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.”

‘One and Only’ Kyle Larson wins Outlaws opener at Knoxville Raceway

Kyle Larson wins Knoxville
Paul Arch/World of Outlaws
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The magic of dirt racing wins for Kyle Larson continued Thursday night at Knoxville Raceway, where he scored his third consecutive World of Outlaws victory at the famed half-mile track to open “The One and Only.”

After starting 10th, Larson sliced through the field and passed pole-sitter Logan Schuchart to lead the final eight laps in the No. 57 of car owner Paul Silva.

“Just an awesome race,” Larson said after earning $10,000 for his second consecutive NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series victory (after winning at Pevely, Missouri, last Saturday), his sixth Outlaws victory this season and 14th of his career.

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“I was able to track Logan down and hit the bottom really well in (turns) 1 and 2 and got a run on him.  It felt like I needed to take advantage of that before we got to heavier traffic and slid him and felt some contact. So, glad to see him not in the wall or anything like that. Just, hard work there. Heartbeat is up again.”

Kyle Larson wins Knoxville
Kyle Larson scored his sixth World of Outlaws victory Thursday (Trent Gower/World of Outlaws).

It was the fourth Knoxville victory this year for Larson, who swept a World of Outlaws doubleheader weekend June 12-13 at the Sprint Car Captial of the World. He has more than 30 victories this year in sprint cars and midgets.

The One and Only continues Friday night with another $10,000 feature race that will set the starting lineup for Saturday’s Brownells Capitani Classic, which pays $50,000 to win.

The event is the Outlaws’ richest purse of 2020 and subs in for the annual Knoxville Nationals, which was canceled for COVID-19 concerns. Larson, a two-time Knoxville Nationals runner-up, has said winning The One and Only would be on the same as Knoxville’s signature event because of its tough three-day format.

Through the first of three nights, Schuchart and Larson are tied for second in The One and Only points standings, which factor in qualifying, heats, dash and feature races. Aaron Reutzel, an All Star Circuit of Champions stalwart who finished third Thursday, leads with 430 points.

A crash in Thursday’s 25-lap feature eliminated past Outlaws champions Brad Sweet and Donny Schatz after Cory Eliason spun in front of Sweet in Turn 1 to start the wreck, which also collected Sweet’s teammate, James McFadden. Sweet and Schatz finished outside the top 20, which moved Schuchart into the points lead for the 2020 season.

Schuchart still seemed slightly miffed after finishing second to Larson.

“As the race went on, I felt like I wasn’t hitting my marks as good,” he said. “I would have liked to of had a little bit better of a race with Kyle there. I wish his slide job was a little better there, but he’s got a reputation to live up to. That’s where you let other people make the rules and maybe we’ll get him next time.”


RESULTS

NOS Energy Drink Feature (25 Laps) – 1. 57-Kyle Larson [10]; 2. 1S-Logan Schuchart [1]; 3. 87-Aaron Reutzel [2]; 4. 2-Carson Macedo [24]; 5. 41-David Gravel [6]; 6. 21-Brian Brown [7]; 7. 71-Spencer Bayston [3]; 8. 18-Gio Scelzi [15]; 9. 12N-Joey Saldana [5]; 10. 5-Ian Madsen [19]; 11. 17A-Austin McCarl [21]; 12. 1A-Jacob Allen [11]; 13. 7BC-Tyler Courtney [16]; 14. 7S-Jason Sides [20]; 15. 24-Rico Abreu [22]; 16. 4-Terry McCarl [13]; 17. 2KS-Brooke Tatnell [18]; 18. O9-Matt Juhl [23]; 19. 17-Sheldon Haudenschild [25]; 20. 83-Daryn Pittman [9]; 21. 11K-Kraig Kinser [17]; 22. 15-Donny Schatz [8]; 23. 26-Cory Eliason [4]; 24. 49-Brad Sweet [12]; 25. 9-James McFadden [14]; Lap Leaders: Logan Schuchart 1-17, Kyle Larson 18-25; KSE Hard Charger Award: 2-Carson Macedo[+20]

Kyle Larson wins Knoxville
Kyle Larson celebrated with his family and team after the first night of The One and Only (Trent Gower/World of Outlaws).