After finishing 15th in the season ending Sprint Cup Series standings to go with a 12th place finish the year before, there were quite a few rumors spreading that Kasey Kahne would not be re-signing with Hendrick Motorsports in an effort to make room for Chase Elliott. However, HMS dropped a surprise, announcing a three year contract extension for Kahne.
“It’s extremely gratifying to work with a driver like Kasey,” Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports, said at the time of the announcement. “I think the world of him both as a driver with championship-level talent and an overall terrific young man. Our whole organization has a great deal of respect for how hard he works, the professionalism he displays with our partners and the way he carries himself every day. We’re committed to winning races and competing for titles with him for many years to come.”
It seems obvious why they would be able to sign Kahne. While the results haven’t been stellar, they’re still Chase for the Championship material and there was a win (Atlanta) on the season. Beyond that, Kahne is very marketable towards the lady fan-base, being “cute” as they call him and only 33 years old. Still, with the reasons stated, Kahne will need to have a top-10 season if he wants to showcase why Rick Hendrick was right in re-signing him.
Though there’s a bright side to Kahne’s return – he is getting a new crew chief for the upcoming season. With Kenny Francis named to the new position of vehicle technical director, Kahne will be working with Keith Rodden in 2015. Rodden spent last season at Chip Ganassi Racing working with Jamie McMurray.
“The people at Hendrick Motorsports are like my family, especially in the 5/24 shop,” Rodden commented at the time. “I expect we’ll have great chemistry right off the bat, which should make for a smooth transition. I’m looking forward to hitting the ground running with the No. 5 team and everyone who supports us. There’s no better resource than Kenny, so I hope he’s ready for some late-night phone calls.”
Before working with McMurray, though, Rodden was at HMS as part of Kahne and the No. 5 team in 2012 and 2013 as the lead engineer. If you look at Kahne’s results over the past couple of seasons, it seems as though Rodden was a key part to that success. In 2012, Kahne won two races while scoring 12 top-fives and 19 top-10s en route to finishing fourth in points. In 2013, he scored two wins while scoring 11 top-fives and 14 top-10s en route to 12th in the final standings. In contrast, he only scored one victory last year with three top-fives and 11 top-10s en route to finishing 15th. Is Rodden the key to success?
Perhaps the move is the right move for HMS as Kahne has worked with Francis for the majority of his Sprint Cup Series career, Maybe the influence of new blood with a fresh perspective will bring forth the set-up ideas that Kahne needs to get the right car underneath him to perform. If given a good car, Kahne can go out and dominate on any of the mile and a half tracks on the NASCAR circuit. Is Rodden the right choice? Quite possibly, although he only scored seven top-fives and 13 top-10s with no wins en route to finishing 18th in points last year with Jamie McMurray.
The pair being reunited certainly brings a reunited hope to the No. 5 Farmers Insurance team heading into the 2015 season. However,where there’s hope, there’s expectations. Kahne better match those expectations early in the year, or else he may see his contract shrunk from three years to two as we’ve seen Hendrick let drivers go early before.