Kasey Kahne Highly Optimistic Over New Opportunity With Hendrick
Reigning Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart hopes to repeat as champion, Jimmie Johnson wants to secure an impressive sixth career title and Californian A.J. Allmendinger has landed the best ride of his short but promising NASCAR career
All of them have been heavily touted in the media as Speedweeks quickly approaches.
But there’s another driver to consider. He’s coming to Daytona International Speedway with a strong new ride that’s known for success at the famed 2.6 mile traclk.
He’s Kasey Kahne, driver of the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, the newest addition to the driver lineup at the Concord, N.C.-based multi-car operation.
Kahne has known he was going to be one of Rick Hendrick’s drivers since the spring of 2010. The plan began to take shape when the Enumclaw, Wash. native was still with the now=defunct Red Bull Racing operation.
Kahne began his Cup career with team owner Ray Evermham from 2004 through 2008, George Gillett Jr. in 2009 and through 31 races in 2010. He drove in the final five races of that season with Red Bull.
He joined the Mooresville, N.C., team for 36 races in 2011.
Now that he’s joined Having an organization that’s claimed 10 Cup titles gives Kahne reason to feel nothing but optimism for his long-term future.
“I’m just really excited to get started,” Kahne said in a Feb. 7 media gathering. “We've had some really good tests. It's been awesome to be part of Hendrick Motorsports, and I’m just excited to get to Daytona.
“It's a big race and I can't wait to get rolling again. It's been a good offseason, but I'm ready to go.
“I think everywhere I go I'm going to be pretty darned excited. But definitely Daytona, as big of a race as the 500 is, and all of us want to win that race so bad. To go down there with Hendrick Motorsports, a team that's won the race, I mean, it's just awesome. I look forward to that.
“So yeah, it's a big week. It's definitely something to be excited about and look forward to and I can't wait to get down there and practice a little bit, and then qualifying on Sunday is going to be exciting.”
A time or two last season Kahne visited the Hendrick shops, meeting people, learning names and getting set for what he hopes will be his best season to date.
“I spent a little bit of time with trying to look at seats and trying to make sure that it was kind of a smooth transition; a smooth process changing that stuff over to where I was feeling comfortable right at the start,” Kahne said. “But other than that I didn't spend a lot of time there. I felt like that would be where I would go this year, but last year I felt like that really wasn't my building, so I didn't really spend a whole lot of time over there.
“Now I'm starting to feel like I'm part of Hendrick Motorsports and have spent a lot more time there since last season was over.
“It's an unbelievable place to have every option you want and to see getting worked on. It's a pretty impressive place. I think once I got my key card, I felt like I could kind of go move around and kind of go wherever I wanted and check out the buildings and stuff. It's been really good.”
Arguably, this could be best opportunity of his eight-year career as far as finding his place in the win column. Kahne beams when reminded of the strength he’ll have in 2012.
“2011 was a year of just being excited and trying not to think too much about it because I was trying to take care of where I was at the time.” Kahne said. “ But I always couldn't wait to get in the 5 car, couldn't wait to get started with working with the guys over there.”
Kahne has an advantage going into 2012 that some other drivers on different teams do not - his longtime crew chief Kenny Francis.
The driver and crew chief have been together for the past few years. They already know each other’s likes, dislikes and mannerisms.
“I feel like Kenny has been pretty excited,” Kahne says. “I could kind of tell towards the end of last season, the last eight races or so, he was pretty happy, pretty excited and felt like he could kind of see his future and see where we were headed.
“We were also running well. But to me he's fitting in great over there. It's been a lot on his plate trying to figure it out and figure out how things are run there and how the cars are built.
“There's just a lot of people. So trying to figure all that out and work with all the guys takes time.
“I mean, watching him, he's done a really good job, and he's definitely happy about where he's at and what he's working on.”
These days, Kahne’s No. 5 Chevrolets are on jack stands right beside the No. 24 Chevrolets of four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon. Sharing a shop will have its benefits when it comes to chassis setups, driver and crew chief interactions and some good ol’ fashioned optimism that can spread from one pit crew to the other.
“I think it's really good. It's been fun to kind of talk with Jeff and try to pick his brain a little bit on certain things,” Kahne said. “You know, I've looked at things differently, as well, so some of the ways that I look at stuff will be different from Jeff, and I'll give him a different way to look at stuff every once in a while, too, because he's been in one spot for so long. He's so used to trying to do things certain ways.
“But he's been very successful, so I feel like working with him is a pretty great opportunity for myself, and it's been a lot of fun so far doing that and just pretty cool to be a part of that.”
Overall, Kahne’s move to Hendrick Motorsports gives him something he hasn’t always had in the past; a place to race for several seasons to come.
“Oh, man, stability. That's a great word. Good word to hear,” Kahne said. “I have four years here that I know are going to be stable and competitive and have great people and a great team around me.
“To be able to be a part of all that is something that I haven't had. It's definitely nice to have it, makes you feel pretty good about where you're at.
“It's taken time. I've had some really good years in Cup and I've learned a lot from everythin. Now I'm just in a really solid situation and need to take full advantage of it.”