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Jul 24, 2016
July 11, 2012 | By John Oreovicz
The trail through USAC short track competition that Jeff Gordon blazed in the early 1990s was followed with great success by the likes of Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman and Kasey Kahne.
A native of Enumclaw, Washington, Kahne moved to the Midwest and won the USAC Midget championship in 2000. By 2002, he was competing part-time in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and he scored his first Nationwide race win in the 2003 season finale.
Kahne enjoyed support from the Ford Motor Company in the early stages of his career and he had to extricate himself from a contract when he got the opportunity to replace Bill Elliott in Evernham Motorsports’ Dodge. Kahne showed immediate promise in the Sprint Cup Series, finishing second in two of his first three Cup races, and he nearly made the Chase, settling for Rookie of the Year honors with four poles.
In 2005, Kahne did qualify for the chase and scored his first Sprint Cup race win at Richmond International Raceway. The 2006 campaign was Kahne’s most successful, as he won a series high six races and finished eighth in the standings.
The wins were fewer and farther between in recent years, as the Evernham team merged with Petty Motorsports and switched from Dodge to Ford. Kahne left the Petty organization in late 2010 and accepted a temporary drive for Red Bull Racing in 2011, knowing that he had signed a longterm contract to drive for Hendrick Motorsports in 2012 and beyond. Kahne scored a win for Red Bull in November 2011 at Phoenix International Raceway.
Kahne’s transition into Hendrick’s #5 car hasn’t gone as smoothly as many expected, but in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, he broke through for his first race win for the Hendrick organization.
After leading a race-high 48 laps in 2011 while driving for Red Bull, Kahne will be keen to return to the Brickyard 400 in 2012 with Hendrick equipment. Hendrick cars have won the Brickyard seven times with drivers Jeff Gordon (4) and Jimmie Johnson (3).
At the recent Cup race at Kentucky Speedway, pit problems put Kahne at the back of the field, but he charged back to finish second. And although he’s not longer regarded as NASCAR’s ‘Next Big Thing,’ he’s happy with the way his career has played out.
“People ask, ‘What if you would have started at Hendrick, would your career be this much better?’” Kahne related to USA Today. “It’s irrelevant. The way I did it and the way I came from ups and downs, bad and good years … I’m happy with what I have and wouldn’t change that for nothing.”