DETROIT — Kasey Kahne admitted that while he wasn’t surprised by his release from Hendrick Motorsports at the end of the season, it took him about four days to get over the news.
Kahne was told Saturday afternoon that he would not return to Hendrick Motorsports in 2018. Hendrick announced the news Monday and on Wednesday announced that rookie William Byron would replace Kahne as driver of the Hendrick No. 5 car.
“It definitely kind of took the wind out of you,” Kahne said Thursday about receiving the news. “Sunday morning I woke up the same. Then Monday, I felt better, Tuesday better, and now I feel really good about kind of where we’re at and where we’re headed and hopefully something really good comes out of it all.
“It definitely took the wind out of my sails there for a minute. … I want to keep racing NASCAR. I want to be in the Cup series. I’ll do whatever I can to be part of it.”
Kahne, 37, won the Brickyard 400 last month to snap a 102-race winless streak and qualify for the playoffs for the first time in three seasons. He is 19th in the Cup standings, and his two primary sponsors — Farmers Insurance and Great Clips — both had previously announced they would end their Hendrick Motorsports sponsorships after this season.
“We want to be better than that,” Kahne said. “I’ve pushed for that for a year-and-a-half that we need a couple of things different on our team. We need to be better and there are a couple of things that could do that for us and we never got any of that, so performance wasn’t going to pick up.
“Indy was a nice boost that should carry us through the end of the year. But it just kind of was what it was.”
Kahne wasn’t specific about what he thinks needed to be changed to achieve better performance.
“I think it’s business at this point,” Kahne said. “My performance wasn’t where it should have been the past couple of years, but if it was about performance, something would have been fixed, something would have been changed to enhance that.
“And it wasn’t. So to me it was about business. I totally understand the change. I totally understand it from all different aspects of it. I wasn’t completely surprised when it happened.”
Team owner Rick Hendrick said Wednesday that the move was based not on sponsorship issues but on performance. He saw Byron win three Xfinity Series races this year as a 19-year-old rookie in that series. Hendrick will pay Kahne a salary next season — he still has a year left on his contract — and is working to get the driver to race for a Hendrick affiliate, if there is one.
“It’s not so much the money — it’s about the future and building for the future, getting a fresh start,” Hendrick said. “We talked to people [for Kahne], we got close to some deals, we had some deals that drug out too long, and it wasn’t fair to Kasey or me.
“Kasey and I talked constantly about having a deadline to have something done, but when William is running like William is running, for me, I don’t do this for the money. I do this to win, and it’s our brand. I’m investing in the future all the time.”
Hendrick said that, as the owner, it’s ultimately his responsibility for the Kahne car to run well.
“I have to take responsibility for that,” he said. “For whatever reason, we have not performed in that car. I’ll take the blame myself for whatever reason. We just haven’t gotten the job done like we should.
“Sometimes when you have those situations, you just have to change something up to get a fresh start. I take responsibility for that. I’m not blaming anybody, crew chief or driver.”
Kahne was speaking Thursday at the unveiling of the Camaro ZL1 as the 2018 NASCAR Cup car for Chevrolet. For Kahne, he didn’t feel weird being at the event not knowing if he would drive a Chevrolet next year.
“It’s not weird [to be here] by no means, because I think Chevrolet has done a lot for me and they’ve always been really, really good to work with,” Kahne said. “I’m glad to be part of the ’18 car, and it would be awesome to drive it as well. It looks really, really good.”
As far as 2018, Kahne wasn’t allowed to speak to anyone about next season until he was released. He said he started Sunday night.
“I know I can do better than what I’ve done the last few years, and I’m excited to try to make that happen in my next opportunity,” Kahne said.