CONCORD, N.C. — Kasey Kahne is out at Hendrick Motorsports at the end of the season.
The Brickyard 400 winner was released from the final year of his contract, allowing him to pursue another Cup ride for 2018. Team owner Rick Hendrick did not immediately name a replacement for the No. 5 Chevrolet.
Kahne is a well-known figure to central Pennsylvania dirt-track fans. He has raced in the area quite often, including four starts during the recently completed Pennsylvania Sprint Car Speedweek. Kahne has won races at both Williams Grove and Lincoln speedways.
Hendrick has seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson, Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman in the fold for next season. The organization could turn to 19-year-old Xfinity Series driver William Byron to fill the seat. Former Cup champions Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch also don’t have contracts for next season.
The 37-year-old Kahne will finish the season driving the No. 5 Chevrolet for Hendrick. He has six victories in six seasons with Hendrick, including one at Indianapolis last month that qualified him for the playoffs.
“He’s a tremendous teammate and person, and he has been totally dedicated to our program since day one,” Hendrick said in a statement Monday. “I’ve always believed that he’s a special talent, and I know he will thrive in the right situation. We will do everything we can to finish the season as strong as we can.”
Kahne’s win at Indianapolis wasn’t enough to save his job.
“We won six races together and I’m coming off of one of the biggest wins of my career at the Brickyard, which has given the (No.) 5 team a lot of momentum heading into the playoffs,” Kahne said. “We still have a lot of racing left in 2017 and finishing strong is our top priority. I look forward to what the next chapter in my career holds.”
Kahne’s fate had been in limbo for most of the season because of years of mediocre finishes and sponsorship woes. Farmers Insurance bailed on Kahne and Great Clips also cut ties with the driver. Great Clips had been signed as the primary sponsor for 10 races annually through the 2018 season, but that deal ended early — and so did Kahne’s run with Hendrick.
Kahne won as many as six races in 2006 driving for Ray Evernham and finished as high as fourth in the standings in 2012 driving for Hendrick. He won two races in 2013, won on Aug. 31, 2014, at Atlanta Motor Speedway for career victory No. 17 and then went on a 102-race winless streak.
He opened this season with a seventh-place finish in the Daytona 500 and was fourth in Atlanta, and seemed to show he might have returned to form. But he crashed out of five races and failed to finish better than 15th in the nine races leading into Indianapolis.
There are few quality options left for Kahne in 2018. Richard Childress Racing saw Paul Menard leave for Wood Brothers Racing, and there’s no guarantee RCR’s third entry will be filled in 2018. Stewart-Haas Racing declined to pick up Busch’s contract option, though both sides are hopeful a new deal can be reached. Danica Patrick could also be out at SHR because of lack of sponsorship. Kenseth, the 2003 champion, is on the market because Joe Gibbs Racing replaced him in ‘18 with Erik Jones.
Kenseth could make sense as a short-term solution if Hendrick wants to give Byron more time in the developmental series.