Leavine Family Racing announced Tuesday that 18-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series winner Kasey Kahne is coming aboard as the organization’s new driver beginning next season.
It will be the fifth organization for Kahne, the 2004 Rookie of the Year. His current team, Hendrick Motorsports, revealed last month that Kahne would not return in 2018.
“I feel like (Leavine has) really made a lot of gains in the past couple years,” Kahne told NASCAR.com of his new team. “It’s pretty cool to watch, any time you see a small team do what they’ve done in our sport.
“The opportunity will be a challenge, but also a lot of fun. I enjoy a challenge and I enjoy working with people. The best part about it is us all being a team and trying to improve every single weekend and learning from what we do one week and improving the next. I think that’s something we’ll be able to do. And I’m really excited about it.”
Kahne has driven the No. 5 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports for the past five seasons, where he has scored six victories. The most recent win was at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in July, which punched his ticket to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs. He has four top-10 results on the year and finished 21st in the Chicago playoff opener last weekend.
Kahne’s most productive season came in a six-win 2006 campaign, where he finished eighth in the final standings. His best finish in the championship standings was a fourth place in 2012 — his first driving for Hendrick.
“After Indy I really saw his confidence level rise,” team co-owner Bob Leavine told NASCAR.com. “That was great for him. I told him, ‘You are going to be the guy here, the star on our stage and you don’t share it with anyone.’ And the experience he brings will help our guys’ confidence.”
The Leavine Family Racing team has one top-five finish this season, a fourth-place run from McDowell at the summer night race at Daytona. McDowell currently is 25th in the points standings.
“Michael is a personal friend of mine and I love him dearly,” Leavine said. “He spoke to the group this morning and said how much he appreciated the support and being a part of this family. He’s a class act and a professional. He’ll always be a part of this family.”
Leavine said he’s currently looking at the right crew chief to pair with Kahne and is open to reuniting Kahne with people he has worked with previously.
“It was exciting to get the process started and now for the news to be out, we’ll be looking at where we want to be crew chief-wise,” he said. “That’s a really important relationship between the driver and crew chief. Who is the right person? You do a lot of discussion and try to make the best decision you can.”
Leavine also confirmed the team will again partner with Richard Childress Racing and the ECR engine program and was optimistic about the overall fit for his team in 2018.
“It’s going to be a good relationship, a good home for Kasey,” Leavine said. “We’re family over here and I think that’s something he’ll enjoy.”
Kahne seemed equally optimistic.
“I still really feel I can do a really good job with the team side and working with people,” he said. “I think that’s nice with the situation I’m getting in and I look forward to doing that and trying to improve. I still want to race my sprint car when I can. I still feel like I’m plenty young to do a lot of racing.”
Getting the news out now also helps put that matter of business to rest with a Monster Energy Series championship to pursue. On Monday, Hendrick Motorsports announced that former championship crew chief Darian Grubb would replace Keith Rodden on the No. 5 team for the remaining portion of the season.
“I think it’s good because I won’t have to worry about next year anymore,” Kahne said. “I have a plan and can start working on the plan sooner than later. It will help me finish strong in the 5 car. I really enjoy my car and the team and working with Darian will be something new, something different.
“I just want to finish strong and do everything possible to finish with the best results in the 5 car I possibly can.”