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.”