The Comeback Kid

Dustin WoolridgeCorrespondent IJune 9, 2008

It’s kind of hard not to like Kasey Kahne.

He’s not cocky like Kyle Busch.

He’s doesn’t have a persona surrounding him that some people might find unappealing, like Jeff Gordon or Tony Stewart.

He doesn’t drive recklessly and cause a plethora of accidents, like Juan Pablo Montoya.

Certain people don’t hate him just because far more love him, like Dale Earnhardt Jr. 

Simply put, Kahne is one of the more likable drivers in the sport; hence the fans voting him into the All-Star Race by a “popular vote” back in May, an event that he went on to win along with a luxurious $1 million prize.

It was that race three weeks ago that kick-started Kahne’s recent hot streak.

The following week, Kahne won the Coca-Cola 600, a race that he probably shouldn’t have won but did anyway. He had the second or third-best car on the track and managed to steal one when Tony Stewart’s tire went down with three laps to go.

Sunday’s race at Pocono was an entirely different story.

Kahne had what was far and away the best car, and there was no way he was not going to win barring any unforeseen circumstances. Every time he would fall back, the bright red Budweiser Dodge would somehow finds its way right back to the front. Kahne’s victory looked as though it was meant to be.

The Pocono win was Kahne’s third in the last four races (if you include his surprising win at the All-Star Race, an exhibition event on the Sprint Cup schedule.)

After celebrating in Victory Lane three times in the last month, Kahne’s 2007 campaign must seem like a distant memory.

Last season was a disastrous one for Kahne. He wound up 19th in the Sprint Cup standings at the end of the year, and was left with a big fat bagel in the wins column. There were several races in 2007 where neither Kahne nor Gillett-Evernham teammate Elliott Sadler were even competitive.

Things have changed drastically since then, and what made Kahne’s disappointing season an even bigger shocker was how he ran the year before that.

In 2006, the No. 9 team won a series-high six races, including a sweep of the Charlotte races. Kahne flat-out dominated the mile-and-a-half ovals, getting all six of his victories from these “cookie cutter” tracks.

So far, we have seen the Kasey Kahne of 2006, not the Kasey Kahne of 2007.

What has been the catalyst for such an impressive comeback?

In addition to some personnel reshuffling, car owner Ray Evernham stuck to his promise and has taken a “hands-on” approach to his job.

Evernham, who was once apart of one of NASCAR’s most successful driver/crew chief tandems as Jeff Gordon’s crew chief (1993-1999), has put more of his time into configuring the setups of his cars, which has led to a substantially better performance from Kahne, as well as Sadler (who just can’t seem to escape a rash of bad luck despite having strong cars).

As Evernham has experienced his rebirth as a crew chief on the Cup circuit, George Gillett, the Montreal Canadiens owner who teamed up with Evernham last season to form Gillett-Evernham Motorsports, has dealt with the business affairs at GEM.

His accomplishments include bringing on Budweiser, the beer brand that graced the hood of NASCAR’s most renowned ride over the last few years, to sponsor Kahne (a sponsorship mega-deal).  In addition, he's agreed to a multi-year contract extension with Sadler and picked up Best Buy to be the No. 19 car’s primary sponsor in 2008.

The new formula that GEM is trying out appears to be a winning one for Kahne and the No. 9 crew, and the Budweiser car in Victory Lane agrees with NASCAR nation, even if the guy behind the wheel isn’t Little E.