April 19, 2012
By Nicholas Schwartz
In what has already been a terribly long season for 31 year-old Kasey Kahne, strapped with grand expectations after his long-awaited move to an elite team in Hendrick Motorsports, this past weekend was a breath of fresh air.
At Texas Motor Speedway in his No. 5 Farmers Insurance Group Chevrolet, Kahne finally managed to put together a solid run for the entirety of a Sprint Cup Series race. The guy many experts pegged to challenge for a Chase spot in 2012 entered the night race Saturday 31st in points with no finish higher than a 14th to his name, and three finishes worse than 33rd.
Kahne piloted the Hendrick Motorsports entry to a seventh place finish at Texas, and just hours later on Sunday afternoon captured his fourth Camping World Truck Series victory in five tries as NASCAR returned to Rockingham Speedway for the first time in eight years.
Kahne’s misfortunes so far this Sprint Cup season have been summed up roundly as mere bad luck, and there’s no question that if it weren’t for numerous mechanical failures, a surprise given his Hendrick equipment, Kahne would likely be right around his usual top-15 to 20th spot in the point standings, eagerly eyeing the top 12.
Much like his teammate, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., however, that isn’t good enough for Kahne -- or at least for the Kahne that fans envision when he broke out on the NASCAR scene nearly a decade ago.
When Kahne won the Raybestos Rookie of the Year award in 2004, he looked like he might be the type of driver who could eventually win a championship at NASCAR’s highest level. He was one of the Gillette Young Guns, a group of successful -- and marketable -- young drivers seemingly primed to become the next stars of NASCAR and take the torch from aging stars like Jeff Gordon.
Of those Young Guns, Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch have won Sprint Cup Championships, Carl Edwards is a perennial contender and Jamie McMurray has won both the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400. Eight years after his rookie campaign, the same type of lofty predictions that once were the norm can’t be made about Kahne.
In his career, Kahne has finished in the top 10 in points once (his six-win 2006 season), though he has never had the type of equipment he currently has at his disposal at Hendrick Motorsports. For all intents and purposes, Kahne’s window of opportunity for Sprint Cup success has only just opened, and the veteran has a chance now to surprise the jaded followers who may have expected too much too soon from Kahne. For now, the newly reconstructed No. 5 team is focused solely on making the Chase.
Prior to the first race of the year in Daytona, team owner Rick Hendrick wasn’t conservative with his expectations for Hendrick Motorsports.
“I use to hedge a little [on predictions], but this year I'm not. I'm going to be really disappointed if all four of our cars aren't in the Chase. And I think all four of them are capable of winning it all,” Hendrick told reporters. Through seven races, only Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Jimmie Johnson are inside the top 10, while Jeff Gordon has sputtered through 2012 and Kahne has had one of the worst stretches of his career.
Both Gordon and Kahne got back on the right track at Texas, but with 19 races before the Chase begins at Chicagoland, both will have to climb out of substantial holes for Hendrick’s prediction to come true. Kahne is convinced, at least, that he can parlay the momentum he generated this weekend into sustained success in the future.
“This is probably the best weekend I’ve had in a long time,” Kahne said. “I got out of that truck and I’ve got three clean race cars and I ran three hard races this weekend, and everything’s clean -- not a dent on them…. It was a good weekend, tons of energy, and I’ll sleep good tonight when I finally decide to go to bed.”
If you would like to learn more about Nicholas, please check out his web site at Sports By Schwartz. Nicholas is a Managing editor and sportswriter for The Duke Chronicle at Duke University.
The thoughts and ideas expressed by this writer or any other writer on Insider Racing News, are not necessarily the views of the staff and/or management of IRN.