TALLADEGA, Ala. — Kasey Kahne had a full day of work ahead of him at Talladega Superspeedway, but his mind was 1,200 miles away.
His sprint cars were racing at Eldora Speedway, and Kahne was determined to find a way to get to the track. Only Tony Stewart wasn’t answering his text messages, and Kahne was getting frustrated.
No need to worry, NASCAR fans. Kahne has no plans to swap series. He’s off to the best start of his career, living drama-free at Hendrick Motorsports, and couldn’t be more pleased with his place in the Sprint Cup Series.
“I’m in a pretty good spot right now,” Kahne said.
Indeed, driving for Rick Hendrick may finally have given Kahne the home he’d been searching for.
Kenny Francis came with him, continuing a relationship that began at the end of the 2005 season — second longest in the Sprint Cup Series only to Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus in driver-crew chief pairings. They overcame a rough start to their debut season with Hendrick last year to win two races, make the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship and finish a career-best fourth in the standings.
This year, Kahne doesn’t have the deep hole to dig out of — he heads into today’s race ranked third in points and already has a win.
So, yeah, his mind still wanders to World of Outlaws racing because he’s got a vested interest with his three Kasey Kahne Racing entries. But he’s so pleased at Hendrick Motorsports that he’s no longer plotting and scheming to fill his schedule with different forms of motorsports.
“For a while IndyCar was really something I looked at. It was something I wanted to try and figure out how to do the 500,” Kahne said. “But lately, for whatever reason, since I’ve been with Hendrick Motorsports, I’ve felt like everything is sitting there for me now. Team-wise, personnel, ownership, sponsorship — everything is there. And I just really — it’s time for me to figure out how to win races and win a championship if I’m going to do it.
“The other stuff just hasn’t been on my radar. I think a lot about sprint cars because I own those teams, and I want to run those when I have an opportunity. But my mind doesn’t really think about other racing as much. I haven’t even thought much about midgets or late models. It’s just sprint cars and Sprint Cup.”
Kahne isn’t very complicated. He wants fast cars, little stress and familiarity.
Despite immense talent, he never seemed to land in the right situation throughout his career.
Life was good when he drove for Ray Evernham, especially his six-win 2006 season. But Evernham eventually sold his majority ownership in the team, and the wheels slowly began to fall off from there. Gillett Evernham Motorsports became Richard Petty Motorsports, and although Kahne won two races in 2009 and 2010, he wanted out. So he said he’d join Hendrick Motorsports in 2012 when a seat opened, then looked for a temporary home for 2011.
He chose Red Bull Racing for his layover and actually joined the team early after getting out of his RPM car at Charlotte and refusing to drive for the team for the final five races of the season. In the time between his six-win 2006 season and when he arrived at Hendrick, Kahne won only five races, didn’t contend for a championship, and dealt with more drama then he wanted.
At Hendrick, it’s stress-free.
“You can go through any of the shops, any area, and guys are pretty happy,” Kahne said. “That’s not really normal. A lot of times guys are mad, or angry because drivers crashed too many cars. At Hendrick, the atmosphere and the people, it’s a lot happier, and I think that starts at the top with Mr. H. He gives us all that happy feeling from the way he runs things and the way he treats everyone.”
And Kahne has Francis, who weathered so many of the storms with him during the ownership changes and the on-track struggles. They had plenty of heart-to-hearts along the way, with each wondering if maybe they should split, but they’ve stuck together, and Kahne believes it’s a key reason for his success.
“I feel like you can be very good with other guys. I could be very good with another crew chief, and Kenny could do awesome with another driver,” Kahne said. “But I think the connection and the things Kenny and I went through to get where we are now — I don’t think I’d feel near as at ease or as happy if I didn’t have him to talk to or work with each week. I just see him, it makes you feel good to know what you’ve got.”