There’s a lot of excitement at Hendrick Motorsports. In their stable is a driver on the upswing, poised to deliver on all the potential he showed when he burst on the scene several years ago. All the ingredients are there for a championship run this season, much to the delight of his fans.
Oh, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. looks like he will have a good season too.
While all the attention on HMS in 2012 was focused on the a possible title run for Jimmie Johnson, the wins and controversy generated by Jeff Gordon, and the end of Dale Earnhardt’s dry spell, Hendrick newbie Kasey Kahne quietly enjoyed one of the best runs of his career with five top fives in the season’s final ten races. Now entering his second season with the New York Yankees of NASCAR, Kahne appears poised to make a run at that elusive Sprint Cup title.
It’s amazing what a little stability will do for a promising young driver. Even more amazing was the fact Kahne was able to win at all as his original team- Evernham Motorsports- went through numerous permutations that involved everyone from Ray Evernham to George Gillett to Richard Petty. Throw into the story line his one year stop off at Red Bull Racing while he awaited for seat space at Hendrick, and you appreciate even more how the Enumclaw, Washington native managed to reel off wins amidst the uncertainty.
While he struggled at the outset of 2012, there were those questioning whether or not owner Rick Hendrick made the right move. Perhaps Kahne was a art of his own problem. Hendrick never lost faith, and Kahne delivered a season even better than 2006- when he reeled off six wins and finished eighth in the standings. With 12 top fives and 19 top tens to go with wins at Charlotte and Loudon, he compiled the best overall season of his career, and finished fourth at season’s end, while all the cameras were focused on all his high profile teammates.
Kasey Kahne runs in some fast company now, with a five-time champion, a four-time champion, NASCAR’s most popular driver in the same garage. If you think about it, it’s the perfect scenario for Kahne, as he suffers not the burden of trying to be the team savior.
It sure seems to be all there for Kahne. He and crew chief Kenny Francis seem to enjoy the best driver-pit boss relationship this side of Johnson and Knaus. He has a boss who has it all, and a great working relationship with his sponsor. Kahne has also shown ability to win at a variety of tracks. About the only variable in it all is how he will catch on to the Gen 6 car. Of course, the good news is that the rest of the field has to make that adjustment as well.
At a time when new champions are emerging, Kasey Kahne- above all other possible candidates- appears to be best poised to become NASCAR’s next first time champion. Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch and Dale Jr. may have something to say about that; but remember this: if it’s true that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, Kasey Kahne is a powerhouse full of battle-tested mettle to weather the storms of a 36-race schedule.
Jim McCoy is a radio and television sports reporter and producer in Southern Oregon, where he makes his home with his wife and three children. Jim is also a radio play-by-play announcer for high school football, baseball and basketball. He was recently named Oregon Association of Broadcasters 2012 Sports Announcer of The Year- Non-commercial Division.
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