Kasey Kahne Staying Focused On Performance

Photo by Nigel Kinrade/NKP Photography

By Jerry Jordan, Editor
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Bad luck. It’s been following Kasey Kahne for weeks but he’s hopeful to get an 18th career win soon and lock himself into the post-season NASCAR playoffs.

Kahne had high hopes before the Coke Zero 400 after qualifying fourth, then twice leading during the race for a total of 12 laps. But near the end, he got shuffled back and finished a disappointing 18th – adding another run outside the Top 15. So far this season, out of 17 races, Kahne, who is driving the same Hendrick Motorsports equipment as Chase Elliott, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr., has ended his day 11 times outside the Top 15. His best finish was fourth at Atlanta Motor Speedway back in February.

It’s not lost on Kahne that he needs to turn things around and even though his contract runs through 2018, there has been rampant speculation from fans that he’s racing his final season in the No. 5 car. It’s a topic Kahne said he can’t ignore.

“I really can’t address a whole lot of it,” Kahne said. “I want to be in a good situation. I want to be wanted and I want to perform and I want to race well. You know, I just work hard every week, I am part of the team and I try to do everything that I can to do a better job. I listen to criticism from my guys, I criticize when that needs to be done that direction and we work hard to go on to the next race.
“The problem is that we don’t perform as well as we need to and we just need to figure that side of things out.”

Kahne said the lack of performance doesn’t appear to be an issue of chemistry between himself, his team or his crew chief, Keith Rodden.” He said everyone gets along but for whatever reason, the performance breaks down during a race and he doesn’t finish where he should.
“But we don’t perform for the entire race on Sundays as we need to,” he said. “We just keep digging into that every week.”

Regarding his contract, he says he tries not to let it bother him because he wants to race well. His goal is to perform and get good finishes on the track, he said. In NASCAR and any other performance-based sport, the contracts tend to work themselves out when an athlete is victorious. And although he has 17 wins under his belt in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series – like every other driver – he wants more. His last trip to Victory Lane came in 2014.“You could say that if you want (regarding rumors of his ouster) and I could read it and then you move on with your day. There’s nothing I can do about it,” he said. “I have a contract with Hendrick through next year but at the end of the day, I don’t care where my contract and how all that works, I just want to perform. I want to run well and I know that I still can because it’s a passion that I have and all I think about.”

Of the four races where he crashed out, none were his fault. Twice he had a failure break and at Dover International Raceway a car came across the track and took him out. At Sonoma, he ended up limping to the ambulance and taking a ride to the infield care center after he was run up the track and into the outside wall by the No. 15 car.

“Not one of those situations could have changed, so I don’t know what you do differently other than just work hard for the next race and do the best you can,” he said.

There is some happiness for Kahne regardless of how he performs on the track and that comes from being a first-time dad and learning what it is like to be raising his nearly two-year-old son, Tanner. Being a dad gives him a chance to shift his focus away from racing because no matter how bad things are on the track, Tanner doesn’t care.

“It doesn’t matter what’s going on, you know, you are happy and excited and it’s enjoyable to see how much fun he is having every single minute,” Kahne said. “So, I love that side of things. When I am racing I am in my race mode and focused strictly on racing … even after four bad weekends in a row, as soon as I got on the airplane to go home I started thinking about Tanner. You know, you are excited to see him.”

Despite not winning, the bad luck and the hard hits, Kahne still wants to race. He said he has learned through the trials that he still has the desire to be a racer at NASCAR highest level. He also believes he still has the ability. The day the desire begins to wane is the day he will call it quits but don’t expect that anytime soon.

“I think some of it teaches you things but I think the biggest thing is you just find out if you really want to do it, or not,” he said. “If I was to wake up in the morning and not feel like racing or not have the urge to go to my debrief and call-in and be a part of the deal and try to get better then I’d know time is about up. But I actually still think about it non-stop and try to understand why we don’t run good and how we can run better, how I can do a better job. It is all that I want and all that I think about. I mean there are challenges for sure but my head is still in the right place and I think that is a big part if running better and getting things turned around.”

At 37-years-old, Kahne believes he still has a lot of racing left in him. Before NASCAR he was an accomplished open-wheel sprint car racer. Parts of his career have followed a similar path as that of Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart. He was the rookie of the year in the United States Auto Club champion. In his first full-time season in the Cup series he racked up five second-place finishes and four pole starts for Evernham Motorsports. He was also named rookie of the year. Since then, Kahne has driven for only four team owners, including Richard Petty Motorsports and the now-defunct Red Bull Racing. In 2012, he signed with Hendrick Motorsports (HMS) and took over the No. 5 car. In his first year at HMS, he finished fourth in the point standings.Kahne knows he won’t be around the track, at least not as a driver, if he doesn’t turn things around on the track. Asked where he sees himself in five years and he is hopeful that his career has a resurgence and he is, once again, racing at the front of the pack.

“I would hope that I could still be in the sport in five years,” he said. “I would hope that I could race until I am 43- or 45-years-old, or somewhere in there and be competitive. You

know, five years if going to go by really quick. The last five years flew by so I can’t imagine the next. It seems like every year goes by quicker than the last.

“I still feel really good and I still want to do it really bad but it is a performance sport, you know, if I am doing what I am doing right now I am not going to be here in five years. I know that.”

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