The teams that are typically compete for the NASCAR title are the bigger and well financed teams such as Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Team Penske, and Stewart-Haas Racing. Last year was a bit different as Martin Truex Jr. won for Furniture Row Racing, but that was more of an anomaly.
The big teams will certainly field the majority of the contenders next year, but there is an opportunity for one smaller team to make a leap in 2018.
Leavine Family Racing doesn’t have a win since debuting in the Cup Series in 2011. Michael McDowell competed for the team for four seasons, and he recorded one top-5 and two top-10s. Other drivers who competed for the team are Ty Dillon, David Starr, Scott Speed, Reed Sorensen, Scott Riggs and Blake Koch.
Next year, the team will have its most accomplished driver yet. Kasey Kahne is joining the team and driving the No. 95 Chevy next year, and he’s making the switch from Hendrick Motorsports.
Kahne has 18 Cup Series wins during his 13-year career, and he has experience racing for smaller teams. He started out with Richard Petty Motorsports when it was actually called Evernham Motorsports, and he won several races with the team.
Kahne won the Indianapolis 500 last year to qualify for the playoffs, which was his first win since 2014. Hendrick Motorsports decided to move on and replace him with William Byron, and Leavine Family Racing made the decision to add Kahne in an effort to qualify for the postseason for the first time since it entered the Cup Series.
While Kahne might not be at the top of his game at age 37, he still has something left in the tank, and a change of scenery could prove to be beneficial for him. He’ll be the only driver for LHR next year, so they’ll be able to dedicate all of its resources to Kahne.
Team owner Bob Leavine said he believes Kahne’s experience will play a major role in helping the team improve.
“We look at this as an opportunity to go to the next level,” Leavine said. “This deals partially with performance, because obviously, Kasey is a playoff-caliber driver. He has a wealth of information being with a larger organization like Hendrick Motorsports, and we think that will help us. We also look at this as an opportunity for marketing to be able to sell sponsorship.”
It’s unrealistic to expect Kahne and LHR to compete for a championship, but they do have the ability to field a competitive car each week throughout the season. Making the playoffs would be a tremendous leap forward for the team, and it’s certainly possible they make that leap next season.