I can imagine the response now. “Really?” “Isn’t that like picking a dark horsein fantasy football? Doesn’t he have to be some kind of unknown?” Somepeople may consider Kahne overrated, given all the popularity, all thesponsorships, all the demand- given what he has (or hasn’t) accomplished.
The point is well taken. There’s hauler full of NASCAR drivers who have bigtime talent, but languish in relative anonymity because of the quality of theirteam or a multitude of other reasons. You can list this writer as someone withgreat respect for the likes of Dave Blaney, real wheel men who will never gettheir due because the breaks of the business haven’t been the most fortuitous.
Some may argue Kasey Kahne may have received more than he is due,because of his marketability (that’s code for “the girls think he’s hot”), orbecause he has friends in high places. True, he is not NASCAR’s MoeSzyslak, but look at what the chaos his career has endured, with ever-trustycrew chief Kenny Francis at his side….and still he wins wherever goes.
Plucked from the dirt tracks of the Pacific Northwest, Kahne starts out wellenough, racing for former Jeff Gordon pit boss Ray Evernham. Afterwinning six races in 2006- good enough for an 8th place finish in points- thingsgo gunnysack quicker than you can make a circuit at Bristol. Kahne endures awinless 2007, and a seemingly endless barrage of organizational switches thatfinds Kahne passed around like a bottle of Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill at aweekend gathering of teenagers around the bonfire.
Kahne eventually signs on with Hendrick Motorsports, but has to wait whileMark Martin finishes out his contract. He takes a one-year race deal at RedBull, not the most stable team on the circuit, before hopping into the 5 car for2012. In the middle of all that, Kasey and Kenny keep winning. There wasCharlotte and Pocono in 2008. Kahne put Richard Petty in Victory Lane to sipsome Sonoma wine in 2009, and he also picked off a win in “the ATL.”
2010 was a cluster of a season that would make Billy Graham cuss, and that’swhen Kahne found himself talking about his future with Mr. Hendrick, andsigning on for his temp job at Red Bull. Racing in the number four last year, hecould have played out the string, but Kahne finished a respectable 14th inpoints (a darn good season by Red Bull standards), reeling off eight top fives,15 top 10s, and a win at Phoenix. Everywhere he goes, Kasey Kahne wins,adding to his resume a win at Charlotte for HMS Sunday.
Kahne will tell you he’s not alone in his success. Francis and a handful of othershave come alongside him through thick and thin. ”The thing about the past is,you know, myself and Kenny, there’s about four or five, six other guys, wewent through all that stuff together. Whether we were changing teams, winningraces, losing races, whatever we were doing, we all stuck together. We knewbecause we stuck together we’d be able to perform pretty well everywhere wewent.”
Some will tell you Francis has a lot more to do with the success than the casualfan will ever realize. Considering this pairing started under the leadership of aformer championship crew chief for Jeff Gordon, it says a great deal aboutFrancis. It says even more than in a business where driver switch pit callers likeElizabeth Taylor switched husbands, the pairing has held up.
Kasey Kahne and Kenny Francis may not yet be in the rarified air of Johnsonand Knaus, Gordon and Evernham, or Petty and Inman, but with all theingredients seemingly just right, the world of NASCAR may soon find that theKahne-Francis connection is every bit as good as their faithful fans say theyare. The wins have been there; it’s just a matter now of consistency. Stabilityhas a way of fixing that.
Other articles by Jim McCoy include:
Jim McCoy is a TV and radio sports anchor living in Oregon with his wife and three kids. Jim also moonlights as a radio play-by-play man and writes about his true sports passion: NASCAR. To paraphrase, racing is a sport, the others are just games.