Leavine Family Racing owner Bob Leavine was hoping Kasey Kahne would be with the No. 95 team going forward, and even had a contract on his desk to be signed.
But Wednesday, Kahne told Leavine he wanted to talk.
“And I’m like, hopefully, we weren’t the reason that he’s leaving, but I had seen some signs,” Leavine told RACER. “You could see when somebody gets tired, you know? As long as he’s done it and grueling as this schedule is, his son Tanner is a great kid, and he loves being with him.”
Kahne announced via Twitter on Thursday morning that he would step away from competing in NASCAR full-time after this season, having dedicated over 20 years to racing. Kahne has been a driver in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series since 2004, when he won rookie of the year honors.
With a little laugh, Leavine said that when he told Kahne it was okay to run sprint cars this year, “That hurt me,” because Kahne realized how much fun it was. Kahne admitted he does plan on running more sprint car races next season, aiming around the 40- to 50-race mark.
Who will succeed Kahne at LFR? There has already been interest in the seat, according to Leavine.
“We’ve had several people reach out, and Kasey has offered to help, which I really believe that’s going to help because drivers watch drivers,” said Leavine. “So, I think he’ll be able to shed some light if we decide to go with a younger driver or whatever, the pros and cons.
“We generally know the pros – they’re young and really good. The cons are, they’re young and they may not be quite as good as they think they are. So, there is going to be a lot of dings and damage, but that’s part of it.”
Because this development just happened in the last 48 hours, Leavine said nothing is locked up as far as a new driver.
The organization is also simultaneously working on its 2019 alliance partner and manufacturer. Leavine confirmed he told Richard Childress in July they would not partner again next season.
“We feel comfortable that we’re close to the alliance side,” Leavine said, “and now this adds to the mix, so we just got to see if that changes anything. Which we don’t know yet with [Kasey’s announcement] happening yesterday.”
Kahne has just one top-10 finish going into the night race at Bristol (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) and the team switched crew chiefs in June looking to improve performance. At 28th in points, Kahne will not make the playoffs unless he wins one of the next three races.
LFR does not have a NASCAR victory on its résumé and has finished no higher than 26th in points (last season with Michael McDowell). Leavine has nothing but nice things to say about Kahne, however, and what he’s brought to the young team, which is only in its third full season.
“Experience,” Leavine started. “An air of comfort, of being comfortable at this level, which is important to our guys. Confidence. He brought maturity. Knowledge of the track and setups, and even for as long as he’s been here, the new technology he studies and that’s important now. It isn’t easy.”