds the final transfer spot by a tiebreaker over Austin Cindric. At least for now.

William Byron is 11 points behind both drivers, but Hendrick Motorsports will appeal Byron’s 25-point penalty from Texas on Thursday. Should Hendrick win and Byron get those points back, he would move into a transfer spot.

There’s just part of what to watch for in Sunday’s race.

Favorites to be No. 20

This season remains tied for the most different winners in series history at 19, but there are a few candidates who could become the 20th different winner this year on Sunday.

Among the favorites to do so:

Ryan Blaney, who came close to winning last week at Talladega, won the inaugural Cup race at the Roval in 2018.

Martin Truex Jr., who has four career Cup wins on road courses, still seeks his first victory of the season.

Michael McDowell, who is coming off a third-place finish at Talladega, has had a career-high 12 top-10 finishes this season, including top 10s in each of the last four road course events this year.

Will history repeat?

Last year, the four drivers eliminated after the Roval were Kevin Harvick, Alex Bowman, Christopher Bell and William Byron.

Harvick was eliminated in the first round this year, but Byron (-11 to the cutline) and Bell (-33) are in jeopardy of being eliminated in this round again. Bowman stated Tuesday that he will miss his second consecutive race because of continued concussion symptoms. He will be among the four eliminated from title contention.

Bowman missed last weekend’s race because of concussion-like symptoms suffered at Texas. A decision on if he’ll be able to race at the Roval will come later this week.

Will chaos continue?

Consider what some of the former Roval winners have endured on their way to the checkered flag:

In 2019, Chase Elliott drove into the Turn 1 wall on a restart while the leader. He recovered to win.

In 2020, Elliott overcame a loose wheel to win for the second year in a row.

In 2021, Kyle Larson won after his team changed batteries and put the alternator belt back on.

Could a similar fate be in store for this year’s winner? Or will they have a cleaner day?

Entry lists

Thirty-nine drivers are entered including IndyCar driver Conor Daly, former Formula 1 driver Daniil Kvyat, former 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller and former 24 Hours of Daytona winner Joey Hand. JJ Yeley will drive the No. 51 for Cody Ware, who stated that he would skip this event because of his ankle injury at Texas the footwork needed on a road course.

Charlotte Roval Cup entry list

The Xfinity entry list includes 41 drivers for 38 spots. Among those joining the series regulars are IndyCar driver Marco Andretti and former F1 driver Daniil Kvyat.

Charlotte Roval Xfinity entry list

This week’s schedule and forecast

(All times Eastern)

Saturday, Oct. 8

Forecast: Partly cloudy with a high of 66 degrees. No chance of rain during the Xfinity race.

  • 10 – 10:30 a.m. — Xfinity practice (NBC Sports App)
  • 10:30 – 11:30 a.m. — Xfinity qualifying (NBC Sports App)
  • 12 – 1 p.m. — Cup practice (NBC Sports App, USA Network coverage begins at 12:30 p.m.)
  • 1 – 2 p.m. — Cup qualifying (USA Network, NBC Sports App)
  • 3 p.m. — Xfinity race (67 laps, 155.44 miles; NBC, Peacock, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, Oct. 9

Forecast: Sunny with a high of 64 degrees. No chance of rain during the race.

  • 2 p.m. — Cup race (109 laps, 252.88 miles; NBC, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

 

Hailie Deegan to make Xfinity debut at Las Vegas

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Hailie Deegan announced Tuesday that she will make her Xfinity Series debut Oct. 15 Las Vegas Motor Speedway on NBC and Peacock.

The 21-year-old Deegan is in her second full-time season in the Camping World Truck Series. She finished a career-high sixth in that series last weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.

She will drive the No. 07 car for SS Green Light Racing with Jeff Lefcourt.

 

 

Alex Bowman to miss Charlotte Roval race

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Alex Bowman announced Tuesday night on social media that he will sit out this weekend’s Cup playoff race at the Charlotte Roval.

Bowman said on social media: “I am continuing to make strides in my recovery to make sure I can return to competition at 100%.”

This will be the second consecutive race he will have missed because of concussion-like symptoms after his crash at Texas Motor Speedway.

Noah Gragson will drive the No. 48 car this weekend for Bowman.

“Alex’s health is our first priority,” said Jeff Andrews, president and general manager of Hendrick Motorsports, in a statement. “We’re focused on supporting his recovery and seeing him back in his race car when the time is right. Alex has a long career ahead of him, so we will invest the necessary time and take our guidance from medical experts. We’re putting no pressure on him to return before he’s 100% ready.”

Bowman will be one of the four drivers eliminated from title contention Sunday.

Also Tuesday, Cody Ware announced that he will sit out this weekend’s Cup race at the Charlotte Roval, as he continues to recover from the ankle injury he suffered at Texas.

NASCAR Power Rankings: Chase Elliott leaps to the front

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A slick late-race move by Chase Elliott carried him to Victory Lane Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway — and back to the top of the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings.

Elliott is the only driver with five victories this season. No one else in the playoffs has more than two (Tyler Reddick, eliminated from the championship hunt, has won three times).

Elliott, already qualified for the Round of 8 with his Talladega win, will be among the favorites in Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (2 p.m. ET, NBC).

Here’s how the rankings look approaching the end of the Round of 12:

NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

1. Chase Elliott (No. 3 last week) — Elliott’s power move to win at Talladega was quite impressive and gave him four top-five finishes in the past 10 races. Clearly, he has re-established himself as the championship favorite.

2. Denny Hamlin (No. 1 last week) — Hamlin drops a spot despite a strong run (20 laps led and finishing fifth) at Talladega. Count him in the hunt for an elusive first championship.

3. Ryan Blaney (No. 8 last week) — Blaney simply will not go away despite continuing as the playoffs’ only winless driver (not including the Texas All-Star Race). He was victimized by Chase Elliott on Sunday at Talladega, finishing .046 seconds short of victory and a push into the next round.

4. Kyle Larson (No. 2 last week) — Superspeedway racing generally is not Larson’s strong point. He finished 18th Sunday despite leading eight laps and being in the front group much of the day.

5. Joey Logano (No. 4 last week) — Logano had an unusually poor performance at Talladega. He was involved in an early-race accident and struggled much of the rest of the day, finishing 27th.

MORE: Elliott celebrates, Logano laments

6. Ross Chastain (No. 7 last week) — Chastain tied Aric Almirola for most laps led (36) at Talladega and has been consistent as of late with three finishes of seventh or better in the past four races.

7. William Byron (No. 5 last week) — Byron’s worst news last week came off the track as he was penalized by NASCAR for dumping Denny Hamlin under caution at Texas. He finished 12th at Talladega.

8. Chase Briscoe (No. 9 last week) — Briscoe is quietly making the case that he could make the Round of 8 and challenge for the title.

MORE: Winners and losers at Talladega

9. Daniel Suarez (unranked last week) — Suarez maneuvered through the Talladega draft with style and came home eighth. He has three top 10s in the past seven races.

10. Christopher Bell (No. 6 last week) — Bell had a rough day at Talladega and will be looking to Sunday’s race at the Roval for redemption.

Dropped out: Tyler Reddick (No. 10 last week).