Season in Review: Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne
2014 was the season of what if for Jeff Gordon. What if he had got to Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Martinsville? What if Brad Keselowski didn’t get into Gordon at Texas? What if Ryan Newman hadn’t door slammed Kyle Larson on the last lap of Phoenix?
All season long, Gordon was one of the cars to beat. The No. 24 team had the raw speed week--in and week--out. Gordon’s season included four wins at Kansas, Indianapolis, Michigan and Dover.
At age 43, it looked like Gordon was one of the favorites for the championship all season long. That was until a late race restart at Texas. Gordon and Keselowski were battling his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson for the win with a handful of laps remaining in the 500-mile event. Keselowski got into Gordon and cut down his left rear tire, virtually causing Gordon to miss the championship race at Homestead, unless he won at Phoenix. He didn’t win at Phoenix and Ryan Newman got the last spot in the final race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup on points.
“It hit me hard when I crossed the line at Phoenix,” said Gordon of not making the championship race. “I think was just really in disbelief for a good 24 hours that we did everything right so right and didn’t make it.”
Through the disappointment, in statistical terms, 2014 was the best season Gordon has had in several years. Gordon had four wins, the most in a season since 2007. His 14 top-five finishes were his most since 2009, and 23 top-10s were his most since 2009. Along with his strengths in race condition, Gordon also capitalized on the new knockout qualifying with three poles, which were his most since 2008.
With all that Gordon accomplished he didn’t get the big trophy that he wanted. In 2015, Gordon will look to win his fifth championship and win his first Sprint Cup which is something that has been eluding him since 2001.
Kasey Kahne struggled throughout the entire 2014 campaign. Sure he got a clutch win at Atlanta to make it into the Chase. This was what Kahne needed in order to solidify his presence at Hendrick Motorsports. The emotion that he showed in Victory Lane was something not many saw coming. Following the win at Atlanta Kahne scored one top-10 finish the rest of the year at Charlotte, his best track.
Once he got into the Chase, he made it past the Contender Round, barely. In fact, the biggest reward for Kahne may have came after the checkered flag at Homestead, when he signed a three year contract extension to drive for Hendrick Motorsports through 2018.
2014 marked Kahne’s third season with Hendrick. In the midst of these three seasons, Kahne has underperformed compared to his superstar teammates. With only 3 top-five finishes, which is his fewest since 2007and a mere 11 top-10 finishes on the year, which is also his fewest since 2010 when he drove for Gillett-Evernham Motorsports. The No.5 team was not hitting on all eight cylinders throughout the entire 2014 season.
The bad season led to a departure atop the pit box. Keith Rodden will replace Kenny Francis as crew chief for Kahne in 2015. Kahne and Francis had been a duo since the end of the 2005 season. They were the longest driver/crew chief tandem other than Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus.
“We have had kind of a downer year at times and then we started running really good,” Kahne said in Victory Lane at Atlanta. “Just about every year with me it comes down to Atlanta or Richmond to get in- sometimes we are in, sometimes we are out.”
In 2015, Kahne will look to make the most of the pairing with Rodden, and hopes to be a top-tier team like his three teammates, Earnhardt, Gordon and Johnson, who all won four races in 2014.
2015 will be important for both Gordon and Kahne. With both the No. 5 and No. 24 cars built under the same roof, it’s hard to understand why one is extremely fast and the other is a mid-pack team.
Hendrick Motorsports thrives on being the best of the best. With 11 owner/driver championships Hendrick Motorsports has solidified its team as the best NASCAR has to offer.
However, Gordon who statistically just came off of one of his best overall seasons in recent memory, is looking to continue with the momentum. Over the last six to seven seasons Gordon was good for maybe one or two wins a season. After this past season and finally hitting it off with crew chief Alan Gustafson, it took a lot out of the No. 24 team.
Looking back at it, this could have been Gordon’s last best shot at a championship. And after literally putting in blood (Texas), sweat and tears into the season, what will 2015 be? Can Gordon have a repeat season of 2014 with multiple wins and the speed that he had all season long?
Kahne is a driver who needs to get off to a quick start. If he can get a win early in the season, look out. With Keith Rodden as crew chief, they will need to have chemistry quick. Rodden, really brought Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates to a whole new level with Jamie McMurray as driver in 2014. These two have worked together in the past as Rodden was team engineer for Kahne for multiple seasons.
He has been fast since he was a rookie in 2004. Kahne is a top-notch driver, who has not performed up to expectations since coming over to Hendrick Motorsports in 2012. With only five wins in 108 starts with Hendrick, Kahne needs to win more, especially since he signed with Hendrick all the way back in 2010- 22 months before ever stepping behind a Hendrick powered car.
With the contract extension until 2018, there is less pressure off of Kahne with young 19 year old and 2014 NASCAR Nationwide Series champion Chase Elliott waiting in the helms to drive for Hendrick. That is a whole different story in of itself.