Was it really that long ago? Kasey Kahne was a sponsor’s dream and a big NASCAR deal. Remember the goo-goo eyed soccer moms in the Allstate commercials? What about talking trash to yak herders in the Vitamin Water spots? The teen idol looks really don’t matter much in NASCAR if you don’t win, and to that end, a decade ago, Kasey Kahne won 6 races and 6 poles- good for a season’s end top ten finish.
His career has had some weird twists and turns. Kasey Kahne enjoyed his greatest successes in his early days with Ray Evernham. Jeff Gordon’s legendary crew chief got out of the ownership game, and suddenly, the one-time wunderkind was in the employ of Richard Petty. The ride was bumpy, but Kahne earned a little wine-sipping glory with “The King” at Sonoma in 2009. The pride of Enumclaw, Washington continued his roller coaster ride at RPM, and eventually found himself in a Red Bull car at season’s end of 2010. While awaiting for a 2012 opening at Hendrick Motorsports, Kahne earned a victory for Red Bull at Phoenix.
When it was announced that Kasey Kahne would take over the number five car once occupied by the likes of Kyle Busch and Mark Martin, many thought this would result in a re-birth for Kahne. After years of being tossed around like a pin ball, Kahne would finally have a top flight ride, the likes of which he had not really had since the dawn of his Sprint Cup career.
At first, the move appeared to pay dividends. Kasey Kahne had a brilliant 2012 campaign that saw him finish fourth in the standings, all earning two wins, 12 top fives and 19 top tens. That’s a solid transition.
2013 wasn’t quite as good, but the 36-year old (is he really that old? He still looks like he could have looked at home at my daughter’s senior prom last spring) still picked off a pair of wins.
The last two and a half seasons has seen Kasey Kahne experience a decline. He had just one win in 2014, and Kahne hasn’t won now in 70 races.
What happened? Such prolonged slumps- the kind that hearken back to the decline of Dale Earnhardt Jr. for an extended period- really begs numerous questions. It’s one thing if you’re racing for an upstart team or an also-ran, but that’s clearly not the case at HMS.
Fans of Kasey Kahne will swear that he’s not getting the same love the others get at Hendrick. Given the history of the ride, it’s understandable. While it’s understandable, it’s still a bit much to swallow. Would Mr. Hendrick really let one team suffer in favor of another? Truth be told, HMS is overall a bit off it’s game this season. Jimmie Johnson isn’t quite up to Johnson standards- but he’s not awful- and Chase Elliott is going through the expected growing pains of a rookie campaign, and the 88 team’s problems have more to do with an unexpected absence of it’s star driver than anything, even though Junior wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire before his health-induced exile.
Is the problem Hendrick Motorsports, or is it Kasey Kahne? If it’s the latter, how does this happen? How does a young stud NASCAR star slip to middling status? Do you know? I’m just sitting here at this keyboard tonight pondering the question, and if I had an answer, I wouldn’t be sitting here.
By his own admission, things must get better- much better- before William Byron makes his expected arrival to NASCAR’s top level in 2018. He’s as much as admitted if things don’t get better, then it’s time to go.