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Sunday, February 19, 2012

It's Kasey Kahne's time to shine now that he's in top-notch Hendrick equipment

Kasey Kahne has been a star pretty much since he came to Cup, with a clearly high level of talent.

So the past few years must have been tough on his psyche. The Evernham Motorsports team he drove for changed hands and descended into a team that could barely pay its bills. Then he had to be farmed out to Red Bull last year as he waited out the last year of Mark Martin’s time in the #5 car at Hendrick. (and he made the best of that by running well at the end of the year and getting a surprising win.)

But now all that nonsense is behind him. Kasey is a superstar driver at a superstar team. Everyone on his team is a many-times winner, and the team is accustomed to claiming the title much more often than any other team in the sport.

It’s go time for Kahne; he has the equipment he needs to realize the potential he has. So it’s a lock he’ll do well, right?

Not so fast. The same story was told a few years back when one Dale Earnhardt Jr. joined Hendrick; but that transition hasn’t gone too well, with just one win for Jr. (on fuel mileage) and endless crew chief changes in just a few years.

Kasey also is coming off knee surgery, another factor that could influence his performance.

Still, Kahne is confident his time at Hendrick will begin well, and has set his goals for the year.

For me I would say successful would be consistency and to win races. We have been close for a little while now. I just feel like we have a really good team. We have the best engines we have ever had. There are a lot of parts and pieces that are going to be there for us and we have a lot of great guys to lean on as well. It’s going to be an awesome year, but I think consistency, winning races would be great for us right now,” Kahne said.

That’s kind of vague, but he’s smart not to overstate things. He probably won’t compete for the championship, though Tony Stewart’s run last year proved anyone who makes the Chase has a shot. If Kahne can squeak in the Chase, Ganything can happen. But there’s no need to talk like that right now.

Baby steps. Get in the car, see how you’re doing. Get better as the year goes on, and if you’re doing well then you can talk about going for a title.

So what’s different about Kahne’s situation vs. Jr’s when he first went to Hendrick? Simple. He’s bringing along a crew chief that knows him. Kahne and Kenny Francis have a good relationship and know each other well, an essential element to a winning team. Jr. hasn’t had a great relationship with a crew chief since Tony Eury Sr. at DEI, hence his struggles are amplified.

So what do I think Kahne will do?; He'll mostly likely win a race or two; and squeak into the bottom of the Chase standings; maybe even as a wild card. I don’t see him competing for the crown seriously, but anything is possible in this sport lately. After surprising runs by guys like Tony Stewart and Brad Keselowski last year, I wouldn’t say anything is out of the question.

Kahne isn’t putting too much pressure on himself though.

“I always come into each year and have my own idea of what I want to do, work hard and get that done. It doesn’t always happen that way, but try to do the best we can and when you go to Hendrick Motorsports you know you have the car and the engines and all the opportunity to succeed. We just have to be sure that we communicate really well throughout the season and stay on top of it. We will have a great year,” he said.

That’s a good attitude to have. Confident, but humble, and it should serve him well in 2012.

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