NASCAR
Bob Pockrass, NASCAR 81d

Moving on from Hendrick Motorsports not worrying Kasey Kahne

NASCAR

Kasey Kahne will leave a storied NASCAR organization after this season to one that seeks its first race-winning trophy, its first pole and even its first top-3 finish.

It will be a move that raises eyebrows in how a 37-year-old driver who competed for Hendrick Motorsports will soon compete for the single-car Leavine Family Racing organization.

"They're all about just getting better as a company and I want to be part of that," Kahne said of LFR on Tuesday after the announcement. "I think it will be a challenge, but I think it will actually be a lot of fun to also have that challenge and be able to work every single week to improve."

Kahne is no stranger to new organizations and teams in flux. He joined Evernham Motorsports in its third season, spent nearly two years at Richard Petty Motorsports after its merger with Gillett Evernham Motorsports and then a year at Red Bull Racing before going to Hendrick.

LFR was just starting out as a Cup team when Kahne joined Hendrick in 2012. Team owner Bob Leavine spent four seasons fielding a car part time -- he wanted to compete rather than start-and-park -- but it's been a full-time operation the past two years. Michael McDowell, 25th in the standings, earned the team's first top-5 finish with a fourth-place run in July at Daytona.

The organization was 30th in the owner points last season and is 26th this year.

"I like being involved -- always have," said Kahne, who signed a one-year deal. "I feel like my experience and things over the years, I've learned a lot and really want that to be part of where I go in the future with success, and I think that this is an opportunity to use some of that.

"With a team that wants to improve and good people like the Leavines, that's what they're all about is improving."

It is likely that Kahne will work with Todd Parrott, who has been the crew chief at LFR. Leavine said Wednesday that he wanted to decide on a driver and then have the driver be involved in the decision on a crew chief.

Parrott, who won a Cup championship as crew chief for Dale Jarrett in 1999, joined the Leavine team last season.

"I've always been good friends with Todd and really like Todd," Kahne said. "I've seen wherever he goes, he seems to give cars speed and improve what they have going on. He's a really smart guy, smart with these cars.

"It will be pretty cool. I've just watched him over the years. He's won a lot of races."

Leavine will continue with its Richard Childress Racing alliance. Even though Kahne is leaving Hendrick and the Leavine team talked to Hendrick, it eventually decided to remain allied with RCR.

"We had extensive dialogue with both of them," Leavine said. "The final decision came down to our existing relationship with RCR and what we had achieved in two years.

"It's hard to abandon that relationship because they've been very good to us. ... There's a lot to be said how we had improved the last two years and that's hard to just throw out, the relationships we had built at RCR [and with] the ECR [Earnhardt-Childress Racing] engine program."

Leavine said he considered Kahne's familiarity with Hendrick and what that team had to offer but also how LFR would fit into an alliance depending on the organization it chose. Kahne's familiarity with people at RCR also was a factor.

"I see some improvement [at RCR] coming and we just did not want to jump off of that ship at this time because they wanted us there with Kasey in the car also," Leavine said. "That was meaningful."

Kahne, who snapped a 102-race winless streak in July by capturing the Brickyard 400 and is 15th in the standings heading into Sunday's race at New Hampshire, has spent the past seven weeks wondering where he would race next season. His one-year deal also includes no restrictions as far as how much racing he does in sprint cars.

"I'm really happy to have it done," Kahne said. "I'm happy to have a plan and a direction where I'm headed. I'm excited to work with a new group, excited for a fresh start, fresh faces. I'm actually really looking forward to it.

"They've improved, they've done a lot as a team, a company. I look forward to doing more and working closely with them to keep growing."

Part of the future improvement could come just from the new Chevrolet body as the manufacturer transitions to the Camaro next year, Kahne said.

But can he win? He has six wins at Hendrick and a high championship finish of fourth in 2012. Kahne goes from an organization where the expectations are to win every week to an organization where they know they likely won't win right away.

"They run great at the restrictor-plate tracks -- there will be tracks we will be able to win at right away," Kahne said. "After that, we just have to put our heads together and start working and see how far we can go and see what we can do.

"I really don't know exactly how that will work out, but I feel like there definitely is an opportunity to really make some gains and really enjoy it, enjoy being part of the team, enjoy being part of the driving force to improve the team week in and week out."

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