Kasey Kahne: What's The Verdict After Five Years in Sprint Cup

Kelly CrandallSenior Writer IDecember 30, 2008

In 2009 much attention will be given to 18-year-old Joey Logano and his much anticipated first full-season, driving for Joe Gibbs Racing and the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota. A little advice for Logano would be to take interest in another driver that showed up with almost as much hype as he is.

The lesson being that just because you can talk the talk doesn’t mean you can drive the car.

Ray Evernham was told that he had the next Jeff Gordon. Who to be a better judge of that then the man who had helped Gordon to three Sprint Cup Championships? Evernham needed a driver that could replace Bill Elliott who would be retiring at the end of the 2003 and leaving his No. 9 Dodge seat vacant.

Enter Kasey Kahne.

Kasey Kahne was a Sprint Car star when at age 14 he began racing.

By 1998 he was racing in the World of Outlaw Series, All-Star Circuit of Champions, and Gumount Racing Series. By 2000 he was the USAC Midget Series Champion and Driver of the Year. Soon he would be moving on to bigger and better things.

In 2001 he entered the NASCAR world, after gaining attention from owners. He paired with Yates Racing to run a limited Nationwide Series schedule in 2002 and a year later, now driving for Akins Racing, he scored his first career win during the last race of the year at Homestead-Miami. He ended the year seventh in the final standings.

He got the call to inherit Elliott’s ride for the 2004 season in the Sprint Cup Series. In only his third career start, at Las Vegas in March, he earned his first career pole.

Soon, he was contending for wins and he would finish second five times over the course of the year, including a controversial finish during the second race of the year at Rockingham. Matt Kenseth beat him by a nose, but many raised questions about the pit sequence that allowed the two to be in those positions.

Kahne would end 2004 by missing the Chase for the Championship by just 28 points and still in search of his first career win. He did, however, pick up the Rookie of the Year award.

He had to wait until May the follow season at Richmond to capture his first checkered flag. But while the season seemed promising, especially coming off his stellar freshman performance, and finishing second to Tony Stewart at the Brickyard, Kahne became victim of the sophomore slump. The team’s performance was only good for twenty-third in points.

Once again he failed to make the Chase. “As soon as I got through the disappointment (of the 2005 season), all I’ve wanted to do was get back in the car,” Kahne said.

When he did get back in the car he went out and won, and kept on winning. He led the series with six wins-Atlanta, Texas, Lowe’s, Michigan, California, and then Lowe’s again-and had six poles. And for the first time he made the Chase by finishing eighth in the final standings. It now looked like Kahne and the No. 9 UAW-Dodge Dealers team had finally hit their stride and chemistry as a team.

But looks can be deceiving.

These days, it seems Kahne is more known for his many commercials, you know the ones with the crazy All-State girls, then for his performance on the track.

Or at least, he’s not known in a good way. He went winless in 2007, the first time since his rookie year in ’04 and had six DNF’s which led to another disappointing points finish-ninetieth. 

However, late in ’07 Anheuser-Busch announced that they would be paring with Gillette-Evernham Motorsports for the 2008 when deciding not to follow Dale Earnhardt Jr. to Hendrick Motorsports. With new sponsor and look on board the team turned toward the new season as a way to start over.

Ironically, it took their failure to actually start their success.

During the All-Star weekend, Kahne and company had to once again race their way into the big show later in the night. He failed to do so and had to hope that the fans would vote him in. They did and Kahne went out and shocked everyone by winning the big event. He became the first driver to ever win the race after being voted in by the fans.

“I would have loved to race my way in, but we have great fans, and it’s cool they voted for us and got us in the race,” Kahne said in victory lane, which sits coincidentally right in front of the grandstands on the front stretch.  “We need all the fan support we can have. They’ve stuck behind us. I was going to head home, drink a couple of Budweiser’s and watch the All-Star race.”

One week later, at the same track he was three laps away from finishing second to Tony Stewart in the Coca-Cola 600 when Stewart suddenly had a flat tire, Kahne blew past and was back in victory lane for the second time in eight days.

This time though, it counted in the points and in the win column so the media attention was all the better. Budweiser was back in the winners circle and so was Kahne and his Gillette-Evernham team; things were finally looking up after two seasons of heartbreak.

Two weeks later Kahne not only sat on the pole but won at Pocono, after coming through the field from a pit road mishap. “The fans gave [momentum] to us in the All-Star race when they gave us that boost,” he said. “It has done a tremendous amount for our confidence in the last month.”

By the end of the summer the momentum was gone and so was his chance at making his second career Chase, missing out to Clint Bowyer by 69 points.

He seems to do a lot of hit or missing in his career and it became clear by the end of 2008 that not only was his team in trouble, but the whole Dodge organization had lost their magic.

When one thinks about Kasey Kahne, do you think about how he swept both races at Lowe’s in May? Or do you think about how he once again missed the Chase?

Maybe all of his commercials stand out most. The one where he’s chased by the All-State girls, where they pull him over in a cop car to take a picture of his behind or the more popular one, which I’m sure he will never live down, the one where he dances in a pretty pink and blue fire suit.

Then there’s the one, only one, that he did for new sponsor Budweiser in which he looks strangely out of place. A question mark coming into this year was whether or not Budweiser could market someone like Kahne who doesn’t look old enough to drink. And he has a personality of being quiet and shy so how they try and put Kahne’s face on the bottle now, after following Dale Earnhardt Jr. was huge.

The potential is there; he has the looks, the good guy personality and has the talent and drives for one of the most successful and well respected men in the garage area. He’s hardly in the news for anything negative, nor does he have problems with other drivers on the track.

What makes all of this important and relevant to Joey Logano is that nothing is a sure thing in this sport. Logano is coming in after being highly praised by many veterans in the Cup Series, such as Tony Stewart and Mark Martin. Kasey Kahne used to be Joey Logano but once the spotlight started to wear off and move on to others he blended in and became just another driver, one that is now struggling.

This is not to say that Logano will fall flat on his face in 2009, he may he may not. It’s a lesson in the reality of NASCAR Sprint Cup Racing. Don’t take anything for granted, don’t feel too comfortable in the equipment that you have.

Just don’t get too comfortable at all, because when it all comes crashing down, as Kasey Kahne is learning, you’ll be scratching your head wondering what went wrong.