NASCAR was dominated by Hendrick Motorsports from 1995-2009 when they won 10 championships in 15 years. Over the last six seasons they have as many seasons without a champion as they did in the previous 15. In 2016 it’s Kasey Kahne that’s getting a lot of the blame but maybe it’s not all his fault.
What started off as a pretty promising career at the top level of stock car racing for Kasey Kahne, has now seemingly turned into a story of what could have been for the Washington native. Not only has Kahne failed to win a race in over two years now, his continuous slide down the standings just raises more and more questions about what he has left?
Enter William Byron, who is rumored to be on the fast-track to the Sprint Cup Series over the next couple of years and you have a quite a formula. A formula that could essentially be the beginning of one career and the sad end of another that never quite reached its rightful potential. As sad as that might be, it looks like even Kasey Kahne feels the same way about it.
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Kahne, who has five wins with Hendrick Motorsports since coming to the organization in 2013, sees the writing on the wall and knows that it’s time to perform or kiss his Cup career goodbye. At least that’s what he seemed to have on his mind during an interview with Fox Sports where the Cup veteran admitted that, “If I haven’t performed by 2018, I need to leave. It’s pretty simple.”
Of course some fans are going to be overjoyed at Kahne’s admission, especially after he has struggled for so long in the No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet, but it’s worth noting that none of the drivers at Hendrick Motorsports are exactly at the top of their game right now. In fact, Jimmie Johnson, has even been struggling to stay consistent lately.
While Kahne has had a lot of issues challenging to even run in the top-ten in the Cup Series over the last couple of years, one could argue that his Hendrick Motorsports teammates haven’t done that much better. Sure, Johnson, Gordon and even Dale Earnhardt Jr. have all qualified for the Chase in recent years but with the exception of Gordon in 2015, none of them have made it to the final-four.
For example, Johnson did win multiple races in 2014 and 2015, but he unfortunately got knocked out of the Chase in the second round (2014) and first round (2015). Same thing for Jr., he had a great regular season both years, but got knocked out of the second round of the Chase after having multiple issues in that round of the Chase both years.
Gordon has gone a bit further in the new Chase format, being the only Hendrick Motorsports driver to qualify for the championship weekend at Homestead Miami, but he still ended up finishing third to Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick, who were battling it out for the win and the title. In fact, Gordon ran just inside the top-ten throughout much of race and was struggling to stay ahead of last place out of the final-four Chase drivers.
Then there’s Chase Elliott, who despite having an amazing start to his rookie season, now finds himself with only one top-ten run in the last six races. While it’s pretty unfair to Judge Elliott based solely on the highs and lows of his rookie season it’s still pretty indicative of the struggles that Hendrick Motorsports is facing right now.
Don’t get wrong, Kahne is at the bottom of the metaphorical totem pole at Hendrick Motorsports, but his teammates have been sliding so far down the pole lately that Kahne could possibly move up a few spots before all said is done. Unfortunately for Kahne, his performance issues have been going on for quite a while now, making him the literal scapegoat for change at Hendrick in the coming years.
In all honesty, Kahne doesn’t really seem to deserve the scrutiny he is currently under right now. Yes, he hasn’t won a race or made the Chase in over two years, but how well have his teammates really fared during that time? While Johnson, Gordon and even Earnhardt have won races the last couple of years, they have mostly been absent when it came to the title.
As for his announcement to leave the sport if he doesn’t perform better by 2018, it feels like that’s more of Rick Hendrick’s choice then his, especially with William Byron’s first official Cup start only a few short years away. With that being said, fans and experts alike need to realize that all of HMS is struggling right now, not just Kasey Kahne.