By Brian Eberly, Contributing Writer
*Editor’s note: Motorsports Tribune will be previewing the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season for 24 drivers. We will release one driver preview per day over a 24-day stretch.
Years in Cup: 13
Career Wins: 17
Biggest Accomplishment: 2006 Season (Six wins and an 8th-place finish in the standings)
There’s no doubt that now is the time to perform for Kasey Kahne. The 2017 season will mark Kahne’s sixth with Henrick Motorsports behind the wheel of the No. 5 Chevrolet and his third with Keith Rodden as crew chief.
It’s safe to say the 2016 season wasn’t what was expected, as Kahne failed to make the Chase and finished 17th in the championship standings. Kahne failed to lead a lap during the season for the first time in his career and the 36-year-old driver hasn’t won in the Cup Series since August 2014 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Kahne showed some improvement at the start of the Chase in 2016, posting four straight finishes inside the top-12, including a season-best third at Charlotte Motor Speedway in October’s Bank of America 500.
Farmers Insurance announced that they will not be renewing their sponsorship agreement with the No. 5 team when it ends after the 2017 season. Farmers, who will be the primary sponsor for 12 races this season, has made a strategic decision to focus on other brand activities. The loss of sponsorship after the 2017 season and the expiration of Kahne’s contract with Hendrick Motorsports at the end of the 2018 season means the time to perform is now if Kahne hopes to continue with the top-tier organization.
“We finished 2016 really strong and made some big strides on figuring out how to get our cars better for the race,” Rodden said recently via Hendrick Motorsports website. “We have a couple new team members, so I’m looking forward to bringing them in and getting them acclimated to the team and our working environment.”
Kahne posted the most top-10 results (13) since the 2013 season and finished in the top-14 in 12 of the season’s final 14 races. But it’s clear that a win and a Chase berth need to happen in 2017 for Kahne and the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports team.
Rodden listed “win races” as his No. 1 New Year’s resolution.
The need to perform isn’t lost on Kahne either. When William Byron was signed by Rick Hendrick to compete for JR Motorsports in the XFINTY Series in 2017, it was evident the long-term plan is for Byron to be at the Cup level in the next couple of years. With Henrick Motorsports at the limit of four teams, Kahne appears to be on the outside looking in at the organization.
“If I haven’t performed by 2018 (when Kahne’s contract expires at the end of the season), I need to leave. It’s pretty simple,” Kahne said when asked if he was worried about eventually losing his ride to Byron, who won seven races in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in 2016.
“So that will have nothing to do with William Byron or anyone else. If I haven’t performed by then, it’s time to go do something different.”