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
Kenny Francis expected to crew chief Nationwide champ's Cup starts in '15 RELATED: Elliott's path to a championship MORE: Play NASCAR Fantasy Live " Sign up for RaceView today While the date of Chase Elliott 's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut has not yet been set, Hendrick Motorsports revealed his expected crew chief Thursday. Appearing on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, Hendrick Motorsports General Manager Doug Duchardt said Kenny Francis is expected to be atop the pit box for those efforts. Francis was previously Kasey Kahne 's crew chief at Hendrick and is now in the newly created position of vehicle technical director. "I went to the NASCAR Nationwide banquet and was reminded that Chase is 18 years old," Duchardt said. "He's going to run Nationwide again next year and we've announced that we're going to run some Cup races with him in 2015. I would expect that Kenny (Francis) is going to crew chief those races for him. I think that's going to be a fun aspect of next year to see how Chase does in that. We'll see how things are going in '15 and see what the right steps are in the future. Right now, we're just going to take 2015 and take a look at how things are progressing. " ... It's like having this prospect in Triple-A that's batting .380 and when is he coming up to big club and run? We'll work on that, we'll see where that all heads." As far back as August, team owner Rick Hendrick was open about trying to get Elliott into a Cup car for a handful of races in 2015. "I think you'll probably see him run a few races next year," Hendrick told the SiriusXM NASCAR Radio in August. "Before he ever won a Nationwide race, I watched him test Jimmie's car and Jeff's car at Nashville, and Jimmie and Jeff both commented to me, 'This kid is super smooth and super fast. He takes care of his equipment, and he doesn't get in a jam.' "I said before he ever ran a race, I would put him in a 600-mile race at Charlotte and think he'd finish in the top 15, top 10, because he's so smart," Hendrick added. "He just understands the car and takes care of it. I think he's going to do a super job whenever the time comes. I think we'll surely, probably the second half of next year, we'll probably see him in some races." Dale Earnhardt Jr. , the co-owner of JR Motorsports and owner of the No. 9 car, has repeatedly said that Hendrick has "a great plan" for Elliott. Elliott broke out in 2014, winning three races in the NASCAR Nationwide Series en route to becoming the youngest NASCAR national series champion. He is set to drive the No. 9 car for a second straight season with JR Motorsports in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. Elliott will have a new crew chief in Ernie Cope, with Greg Ives joining Earnhardt Jr. in the Sprint Cup Series ranks. 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
No. 88 team's win comes 10 years after fatal plane crash RELATED: Full race results " Follow your picks in the Chase Battle Grid Presented by Toyota MORE: Junior meets with another Junior MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- History exists in every turn, in every crevice of Martinsville Speedway . From the elegant grandfather clocks given as race trophies and the antiquated look and feel of the 0.526-mile track, the oldest on the circuit, to the historic black-and-white photos that populate the media center, there is always a constant reminder of the past here in the southern Virginia foothills. Dale Earnhardt Jr ., a lover of NASCAR history, made some of his own with Sunday's victory. The man who attended his first race at the track in the 1980s, who grew up playing with toy Matchbox race cars in the front hall of his childhood home, listening to a race on the radio as one of the clocks his father won chimed every hour, now has a timepiece of his own after Sunday's thrilling victory. "You know, I love the history of the sport and just can't get enough of it," said Earnhardt Jr., whose mood vacillated from euphoric to contemplative throughout a 30-minute press conference after Sunday's win. "I just know this place has a special meaning and a special place in the series and the sport. Dad won several races here, brought home several clocks. I always wanted one." "This is so special. I try not to get too caught up in the emotion of it because it's a team deal, but this is very personal and very special to me to be able to win here." He did so by charging through the field after starting 23rd, leading 79 laps and holding off Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon over the frenetic final four laps in a race that had big wrecks and bigger swings. That it was Junior and Gordon finishing 1-2 made the day more fitting for Hendrick Motorsports. Yes, Martinsville is steeped in history. Not all of it is worth celebrating. It was 10 years ago when a Hendrick Motorsports plane crashed into the side of Bull Mountain en route to Martinsville, killing all 10 people aboard. Jimmie Johnson didn't go to Victory Lane that day after his win, and team owner Rick Hendrick's presence at this track is no longer guaranteed. Sometimes attending is too painful for Hendrick , who lost his son, brother and two nieces in the tragedy. The team owner was at this one, though, his mere presence a symbol of the same strength he showed in the days and years following that incident. Like so many in the stands, he nervously watched the dramatic final stages unfold as he wondered if either of his two drivers would win -- or if they'd wreck each other trying. "We miss those folks, family and friends, and they meant so much to the organization," he said as the race wound down. "Every year we think about it, but this year's (different) … 10 years." Then he was there in Victory Lane, the man who has built a four-car operation that is the envy of many, wrapping up the 11-time Most Popular Driver Award winner in a massive embrace. There they stood as confetti poured down around them, two men who have both endured unfathomable tragedy yet manage to still exude genuine gracefulness all these years later. "I could feel how important it was to ( Hendrick ) and his embrace, when he would hug me," Earnhardt said. "You just know, there's a hug and then there's a genuine hug. His was the real deal. "This is the 10th anniversary. It's more difficult. The 10th anniversary sort of has you reflecting and remembering. … Losing my dad was difficult. I can't imagine that loss that he went through, his family went through, the whole organization. I think I've paralleled my loss and his loss until I started working with him, then I started understanding it's quite a bit larger void that it created." Sunday's unforgettable victory was Earnhardt's fourth of 2014, his highest total in a decade. He's won at Daytona and Martinsville in the same year, and swept the Pocono races. His No. 88 Chevrolet constantly runs toward the front more than it ever has in his career. In his final year with crew chief Steve Letarte, the National Guard team has reached that rare stage where it is fast at every track on the schedule. Opening the season with a Daytona 500 win set a standard the group has consistently matched, and for a while it looked like this team was destined to win the 2014 title until a rough three-race stretch ousted them from the postseason. "I don't believe in fairytales," Earnhardt Jr. said of no longer being in control of his title aspirations. "It's only destiny in hindsight, you know? This wasn't our year. It's only magical after the fact, when you see it happen." Letarte agreed, saying the team had "no excuses" for why it's out of the championship running. That reality didn't keep smiles off either of their faces, though. Letarte may have been as excited as Earnhardt, simply because of how frequently he's heard the clock talk over years -- and how winning at Martinsville was something that Earnhardt needed to check off his career resume. Sure, it didn't come in a championship season, but Earnhardt will never again have a "0" next to the win column at this venue. His place in the Martinsville history book is secured, the man who loves NASCAR history helping to ensure his name will be etched among other legends 50 years from now. There's a different kind of history that comes with this win, too. Personal history. "Hopefully when I'm at his house having a cold one, we'll listen to the thing chime 10 years from now and smile," Letarte said. Now that sounds like a fairytale ending. MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL CHASE COVERAGE • Chase hub page • Chase Grid games • #MyChaseNation
NASCAR Hall of Fame: Rick Hendrick
Rick Hendrick accepts the 2013 Car Owner award from Las Vegas.
Virginia native and HMS owner Rick Hendrick reflects on his racing legacy at Martinsville Speedway.
With Johnson, Hendrick mirrors Earnhardt-Childress production
Rick Hendrick gives an update on Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s progress as he recovers from concussions suffered a couple weeks ago.
After a late-race wreck and green-white-checkered finish, Jimmie Johnson gets his first win of 2012 and the 200th win for Rick Hendrick .
Rick Hendrick says Jimmie Johnson was in the same position last season and the Chase will not be over until the last lap at Homestead.