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Hendrick Motorsports driver talks offseason plans, 2015 goals RELATED: Subscribe to NASCAR Illustrated Kasey Kahne had an up-and-down 2014. The 34-year-old driver won for a third consecutive year at Hendrick Motorsports , notching the victory at Atlanta Motor Speedway in the penultimate race of NASCAR's regular season. That late win vaulted the No. 5 team into the Chase and ensured that all four of Hendrick's teams were in it. But Kahne and longtime crew chief Kenny Francis didn't consistently flash the speed that their fans have been accustomed to seeing. The rumor mill began churning with talk of Keith Rodden possibly leaving Chip Ganassi Racing and returning to HMS next year to lead Kahne's team. That move was confirmed shortly after Homestead, as was a new three-year-deal for Kahne at Hendrick Motorsports . NASCAR ILLUSTRATED: What do you have planned for the offseason, anything you're particularly looking forward to? KASEY KAHNE : I'm excited mainly just to have a little break. I need a break away from racing. Looking forward to going home for a few days back to Washington in Enumclaw, hitting a Seahawks game and then heading to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, for a week to ski, snowmobile and shop. I'm looking forward to that. NI: Your Atlanta win was the high point of the season. How would you describe the relief of getting into the Chase? KAHNE : It was definitely a highlight as a team and stepping up and working together. Getting a win that night was really nice for us, nice to make the Chase and get in. But I think the win meant more than anything just to show that we're capable if we do things right. When we do things right, we're still capable and we have a lot to look forward to in the future. NI: What are your thoughts on the new Chase format now that you've been through it? KAHNE : It's been really interesting and I personally like it because both winning and consistent teams will advance. In each round, both have advanced, so to me it's kind of like the points system but it's also like a playoff. So I like that. And it's also put more pressure on the teams and drivers every single race, which has created more drama. The fighting, the running into each other, I think it's really made it more intense. It's actually been pretty damn exciting. NI: You and Russell Wilson raised $220,000 in two days during "The Drive" this summer. What does the future look like for the event? KAHNE : Russell's excited and I'm excited about our first tournament together and the first time we worked together on charity. We're gonna do it again next year and try to make it an annual deal. The golf tournament was great and the course and the people involved. We expect to grow it and want to work and make sure it's bigger and better each year. RELATED: Kahne , Super Bowl MVP team up for 'The Drive' NI: What specific areas of your team's performance need to be better in 2015? KAHNE : Really the first thing I look at is speed in practice, qualifying, race. We don't have those fast laps like we've always had in the past. We have to look at that; I have to look at that, we have to look at that as a team. Our pit stops have to be better. You can't lose spots every time off pit road and expect to do well in this series. It's way too competitive. I think both of those things and just the communication and working together, normal things that you have to have as a team. I just think we all need to get a little better at that. I think it will all take care of itself once we get the speed back, once we know we’re putting up fast laps whenever we're on the track. SUBSCRIBE NOW!
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Will Hendrick driver rebound with familiar face back as crew chief? MORE: Full schedule of season previews Team: Hendrick Motorsports No. 5 Chevrolet Rank in final 2014 standings: 15th Wins: 1 ( Atlanta Motor Speedway ) Year in photos: Kasey Kahne 2014 highlights Strides: Kahne has qualified for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup in each of his three years at Hendrick Motorsports , but after a career best fourth-place finish in the 2012 championship standings, he hasn't fared as well. A 17-time race winner in the Sprint Cup Series who has visited Victory Lane in eight of his 11 full-time seasons, Kahne has impressed team owner Rick Hendrick enough to earn a three-year extension on his contract during the offseason. His clutch victory at Atlanta is a reminder of the potential championship-caliber effort that has made him one of NASCAR's elite drivers. Setbacks: After securing a place in the Chase with a win in the next to last regular season race, Kahne only managed a single top-10 in the season's remaining 11 races and never seriously challenged to move past the Contender Round. His three top-fives were his lowest season total since 2007. Last year marked the first time in his career that Kahne went consecutive seasons without winning a pole. Quoteworthy: "I'd say our season was just okay. We didn't have a lot of speed this year. A few races we ran up front, but not often enough. … Hopefully we hit on something a little better this year (2015) that fits my driving style better than we did last year. This past year we just never hit on it like I'd like to." What's next: Kahne is one of nearly a dozen drivers with a new crew chief atop the pit box in 2015. Longtime crew chief Kenny Francis, who has been with Kahne for all but five races since the end of the 2005 season, will move into the "vehicle technical director" position at Hendrick while Kahne's former engineer Keith Rodden takes over the No. 5 crew after spending a year as the crew chief for Jamie McMurray and the No. 1 team at Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. "I think change is good and we needed a change," Kahne said. "Keith has been with me before. We have a good working relationship and a friendship. He's aggressive and gets the job done. He likes our team … just needs each one of us to step up and do a better job. I think Keith will be a great leader and take us into a good direction." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Kahne also picks up new primary sponsor for three races in 2015 RELATED: Play NASCAR Fantasy Live " Sign up for RaceView today MORE: Rodden to step in as No. 5 crew chief Hendrick Motorsports announced Thursday morning that it has signed driver Kasey Kahne to a three-year contract extension, keeping him in the fold through 2018 . "I've found a home at Hendrick Motorsports," said Kahne in a team release. "We have incredible people and partners supporting us, and I couldn’t be more excited about the direction we're headed as a team and a company. It's the right place for me, and I'm looking forward to being here for a long time." The news comes one day after a major shakeup with Hendrick's No. 5 Chevrolet team in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, with Keith Rodden accepting a crew chief role and Kenny Francis, atop Kahne's pit box since the 2005 season finale, shifting to the position of vehicle technical director. Kahne , an 11-year veteran and 17-time winner in NASCAR's premier series, and Francis joined the Hendrick organization in 2012. "It's extremely gratifying to work with a driver like Kasey ," said Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports said in a team release. "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." In addition, Kahne will have LiftMaster on board as a primary sponsor for three races in the 2015 Sprint Cup season as well as an associate sponsor for the rest of the races. The agreement will be for the next three seasons (2015 to 2017). LiftMaster will be the primary sponsor for Kahne on May 24 (Charlotte), July 11 (Kentucky) and October 18 (Kansas). "It means a lot to have support from a great company like LiftMaster," Kahne said in a release. "The No. 5 team has high expectations for 2015, and they'll be with us as the primary sponsor at three tracks where we're traditionally very fast. All of us are looking forward to representing them throughout the season and developing a successful long-term relationship." We’re excited to join @KaseyKahne & @TeamHendrick starting in 2015! http://t.co/kZJdDPiroS pic.twitter.com/2aP8Oy7CJr — LiftMaster (@LiftMaster) November 20, 2014 The 34-year-old driver has won five times in Hendrick equipment and notched his best-ever finish in the season standings -- fourth -- in his first year with the team. Last season was a struggle, however, with Kahne posting just three top-five finishes and winding up 15th in the final standings. Kahne qualified for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs with a Labor Day weekend victory at Atlanta Motor Speedway in the next-to-last race of the regular season. Kahne survived the first round of eliminations in the new-look Chase, but was ousted in the Contender Round, the second three-race leg of the postseason. Kahne agreed to join Hendrick in April 2010, replacing veteran driver Mark Martin . After signing the multiyear agreement, Kahne finished out most of the season in Richard Petty Motorsports' Fords, then spent the last five races of 2010 and all of 2011 driving Red Bull Racing's Toyotas before finally landing in the No. 5 Chevy. Re-signing Kahne , whose contract was set to expire after the 2015 season, helps solidify the Hendrick driver lineup. Team cornerstone Jeff Gordon , a four-time series champion, signed a lifetime contract with Hendrick in 1999. Six-time champion Jimmie Johnson is also under contract through 2015, and Dale Earnhardt Jr ., the sport's most popular driver, is signed through 2017. With Hendrick at the NASCAR-mandated maximum of four teams and the unlikelihood of Johnson departing after 2015, speculation will likely rise about the future of 18-year-old prodigy Chase Elliott , the reigning NASCAR Nationwide Series champion who is under contract to Hendrick and drives for the affiliated JR Motorsports team with co-owner Earnhardt. Team owner Rick Hendrick said Nov. 8 after Elliott became the series' youngest champion that the young driver's career arc will likely include a handful of Sprint Cup races next season, but that there is no accelerated timetable to place him in NASCAR's premier series on a full-time basis. Elliott will return next year to defend his title in what will be known as the NASCAR XFINITY Series, driving JRM equipment. "Another year of seasoning here will be good for him, and we're not in any hurry," Hendrick said. "He's 18 years old." MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Kahne earns first victory -- and Chase berth -- with thrilling finish RELATED: Complete results " Updated standings " Current Chase Grid HAMPTON, Ga. -- It was Tony Stewart's return to racing that dominated the headlines before Sunday night's Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway , but it was Kasey Kahne who stole the show -- and a berth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . In a race that went 10 laps beyond its scheduled distance of 325 laps, Kahne surged past Matt Kenseth on the second attempt at a green-white-checkered-flag finish to win for the first time this year and the third time at the 1.54-mile speedway. Kenseth finished second and clinched a Chase spot on points, leaving just two of 16 positions in NASCAR's 10-race playoff available in Saturday's regular-season finale at Richmond International Raceway . After streaking into the lead on a restart with 24 laps left, Kahne held the top spot until a caution for a fracas between Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. slowed the field with less than two laps left. On the first attempt at overtime, a multicar wreck in Turn 1 wiped out the dominant car of polesitter Kevin Harvick, requiring a second attempt at a two-lap shootout. With four fresh tires to Kenseth's two, Kahne overtook the No. 20 Toyota after he and Kenseth battled for a lap after the restart and pulled away to win the 17th race of his career by .574 seconds. "We were all over the place during the race, but the guys stayed with me and worked hard," Kahne said. "On those restarts -- I didn't know what would happen, because I had great restarts all night, and I struggle with restarts a lot. "That's big, because that is one of the things you have to be good at, and it worked really well tonight." It also took a huge weight off Kahne's shoulders, as the end of the regular season approached. "Yeah, we are locked in, and I hate that it comes down to this Atlanta or Richmond just about every year for me," Kahne said of the pressure to make the Chase. "Sometimes we are in, sometimes we are out. But thankful that now at HMS ( Hendrick Motorsports ), I've been in all three years now. We have the pressure all the way to Richmond, but we made it again--thankful for that." Denny Hamlin ran third, followed by Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards . Danica Patrick finished sixth, beating by four positions the best previous finish by a female driver at Atlanta (Janet Guthrie was 10th in 1978). The race that turned the season around for Kahne provided little solace for Stewart. Starting a Cup race for the first time since his involvement in the fatal sprint car accident that took the life of Kevin Ward Jr. on Aug. 9 at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Speedway, Stewart charged forward from his 12th-place starting position and ran as high as fourth in the early going. But Stewart's race came undone moments after a restart on Lap 123, when Kyle Busch's Toyota pinched Stewart's Chevy into the outside wall off Turn 2, significantly damaging both cars. On Lap 160 Matt Kenseth, then the leader, passed Stewart to put the No. 14 a lap down. Twelve laps later, a blown right front tire sent Stewart hard into the Turn 2 wall, forcing him to the garage and out of the race. Credited with a 41st-place finish, Stewart has one more chance—on Saturday at Richmond—to take advantage of a NASCAR dispensation that kept him eligible for the Chase. Having missed three races, Stewart must win at the .75-mile short track to qualify for NASCAR's 10-race playoff. After exiting his car, Stewart declined requests for interviews, but crew chief Chad Johnston spoke to reporters in the garage. "I went into today with some pretty high hopes of finishing well and possibly coming out of here with a win, but it just didn't work out in our favor," Johnston said. "We got into a little trouble with the 18 (Busch) and got into the outside wall, knocked the toe out of it, and a lot of heavy right side damage. "We were just trying to fix that and salvage what we could out of the day but then we blew a right front there right before that caution came out." If Stewart had issues on the track, so did one prominent driver on the Chase bubble. The shifter on Clint Bowyer' s No. 15 Toyota broke, preventing him from getting the car into high gear. Bowyer lost 22 laps in the garage as his team made repairs. He finished 38th, leaving his chances to make the Chase on points in dire jeopardy. MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news WATCH: Latest NASCAR video PLAY: NASCAR Fantasy Live FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Kahne : 'I started it to put a smile on people's faces. That's what it is all about'
NASCAR.com's Alan Cavanna sits down with Kasey Kahne to about his new look for 2014, the one race he'll never forget, the beginning of his career with Ray Evernham and his best moments of the 2013 season.
Kenny Francis, Kahne's crew chief, fined for rules infraction at Talladega
Kasey Kahne talks about getting his first win at Bristol and what it took to get to Victory Lane.