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Kasey Kahne gets new crew chief for 2015 season

For the first time since 2005, Kahne will work with a crew chief other than Kenny Francis next season.

Jerry Markland/Getty Images

One of the longest driver-crew chief tandems in NASCAR is no more, as Hendrick Motorsports broke up the Kasey Kahne-Kenny Francis pairing Tuesday.

Beginning in 2015 Keith Rodden will take over for Francis and serve as Kahne's crew chief for the No. 5 team. Hendrick reassigned Francis to the newly created role of technical director. Rodden, Jamie McMurray's crew chief last season, worked as engineer with Kahne from 2004-13 before joining Chip Ganassi Racing.

Francis has guided Kahne to 16 of his 17 career Cup wins with the two working together since the end of the 2005 season. (Only Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus, paired in 2002, have teamed longer.) Francis moved with Kahne to Hendrick in 2012 and earned three consecutive Chase for the Sprint Cup berths.

But the performance of the No. 5 team stagnated this season. Although Kahne went to Victory Lane once and earned a spot in the Chase, it wasn't until the second-to-last race of the regular season. Overall, inconsistency and reliability issues plagued Kahne, while teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon won four times each.

And as Kahne struggled, rumors began circulating a shakeup was coming within the No. 5 team with Francis being reassigned and Rodden returning.

"I'm so grateful to Kenny and happy for him and his family," Kahne said. "He's one of my biggest supporters and best friends, and I'm excited about his new role. It's going to give all four Hendrick Motorsports teams the best possible opportunity to win races and compete for championships.

"Bringing Keith back is big for us. We spent 10 years together, so we have a very strong overall relationship and understanding of how to communicate. There's a great friendship and a lot of mutual respect, but at the same time I know he's really going to push me."

Rodden has an engineering background and should quickly re-acclimate to life at Hendrick. In his only stint as crew chief, Rodden re-energized McMurray's underperforming No. 1 team. Although lacking a points event win (he won the exhibition All-Star Race), McMurray was far more competitive than recent seasons, leading a career-high 368 laps.

"Keith is one of the most talented young crew chiefs in the garage," team owner Rick Hendrick said. "He already knows our culture and works extremely well with our people. The relationships and familiarity he has with Kenny, Kasey and the No. 5 team will make it easy to hit the ground running. We talk a lot about ‘fit factor,' and this definitely falls into that category. He's the right fit."

The only uncertainty about Wednesday's move is just how long Kahne and Rodden will actually work together. A free agent at the end of the year, Kahne isn't expected to return to Hendrick in 2016, as the organization clears room for Chase Elliott.

The 18-year-old Elliott just won the Nationwide Series title, becoming the youngest driver to ever win a NASCAR national touring series championship. Hendrick has said Elliott will likely run limited Cup races in 2015, with a full-time schedule the following season.

Elliott's planned ascension would coincide with Kahne's contract expiring and open a seat for Elliott. Hendrick is at the NASCAR imposed four-team maximum and cannot add a fifth full-time car.

Chip Ganassi Racing named Matt McCall, a former engineer on Ryan Newman's team, as McMurray's crew chief for the 2015 season on Tuesday.