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Pedley: Kahne Set To Begin A Season Of Stability

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, February 7 2012

Kasey Kahne could prove just how good he really is during the upcoming Sprint Cup season. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Erik J. Perel)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Kasey Kahne is the quiet type.  In tone and in volume. So it can be tough to get a solid read on his exact excitement levels when it comes to, well, basically, anything. It was that way a couple of days ago as he stood in the middle of an electric tide of flashing slot machines, clinking beverage glasses and leggy show girls.

He even remained dead-pan when questions began rolling in about moving to glitzy, top-of-the-world, championship-synonymous Hendrick Motorsports for the 2012 Sprint Cup season.

Prodded, like, six times by questions designed to prompt him to burst into song and praise of going to work for The Team, Kahne kept both upper and lower lips laser straight.

About the best he cut loose with was; “We’ve tested and things went really smooth and it’s been nice to be part of Hendrick Motorsports and work with the guys.”

No, you have to search for super-subtle tells when it comes to doping out Kahne’s excitement level about joining HMS and its roster of high profile drivers and its history of turning out thoroughbreds.

Perhaps the most relevant morsel of a tell came out during a long (for Kahne) answer in which he thanked a lot of people, listed sponsors and talked about having to get to know a lot of new names and faces. He said, “It’s awesome to be able to go into this season and know I have four years of stability.”

During the eight full seasons Kahne has been driving Cup cars, long-term stability has been in short supply. So short that it has been tough to get a read on the man’s ability to turn vast potential into real-time success.

Kahne, a USAC ace early in the 2000s, was put into a Cup car in 2004 by Ray Evernham. He was rookie of the year that season, finishing 13th in points. His best year was 2006 when he won six times, made the Chase and finished eighth in points.

But Evernham Motorsports was one of those teams that nibbled at greatness but never quite achieved. There always seemed to things going on in the background that that kept blocking its path to peaceful stability.

Things got downright tense around the team as then-driver Jeremy Mayfield and Evernham feuded, George Gillett Jr. bought in to add stability (didn’t happen) and ultimately, the team passed circuitously into the hands of Richard Petty and an investment group.

Far from producing the kind of atmosphere which would allow Kahne to prosper, things got so bad at Richard Petty Motorsports two years ago that Kahne bailed late in the 2010 season. He signed with Hendrick but would then have to spend a year 0f fluxing at Red Bull Racing because the seat which was tabbed for Kahne was contractually guaranteed to Mark Marin for 2011.

Caught in the middle of all that was Kahne and his progress as a Sprint Cup wheelman.

The question became: How good is this guy?

The answer became: We’ll find out in 2012.

It won’t just be new-found stability that Kahne will have on his side. He’ll have the best cars in the sport. He’ll have the best support in the sport. He’ll have a library of data and even among all the newness of moving to what is one of the largest operations in the sport, he’ll have familiarity as he is bringing long-time crew chief Kenny Francis and a couple other members of his old team with him.

Asked Tuesday during the weekly NASCAR teleconference if this will indeed be the season that the racing world – and Kahne himself – find out just how good he is, it was once again time to scour for a tell.

His answer was, “I’m in a really solid situation and I have to take advantage of it. We’ll see how high we can rise and step up.”

Going to take that here as a “yes”.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, February 7 2012
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