Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne make contact sending Earnhardt through the grass and into the wall.
Hendrick driver kicks off Shark Week with special paint scheme SHOP: Kahne gear RELATED: Kahne driving full throttle into Cup future The instructions were simple enough. If you lose your balance or get knocked over, don't wave your arms. Don't attempt to catch yourself. The sharks will come after you if you do. As if racing at nearly 200 mph while surrounded by 42 others all battling for the same real estate wasn't dangerous enough, Kasey Kahne recently spent a few days in the water in the Bahamas. Surrounded by sharks. "One time one rubbed me pretty good; the back half of him hit me," Kahne said. "I didn't go over, but he rubbed me pretty good. Another time another one was pretty close, and I was like petting him in a way. I don't know if you pet sharks, but I touched his skin. It was real hard and rough, really tough." Kahne , driver of the Hendrick Motorsports No. 5 Chevrolet in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series made the trip to film for Discovery Channel's upcoming Shark Week effort that kicks off Sunday night. Great Clips, a primary sponsor of Kahne's team, has backed the network's annual week-long programming for the past three seasons. "Maybe they weren't Great Whites, but they were big," Kahne said of the scuba diving excursion that placed him in the water surrounded by Caribbean reef sharks and other creatures from the deep. "I enjoyed it ... it was a neat experience and I'm really glad I got to do that." Kahne said he went through an hour-long class to familiarize himself with the equipment and the process. After diving to just under 40 feet, he settled in as a fellow diver drew the sharks in with food. "The biggest thing is just to keep your hands to yourself, don't move your hands because they're looking for food," Kahne said. "We had a guy down there in something like a steel mesh suit feeding them to keep them around us. So keep your hands to yourself, kind of keep them close to your chest and if a shark runs into you, just fall over. "You're seated on the floor, kind of have your legs wrapped around a rock to kind of hold yourself up because you're on your knees. Just fall over and kind of slowly get back up. "It was more about not making quick moves so it doesn't get their attention. It was really under control, really exciting. I loved it." Kahne's No. 5 Chevrolet will feature a Shark Week/Great Clips paint scheme for Sunday's Coke Zero 400 (7:45 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM) at Daytona International Speedway. RELATED: See Kahne's paint scheme "I grew up as a kid watching a lot of the Shark Week shows," he said. "I still do and it'll be pretty fun to see myself on there for 2-3 minutes. I think kids love that type of stuff and I think that's why it's such a big deal to Great Clips. All the kids that they see, I think the Shark Week involvement is a pretty neat deal. They do a great job with it. "I had a blast. I'll go back and do it again. I don't know if I'll swim with sharks again -- I don't know how to set all that stuff up -- but I'll definitely scuba." Watch Kahne swim with the sharks below. FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Kevin Harvick will also start from the front row in Sunday’s Quicken Loans 400 RELATED: Full qualifying results " See the 43-car lineup BROOKLYN, Mich. – Kevin Harvick had his sights set on a clean sweep of knockout qualifying at Michigan International Speedway —until Kasey Kahne had other ideas late in Friday’s final round. Kahne sped around the two-mile track in 35.645 seconds (201.992 mph) to knock Harvick off the pole for Sunday's Quicken Loans 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race (1 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1, MRN, SiriusXM). Harvick, who posted a 201.613 mph lap in the final session, had topped the charts in the first two rounds, matching Kahne's pole-winning time in the second. The Coors Light Pole Award was Kahne's first of the season and the 27th of his career—but his first since the October 2012 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Kansas Speedway . Brad Keselowski (201.449 mph) qualified third, followed by Carl Edwards (201.067 mph) and Ryan Blaney (201.056 mph), who is running a partial schedule in the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford. With a 2012 repaving project having narrowed the racing groove at Michigan, Kahne underscored the value of starting up front—and staying there. "It's going to be really important," said Kahne , who also gets the benefit of selecting pit stall No. 1., closest to the exit from pit road. "The track is going to change a lot, though, come Sunday, with all the racing going on this weekend and then our practices (on Saturday). "The track will be a lot different Sunday. So, there will be some passing for sure, but it's not going to be easy. So track position will play a big role in being there at the end of the race." Harvick remains the only driver to sweep all three rounds of qualifying at a single track, a feat he accomplished last year at Michigan and Indianapolis, but he fell .067 seconds of doing so for a third time. "I don't know that I got everything out of it (the final lap), but the rounds were within seven hundredths (of a second) of each other, " Harvick said. "The guys were doing a great job, and Kasey just got a little bit better lap there than we did." With possible rain in the forecast, Blaney was nervous as qualifying approached, but not because of the competition. If rain had washed out time trials, the Wood Brothers Racing car would not have made the field, based on fewest qualifying attempts this season—a product of a limited schedule. "It was funny the way it played out," Blaney said. "It looked like two cells coming at us (on the radar), and a small slit in the middle of them, and we passed right through that slit. That was just kind of lucky for us. "Like I said, it would have stung knowing how good of a car we had in practice if qualifying rained out. We're fortunate to get it in, and it's a bonus to have a good race car." Brendan Gaughan , who unlike Blaney would have benefited from a rainout, failed to make the 43-car field.
Erik Jones will start alongside Kahne in the front row for tonight's event Related: Full qualifying results Making his 2015 Camping World Truck Series debut, Kasey Kahne earned his first career Truck Series Keystone Light Pole Award of the season on Friday night Charlotte Motor Speedway . Turning his No. 00 JR Motorsports Chevrolet at 181.342 mph around the 1.5-mile oval, Kahne -- who led Thursday's opening practice -- will start from the top position later tonight in the NC Education Lottery 200 (8:30 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1). Kyle Busch Motorsports' Erik Jones will start alongside Kahne in the front row, propelling his No. 4 ride at 181.008 mph to claim the second position on the leaderboard. Jones also led Thursday's final practice at Charlotte. Rounding out the top five for tonight's 200-mile event are Jones' KBM teammate Matt Tifft (180.511 mph), BK Racing owner and Sprint Cup veteran Brad Keselowski (180.499 mph) and NTS Motorsports' Daniel Hemric (180.270 mph), respectively. Reigning series champion Matt Crafton advanced to the final round of qualifying and will roll off the grid ninth in his No. 88 ThorSport Toyota. During the second round of qualifying, Kyle Busch Motorsports' Justin Boston spun off Turn 4, bringing out the first caution during the three rounds. The No. 54 driver will start 22nd in tonight's NC Education Lottery 200 . The second round saw a bit of chaos in its final minutes, as several drivers failed to complete a lap and GMS Racing's Spencer Gallagher spun off Turn 4. Gallagher will roll off the grid 18th tonight. Ryan Ellis , Todd Peck and Brandon Brown failed to qualify for tonight's NC Education Lottery 200 . FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
A statistical look ahead to the 21st race of the Sprint Cup season DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Below is a look at some of the top statistical performers at Pocono Raceway in Pocono, Pennsylvania going into the WINDOWS 10 400 on August 2 (1:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN). POCONO-SPECIFIC STATISTICS Kurt Busch (No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet) · Two wins, 12 top fives, 16 top 10s; two poles · Average finish of 12.421, eighth-best · Average Running Position of 10.246, second-best · Driver Rating of 105.9, third-best · 332 Fastest Laps Run, sixth-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 162.733, second-fastest · 2659 Laps in the Top 15 (77.0), second-most · 774 Quality Passes, seventh-most Dale Earnhardt Jr (No. 88 MICROSOFT Chevrolet) · Two wins, nine top fives, 13 top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 15.900, 11th-best · Average Running Position of 14.002, 10th-best · Driver Rating of 92.6, ninth-best · 102 Fastest Laps Run, third-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 162.237, eighth-fastest · 2286 Laps in the Top 15 (63.3), eighth-most · 727 Quality Passes, eighth-most Carl Edwards (No. 19 STANLEY Toyota) · Two wins, five top fives, eight top 10s · Average finish of 15.500, 10th-best · Average Running Position of 14.826, 13th-best · Driver Rating of 94.2, eighth-best · 176 Fastest Laps Run, fourth-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 162.224, ninth-fastest · 2262 Laps in the Top 15 (62.6), 10th-most · 712 Quality Passes, ninth-most Jeff Gordon (No. 24 AARP Member Advantages Chevrolet) · Six wins, 19 top fives, 31 top 10s; two poles · Average finish of 9.650, second-best · Average Running Position of 9.916, series-best · Driver Rating of 103.5, fourth-best · 169 Fastest Laps Run, 12th-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 162.625, fifth-fastest · 2777 Laps in the Top 15 (76.9), third-most · 885 Quality Passes, series-most Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota) · Four wins, nine top fives, 13 top 10s; three poles · Average finish of 11.889, seventh-best · Average Running Position of 10.844, fourth-best · Driver Rating of 108.3, series-best · 437 Fastest Laps Run, seventh-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 162.806, series-fastest · 2543 Laps in the Top 15 (79.3), series-most · 685 Quality Passes, 10th-most Kevin Harvick (No. 4 Jimmy John's/Budweiser Chevrolet) · Seven top fives, 11 top 10s · Average finish of 10.600, fifth-best · Average Running Position of 13.743, eighth-best · Driver Rating of 91.9, 11th-best · 63 Fastest Laps Run, eighth-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 162.159, 10th-fastest · 2277 Laps in the Top 15 (63.0), ninth-most · 789 Quality Passes, sixth-most Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Kobalt Tools Chevrolet) · Three wins, 11 top fives, 18 top 10s; three poles · Average finish of 10.500, third-best · Average Running Position of 10.487, third-best · Driver Rating of 106.9, second-best · 273 Fastest Laps Run, 10th-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 162.708, third-fastest · 2774 Laps in the Top 15 (76.8), fourth-most · 861 Quality Passes, fourth-most Kasey Kahne (No. 5 Aquafina Chevrolet) · Two wins, five top fives, eight top 10s; two poles · Average finish of 18.750, 13th-best · Average Running Position of 14.622, 11th-best · Driver Rating of 92.1, 10th-best · 306 Fastest Laps Run, series-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 162.436, sixth-fastest · 2199 Laps in the Top 15 (60.9), 11th-most · 804 Quality Passes, fifth-most Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Alliance Truck Parts Ford) · One win, three top fives, four top 10s · Average finish of 13.400, ninth-best · Average Running Position of 14.786, 12th-best · Driver Rating of 90.8, 12th-best · 96 Fastest Laps Run, fifth-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 161.894, 13th-fastest · 852 Laps in the Top 15 (50.1), 13th-most · 306 Quality Passes, 12th-most Kyle Larson (No. 42 Suave Men Chevrolet) · One top five, two top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 8.000, series-best · Average Running Position of 12.672, seventh-best · Driver Rating of 95.7, sixth-best · 2 Fastest Laps Run, 13th-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 162.690, fourth-fastest · 230 Laps in the Top 15 (71.9), seventh-most · 87 Quality Passes, 13th-most Joey Logano (No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford) · One win, three top fives, five top 10s; two poles · Average finish of 16.583, 12th-best · Average Running Position of 13.811, ninth-best · Driver Rating of 88.9, 13th-best · 61 Fastest Laps Run, second-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 162.097, 12th-fastest · 1190 Laps in the Top 15 (56.6), 12th-most · 456 Quality Passes, 11th-most Ryan Newman (No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet) · One win, nine top fives, 14 top 10s; two poles · Average finish of 10.500, fourth-best · Average Running Position of 11.426, fifth-best · Driver Rating of 95.3, seventh-best · 36 Fastest Laps Run, 11th-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 162.135, 11th-fastest · 2689 Laps in the Top 15 (74.4), fifth-most · 883 Quality Passes, second-most Tony Stewart (No. 14 Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 Chevrolet) · Two wins, 12 top fives, 22 top 10s; two poles · Average finish of 10.600, sixth-best · Average Running Position of 12.223, sixth-best · Driver Rating of 97.6, fifth-best · 99 Fastest Laps Run, ninth-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 162.319, seventh-fastest · 2619 Laps in the Top 15 (72.5), sixth-most · 880 Quality Passes, third-most Driver Races Poles Wins Top Fives Top 10s DNFs Average Finish Driver Rating 1 Kevin Harvick 29 0 0 7 11 2 13.2 91.9 2 Joey Logano 13 2 1 3 5 1 15.6 88.9 3 Dale Earnhardt Jr 31 1 2 9 13 1 15.2 92.6 4 Jimmie Johnson 27 3 3 11 18 1 9.6 106.9 5 Martin Truex Jr 19 0 1 3 7 0 15.1 80.4 6 Brad Keselowski 11 0 1 3 4 0 13.7 90.8 7 Matt Kenseth 31 0 0 3 11 1 15.7 86.7 8 Kurt Busch 28 2 2 12 16 5 14.4 105.9 9 Jamie McMurray 25 1 0 0 7 3 19.3 73.1 10 Denny Hamlin 19 3 4 9 13 2 11.8 108.3 11 Jeff Gordon 45 2 6 19 31 5 10 103.5 12 Ryan Newman 27 2 1 9 14 3 12.4 95.3 13 Paul Menard 17 0 0 0 2 1 23.6 64.6 14 Kasey Kahne 23 2 2 5 8 3 17.6 92.1 15 Clint Bowyer 19 0 0 2 8 0 14.6 82.8 16 Carl Edwards 21 0 2 5 8 1 15.5 94.2 * – Based on last 21 races at Pocono Raceway (2005 – 2015). Kyle Busch ’s Chase Eligibility 30th Justin Allgaier 317 Rank Driver Wins Points Points From 30th 31 Cole Whitt 0 314 -3 32 Kyle Busch 4 294 -23 33 Brett Moffitt # 0 266 -51 34 Alex Bowman 0 245 -72 35 Michael Annett 0 230 -87 36 Matt DiBenedetto # 0 205 -112 37 Josh Wise 0 186 -131 38 Michael McDowell 0 124 -193 39 Jeb Burton 0 111 -206 40 Alex Kennedy 0 71 -246 * To be eligible for the Chase, the driver must be in the top 30 of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings following race number 26. Pocono Raceway Data Season Race #: 21 of 36 (08-02-15) Track Size : 2.5-miles Banking/Turn 1 : 14 degrees Banking/Turn 2 : 8 degrees Banking/Turn 3 : 6 degrees Frontstretch Length : 3,740 feet Backstretch Length : 3,055 feet Shortstretch Length : 1,780 feet Race Length : 160 laps / 400 miles Top 10 Driver Ratings at Pocono Denny Hamlin ............................ 108.3 Jimmie Johnson ........................ 106.9 Kurt Busch ................................ 105.9 Jeff Gordon .............................. 103.5 Tony Stewart ............................... 97.6 Kyle Larson ................................ 95.7 Ryan Newman ............................. 95.3 Carl Edwards .............................. 94.2 Dale Earnhardt Jr ........................ 92.6 Kasey Kahne .............................. 92.1 Note: Driver Ratings compiled from 2005-2015 races (21 total) among active drivers at Pocono Raceway. Qualifying/Race Data 2014 pole winner : Kyle Larson , Chevrolet 183.438 mph, 49.063 secs, 08-01-14 2014 race winner : Dale Earnhardt Jr ., Chevrolet 127.411 mph, (03:08:22), 08-03-14 Track qualifying record: Kyle Larson , Chevrolet 183.438 mph, 49.610 secs, 08-03-14 Track race record: Jeff Gordon , Chevrolet 145.384 mph, (03:26:21), 06-12-11 At Pocono Raceway: History · Opened in 1968 as a three-quarter-mile track, Pocono Raceway held the first race on the 2.5-mile track in 1971. · The first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race was in 1974 – won by Richard Petty , Dodge, 115.593 mph, 08/04/1974. · The 2.5-mile track was repaved during the fall of 2011. · 2012 marked the first season the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Pocono were scheduled for 400 miles. Prior to 2012 all NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races were 500 miles at Pocono Raceway. Starts · There have been 75 NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Pocono Raceway, one race from 1974 through 1981, and two per year since. · 327 drivers have competed in at least one NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Pocono Raceway; 229 in more than one. · Ricky Rudd leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in starts at Pocono with 55. · Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 45 starts (eighth most all-time) at Pocono; followed by Tony Stewart with 33 starts. · Denny Hamlin (19 starts) leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in average starting position at Pocono with a 6.632. Poles · 40 drivers have posted Coors Light poles at Pocono, led by Bill Elliott and Ken Schrader with five each; Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin lead all active drivers with three each. · Buddy Baker won the inaugural Coors Light pole at Pocono in 1974 with a speed of 144.122 mph. · Five drivers have won consecutive Coors Light poles at Pocono. Bill Elliott holds the record for most consecutive poles at Pocono with three; fall 1984 and both races in 1985. · Two active drivers have posted consecutive Coors Light poles at Pocono: Denny Hamlin (2006 sweep) and Joey Logano (fall 2011 and spring 2012). · Youngest Pocono pole winner: Joey Logano (08/07/2011 – 21 years, 2 months, 14 days). · Oldest Pocono pole winner: David Pearson (06/10/1984 – 49 years, 5 months, 19 days). · Kyle Larson (8/03/2014) and Casey Mears (8/1/2004) posted their first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coors Light poles at Pocono Raceway. Wins · 33 different drivers have won at Pocono Raceway, led by Jeff Gordon with six wins. · Seven active drivers have multiple wins at Pocono: Jeff Gordon (6), Denny Hamlin (4), Jimmie Johnson (3), Carl Edwards , Kasey Kahne , Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart (each have 2). · Seven drivers have posted consecutive wins at Pocono Raceway all-time, including three consecutive by Bobby Allison (1982 sweep and spring 1983) and Tim Richmond (1986 sweep and spring 1987). · Three of the seven drivers to win consecutive races at Pocono are active: Jimmie Johnson (2004 sweep); Denny Hamlin (2006 sweep and 2009 fall and 2010 spring races) and Dale Earnhardt Jr . (2014 sweep). · Youngest Pocono winner: Joey Logano (06/10/2012 – 22 years, 0 months, 17 days). · Oldest Pocono winner: Harry Gant (06/17/1990 – 50 years, 5 months, 7 days). · Hendrick Motorsports has the most wins at Pocono in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with 17: Jeff Gordon (six), Tim Richmond (three), Jimmie Johnson (three), Dale Earnhardt Jr . (two), Kasey Kahne (one), Geoff Bodine (one) and Terry Labonte (one). · Eight different manufacturers have won in the NSCS at Pocono; led by Chevrolet with 31 victories; followed by Ford with 21 and Toyota has three. · 13 of the 75 (17.3%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Pocono have been won from the Coors Light pole; the most recent was Joey Logano (June, 2012). · 15 of the 74 (20%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Pocono have been won from the first starting position; the most recent was Jimmie Johnson (June, 2013). · The first starting position is the most proficient starting position in the field, producing more winners (15) than any other starting position at Pocono Raceway. · 24 of the 75 (32%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Pocono have been won from the front row: 15 from the first starting position and nine from second-place. · 53 of the 75 (70.6%) NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Pocono have been won from a top-10 starting position. · Five of the 75 (6.7%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Pocono have been won from a starting position outside the top 20. · The deepest in the field that a race winner has started at Pocono is 29th, by Carl Edwards in the spring of 2005. · One active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver has posted his first career win at Pocono Raceway: Denny Hamlin (06/11/06). · Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards are the only two active drivers to win at Pocono in their first appearances. · Matt Kenseth leads the series among active drivers with the most NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at Pocono without visiting Victory Lane at 31; followed by Kevin Harvick with 29. Additional Finishing Position Stats · Mark Martin leads the series in runner-up finishes at Pocono with seven; Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with six; followed by Kurt Busch with five. · Mark Martin leads the series in top-five finishes at Pocono with 20; Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 19; followed by Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart with 12 each. · Mark Martin leads the series in top-10 finishes at Pocono with 34; Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 31; followed by Tony Stewart with 22. · Jimmie Johnson leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in average finishing position at Pocono with a 9.630. Track Specific Stats · Since the advent of electronic scoring the closest margin of victory (MOV) in
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
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!
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
Driver of No. 24 was trying to avoid spinning Clint Bowyer RELATED: Gordon says goodbye to the Brickyard Jeff Gordon ran into trouble on Lap 50 in his final appearance as a full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Gordon damaged the left-front side of his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet when he hit the wall at the 2.5-mile superspeedway while trying to avoid a spinning Clint Bowyer . Gordon made light contact with teammate Kasey Kahne 's No. 5 Chevrolet as he veered right to avoid Bowyer. The driver of the Michael Waltrip Racing No. 15 Toyota was racing alongside Kevin Harvick when his car appeared to get loose and went into a spin. "I was underneath Kasey Kahne and we were just racing for position," Gordon said. "I saw (Clint) Bowyer get sideways. I don't know what caused it. Me and Kasey were trying to check up to avoid it. I don't know if he got loose or we just both got loose together. Then I just lost control and got in the wall." Gordon, a five-time winner at Indianapolis who spent time racing as a teenager while living in Pittsboro, Indiana, went to pit road twice to get significant repairs. The second time, NBCSN reported that the crew had to cut away part of the left-front fender to prevent it from rubbing the tire, and he was penalized for speeding on pit road. RELATED: Gordon goes home to Pittsboro Gordon returned to the track but, by Lap 66, was scored five laps down. The NASCAR tower asked Gordon to pick up his speed as he was having trouble meeting the minimum 58.11-second lap required of cars in the race. When Gordon couldn't meet the speed, he brought the No. 24 to the garage. "Yeah, we're never going to give up," Gordon said. "We got back out there as fast as we could. The splitter was too torn up on the front and creating lift. The car didn’t have any front downforce and was pushing bad. We're probably going to cut the nose off, put a new nose on and get back out there." Gordon got back out on the track eventually and was scored 42nd in his final run at the Brickyard. FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Former owner Ray Evernham: '... There’s a championship driver in there' RELATED: Kahne swims with the sharks In the beginning, it came easy for Kasey Kahne . Fast cars and a great team and all of a sudden there's a new young gun for the established stars to deal with each weekend in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series. "Yeah, everything was pretty simple back then," Kahne , 35, says. "Every time I got in the car we were fast -- practice, qualifying, race. "Today it's a little different; it's more difficult to be on top. I think part of it is the competition, it's so close today that it makes it tougher." The competition's tough, certainly, but finding that feeling behind the wheel, the one that often separates the winners from the losers, can be just as difficult. That's what Kahne enjoyed in those early years, back in 2004 and '05 and '06, and it's what he is searching for today. It's also what crew chief Keith Rodden is trying to find for his driver each and every day when he shows up for work. "If you hit on something that really suits your driving, you can be on top and you can be there for a period of time," Kahne says. "That's what we're looking for, that's what we hope to hit on eventually." The quest continues this weekend at Daytona International Speedway, site of Sunday night's Coke Zero 400 (7:45 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR). Kasey Kahne has won 17 times at NASCAR’s top level. He has never won a restrictor-plate points race. • • • He was just 23 when he made his Sprint Cup Series debut, finishing near the bottom of the order in the 2004 Daytona 500 after the engine soured just 42 laps into the season-opening race. But any questions about team owner Ray Evernham's decision to hire the youngster were quickly put to rest. A week after his disappointing Daytona debut, Kahne finished second at Rockingham, North Carolina. After an early-season off-week, Kahne was second again, this time at Las Vegas. All told, Kahne finished second five times as a rookie, then added a sixth early the following season. By the season's 11th stop, at Richmond, he was no longer second -- he was in Victory Lane. A year later, he won six times, more than any other driver in the series, including champion Jimmie Johnson . By the time Evernham Motorsports became Gillett Evernham Motorsports in the latter stages of ’07, Kahne had seven wins and the look of a future champion. And then it slowly began to unravel. The wins haven't ceased -- he's won 10 times since that memorable '06 season -- but the championships have thus far failed to materialize. The Gillett Evernham partnership eventually dismantled and by '09, the Enumclaw, Washington, native had moved on to Richard Petty Motorsports for a two-year stint. A stint with Red Bull Racing followed, before team owner Rick Hendrick came calling, looking for a suitable replacement for veteran Mark Martin . In 2012, Kahne settled in as the newest member of one of the most successful organizations in NASCAR. While he's qualified for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup all three years he's been at HMS, he's slowly been trending in the wrong direction, finishing fourth, 12th and 15th in points since his arrival. RELATED: Kahne to become a father Where did the kid with so much talent and promise go? "I don't know," says Evernham, now back at HMS as a member of the organization's executive management team. "I really pushed Mr. Hendrick to hire him because I really feel like Kasey Kahne is a guy that should win a championship. "We've not been able to get him over that hump. I certainly still believe in him. I think Keith Rodden has helped Kasey's confidence. They're still kind of sorting out their cars and things like that. I don't know. I will be disappointed if Kasey Kahne ends his career without winning a championship. "He's got the talent, he's got the ability, and he's got the cars and equipment. I don't know -- communication, changes, where he's at … again, I can't answer that. It's something we talk about a lot." • • • Kahne , who has six top-10 finishes through this year's first 16 races, arrives in Daytona eighth in points. His last win came in Atlanta last season, and it was his only win of the year. Still, he says, he believes his team is making gains. Driver Reports: How will Kahne fare at Daytona? "I think our cars are super close, our engines and our packages are right there," Kahne says. "I feel good about that. "It's just a matter of keep trying to find that little bit of feel. That's what Martin Truex has right now; that's what Kevin Harvick has had for a year and a half. Just that feel. They have it and they know how to find it each week. Their teams do a really nice job with that and the drivers do a great job with it. That's what I'm looking for. I just hope I can find that feel that gives me just … you just floor it a touch sooner every lap and you go as fast as they do." Kahne knows the feel, although he jokes that "it's been a while since I've had it, so it's hard to remember. "I know it feels good," he says. "It gives you confidence; you feel like you can run (with anyone), you feel like you can win and you can battle at any time. You're better on restarts, you're better in traffic and you're better when you're on your own. "When you do have that feel, you just always seem to be a tenth or two better and it helps every part of the race weekend." Every driver that's been around for the past decade has had to deal with tremendous changes in the cars as one generation was pushed aside for newer, safer vehicles. Some have had to alter their driving styles, adapting to cars that suddenly had more downforce but could be a handful around others. A fortunate few found the changes worked in their favor and no changes were necessary. "The interesting thing is today we run so much throttle compared to what we used to run," says Kahne . "When I first came in (to the series) you were off the throttle for a good period of time, you'd ease back to it and then floor it. "Today it's on and off. It's like a light switch. And the percentage of the time that you're wide open today compared to then is much higher. I think some of those things haven't fit my driving style as well as I would have liked. As a driver, I need to keep working on that stuff and figure out how to make it fit my driving style. "I think when I first came into the sport, it was all about getting off the brake as fast as you could and getting back to throttle as soon as possible. If you weren't wide open that was OK, you were still part throttle and still gaining speed. "Today, it's like push the brake hard for a split second, get off it and hammer the throttle hard. Your off-throttle time is very small. It’s just so much different driving these cars today. I'm up for the challenge, but I think as we’ve gone through the changes (to the cars), it's been a little more difficult for the way I learned to race." • • • For the majority of his career, Kahne was paired with crew chief Kenny Francis. That changed during the most recent off-season when Hendrick officials put former lead engineer Keith Rodden in charge. Rodden is one of the new breed, an engineer that has transitioned into the role of crew chief. But carrying a degree, he said, doesn't mean an engineer will make a successful crew chief. “Absolutely not. It just doesn’t matter,” Rodden says. “When you’re the crew chief, you’ve got to be the leader of the team, you have to work well with all the NASCAR people, you’ve got to be able to take all the information from all the people you have working whether it’s the engineer, the tire guy or literally the janitor sweeping the shop … you have to use everyone's input." Rodney Childers, crew chief for defending series champion Kevin Harvick "is very methodical," he says. "He's a great racer. He probably could have gone to engineering school. He didn't, he went to race. Whereas Matt McCall (crew chief for driver Jamie McMurray ), he's a great racer. He went to engineering school at home and kept racing. "I think there are examples where it's easy to say it works and others where it doesn’t. Just like (Tony Gibson) on the 41, he’s got (Johnny) Klausmeier he relies on a lot." Gibson is crew chief of the Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet with driver Kurt Busch . "I think the biggest thing is just using all the input from all your guys," Rodden said. "It's too big for one person." His cars have had speed this year, although Rodden takes no credit for that. Part of the reason, he says, may be the current rules package, one that features less downforce and less horsepower. "We don't really worry about the speed as much as trying to get the car to driving good because that always seems to race a little bit better," he says. "You get sad maybe if you're not quite as fast as another car but we work on trying to get our car to drive good and have good speed, instead of just maybe being on the verge of spinning out every lap and being fast. Being smart about it, too." • • • NASCAR is a team sport, but Kahne knows his role is vital. As he goes, the fortunes of the No. 5 team follow. Teams have gotten smarter and worked harder through the various changes in the cars in recent years. "That's where as a driver you need to be able to adapt and be able to do your part," Kahne says. "I feel like I'm always close but I don't feel like I’m ever that guy on top. "There were times in '05 and '06 for sure when I felt I was as fast as anyone in this garage on a lot of occasions. And there have been times like that since, but just not as many. It's the way it goes. "I still have a lot of drive, I still want to race cars. I want to win races. I think if you have all that and you have that passion that eventually you’ll get it figured out and get back on top." No one would be more pleased to see that happen than Evernham, the former championship-winning crew chief with driver Jeff Gordon . "We're still searching for that key to unlock because I know there's a big part of Kasey Kahne in there," Evernham says. "He's 35 years old; we've got to unlock that but I believe that there's a championship driver in there." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule