Hendrick Motorsports is one of NASCAR’s première teams but they haven’t been performing as such lately. Recent news of Kasey Kahne and the No. 5 team losing another sponsor opens the door to the idea that HMS might look a lot different in 2018.
NASCAR is a fickle business in that those who are most successful usually have money and on-track production. When it comes to Kasey Kahne and the No. 5 team of Hendrick Motorsports, the money is there but the production isn’t. Kahne hasn’t won a race since 2014 in Atlanta, that makes 95 straight races without a visit to victory lane. 2014 also marks the last time that Kahne took the No. 5 machine to the playoffs. Entering this weekend in Dover, Kahne finds himself 20th in the standings, 60 points out of the last playoff spot.
The lack of production is now beginning to hurt Kahne in the financial department as sponsorship is beginning to go away. Late last season it was announced that Farmer’s Insurance was ending their relationship with the No. 5 team at the end of the 2017 season. Farmer’s had been one of Kahne’s anchor sponsors, running 12 races a season with him under their current deal. Today, it was announced that Great Clips will also be ending their relationship with the No. 5 team at the end of the 2017 season. Great Clips is aboard for 10 races this season, which means the No. 5 team will need to fill at least 22 races in 2018 with new sponsorship (or extend current sponsors to bigger roles).
While all of this is going on with the No. 5 team, the No. 88 team is preparing for life without Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2018. The loss of Earnhardt means that a new (and presumably younger) driver will be in the No. 88 machine in 2018. With the change already happening in the No. 88 camp, coupled with the issues facing the No. 5 team, it might make sense for HMS to go all-in and go younger in 2018.
Kahne still has one year left on his contract with HMS, but teams have bought out drivers from the final year of their contracts in the past. Some in NASCAR were surprised when HMS extended Kahne back in 2015, but the announcement of Jeff Gordon’s retirement shortly thereafter allowed for the extension to make more sense. It’s important to note that nobody at HMS has hinted that Kahne is on his way out of the company, and he very well could end up being back in 2018 for the final year of his deal.
However, let’s take a moment to consider what is working for and against the driver of the No. 5 machine.
Keeping Kasey Kahne
The easiest thing to do for 2018 is to keep Kahne. Kahne is already under contract and while finding sponsorship might be an issue, it most likely would be an issue if your brought in a new driver as well. The added element of Earnhardt Jr. leaving works both for an against Kahne. It works for him in that HMS is already going to be bringing a new driver into the fold in 2018, and it might make more sense to take care of the No. 88 team heading into 2018 and deal with the No. 5 team heading into 2019. The sponsorship situation on the No. 88 in 2018 is unclear but one would have to imagine that Nationwide might not be in it as much for the new driver as they were Earnhardt Jr. the last couple of season.
Also, the names hitting the free agent market after this season aren’t exactly attractive. The current potential free agents include Brad Keselowski, Matt Kenseth, Jamie McMurray and Paul Menard. Keselowski most likely will be locked in before he officially becomes a free agent and the others aren’t really a better option than Kahne. Kahne has all the talent needed to succeed in NASCAR but for some reason it just isn’t clicking right now at HMS.
Letting Go Of Kasey Kahne
The loss of Earnhardt Jr. works against Kahne also in that HMS could decide to just clean house and go all-in on young talent. Jimmie Johnson would obviously remain as the veteran of the team and he would be flanked by the emerging star that is Chase Elliott as well as the new driver of the No. 88 and No. 5 cars.
One of the more interesting chips in the future of HMS is that of Kyle Larson. Chip Ganassi Racing doesn’t make public the length of their driver contracts but it’s believed that Larson’s current deal runs through 2017 and then of course CGR would be looking to extend him through 2018 and beyond. Should Larson for some reason be available at the end of 2017 or 2018, that could play a huge role in Kahne’s future with HMS, but of course that is a big if.
The last thing working against Kahne is himself. If Kahne doesn’t win this season and misses the playoffs once again, HMS might decide that it’s simply time for a change. Putting a younger driver in the No. 5 car while trying to develop his talent, might have more upside than a driver in their late 30’s who is trending in the wrong direction.
Whether it be at the end of 2017 or at the end of 2018, Kahne’s future with HMS could be in jeopardy if his on-track production doesn’t increase. For now though, fans of Kahne should focus on the present and continue to cheer on their favorite driver. NASCAR, like most sports is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business and a win over the next 14 races could change everything for the No. 5 team. Kahne’s immediate future with HMS might not be in question but it would be naïve of fans to think the loss of sponsorship means nothing, just because his contract is through 2018.