Kasey Kahne on last year’s speculation about job security: ‘I didn’t really let it get to me’

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Last season’s constant speculation over his job secuirty didn’t bother Kasey Kahne, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t grab the Hendrick Motorsports driver’s attention.

Last summer, Hendrick announced an extension of Farmers Insurance, the primary sponsor of Kahne’s No. 5 Chevrolet, through 2017, but it wasn’t until November that the team extended the driver’s Sprint Cup Series contract (which was set to expire in 2015) for another three seasons.

“I saw it, but there were a lot of other things that went on,” Kahne told MotorsportsTalk last Thursday during the preseason NASCAR Media Tour. “It’s just what it was. I didn’t really let it get to me, but I knew it was out there. It’s hard not to see it on social media.”

Last year’s rise of Chase Elliott, who won the 2014 Xfinity Series championship for JR Motorsports but is under contract to Hendrick, also fed the curiosity about Kahne’s future.

The news that Elliott, 19, would supplant Jeff Gordon in the No. 24 Chevrolet next season put the uncertainty to rest about Hendrick’s driver lineup – but it came as no surprise to Kahne, 34.

“I always knew Jeff wasn’t going to race a lot longer,” he said. “He’s made that clear with different conversations we’ve had, but you never knew when he would be done. Chase is still so young that I thought he would fill that seat when it was time. It would  just rely on whenever Jeff was ready to get out of the car because Chase has done such an awesome job as a young man to do what he’s done. I was suspecting that would be the spot.”

Some of the conjecture about Kahne’s place was driven by performance. In his 2012 debut with Hendrick, he finished fourth in points, but he slipped to 12th in 2013 and 15th last season when he didn’t win until Aug. 31 at Atlanta Motor Speedway (snapping a 13-month winless drought with his 17th career victory.

During the 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup, he notched only one top 10 – a 10th at Charlotte. Hendrick moved crew chief Kenny Francis to a management role and brought in Keith Rodden (who was Kahne’s engineer for several seasons before spending 2014 as a crew chief for Jamie McMurray).’

Kahne said Rodden’s return should help shore up his team after a difficult season caused some doubts.

“As far as my performance, I wanted to be better and do better,” he said. “When I didn’t at times, things crossed my mind like, ‘Man, what is my problem. Can I not figure this out?’ Things that maybe Jeff (Gordon) mentioned had crossed his mind over the years.

“But it’s racing. I love it. I know I can do it. I know if we put the right situation together, we’re going to win a lot of races still.”

Indy Lights: Askew clinches 2019 title while VeeKay wins Laguna Seca race 1

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MONTEREY, Calif – Rinus VeeKay may have won the first race of the weekend’s Indy Lights doubleheader at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca Saturday afternoon, but all all eyes post-race were all on the driver who finished the race in the fourth position.

That driver was Oliver Askew, who by simply starting the 30-lap event at the famed road course won the 2019 series title, along with the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series scholarship that guarantees a minimum of three races next season.

“It’s all sinking in,” Askew told NBC Sports following the race. “I’m really happy to be part of this team. They’re back to back champions now in Indy Lights, and I feel very fortunate to be driving in this car this year.

“This is what we worked for all year. I’m very happy to be in this position and I can’t wait to celebrate with my team.”

With the championship in Askew’s possession from the get-go, the best VeeKay could do for in race 1 was to win in dominant fashion. He went on to do just so.

After starting the race from the pole position, VeeKay led every lap from start to finish en route to his fifth victory of the season.

“We managed the car well and kept the car consistent throughout the whole race,” VeeKay said. “I got a great car from the team so I want to give a big shout out to them for giving me a winning car.”

Behind VeeKay, Portland race 2 winner Toby Sowery finished the race in the second position, while Robert Megennis finished third.

Live streaming coverage of race two of the Indy Lights doubleheader at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca begins tomorrow afternoon at 12:10 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold.

Click here for full race results

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