The infamous Allstate insurance commercials starring driver Kasey Kahne and three swooning female fans are as synonymous with a NASCAR weekend broadcast as green flag racing and pit stops. However, looking past the media hype and pretty-boy image, how does Kahne's driving record on the track stack up with the rest of the field? How does the 2008 season look for Gillett Evernham Motorsports' No. 9 Budweiser Dodge team?
Blast from the past
Kahne began his racing career at the age of 14, driving micro-midget cars on dirt tracks near his home in Enumclaw, Wash. In 2000, he won the USAC midget championship and was named National Midget Driver of the Year. After continuing his success in dirt track racing and sprint cars, Kahne ran a limited Nationwide Series schedule in 2002. In 20 starts that year, he scored one top-10 finish, which came at Michigan International Speedway. In 2003, Kahne ran a full-time Nationwide schedule, winning the Ford City 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The following year, Kahne ran two NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series races, picking up the win in each. Those starts were in addition to his 30 Nationwide and 36 Sprint Cup starts.
Kahne began driving full time in the Sprint Cup Series in 2004, gaining 13 top-fives, 14 top-10s and four poles. He would go on that year to win the Raybestos Rookie of the Year Award and miss the Chase for the Cup by only 28 points. In 2005 - the return of the Dodge Charger to NASCAR racing - Kahne won his first Sprint Cup Series race at Richmond International Raceway. He would go on that year to garner five top-fives, eight top-10s and two poles, along with winning Nationwide Series races at Texas Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway.
Kahne exploded in just his third NASCAR Sprint Cup season in 2006, taking the checkers a personal-best six times, winning at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Texas, Michigan International Speedway, Fontana's Auto Club Speedway and sweeping both races at Lowe's Motor Speedway. Kahne would go on to score 12 top-fives, 19 top-10s and six poles. He contended in the Chase for the Cup, finishing eighth overall in points. Kahne maintained his consistency in the Nationwide Series that year, picking up a win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and another in California.
With all the success of 2006, Kahne seemed ready to add to his resume heading into 2007. However, Kahne struggled most of the season, finishing the year 19th overall. Throughout the season, Kahne scored only one top-five finish, eight top-10s and two poles. Despite his poor Sprint Cup season, Kahne managed to be consistent in the Nationwide Series, scoring a win at Lowe's and Bristol Motor Speedway.
Kahnes' strengths and weaknesses
Kahne's strength as a driver is his diversity. He has proven he can succeed at small dirt tracks in open-wheel race cars, in Craftsman trucks, Nationwide cars and Sprint Cup cars on all types of tracks. Kahne's specialty is intermediate tracks (1.0-2.49 miles), where he has a total of six Cup wins, 26 top-fives, 40 top-10s and 12 poles. With all his success on intermediates, Kahne has a better career average finish (17.9) at short tracks, though.
Kahne's weaknesses, or factors that contributed to his poor 2007 season, are the disorganization within his racing team, technical issues with the Dodge Car of Tomorrow and overall equipment issues. In August of 2007, George Gillett bought a majority share of Evernham Motorsports, thus creating the Gillett Evernham Motorsports organization. Furthermore, Kahne's crew chief, Kenny Francis, spent several races last season making body adjustments to the legacy car, none of which proved to be winning combinations.
Kahne did not enjoy driving the COT. His team had trouble adjusting to the new equipment and finished the year with six DNFs. Off the track, Kahne was accused of pushing a security guard, resulting in a lawsuit. Working on his legal issues, learning to deal with new management and equipment not working well all contributed to Kahne's disastrous 2007 season.
A new year
Already in 2008, it has been a better year for the No. 9 Budweiser driver. Kahne is more accustomed to the COT, and more testing was completed on the Dodge during the 2007-08 offseason. All the changes within his racing organization have settled, leaving time and energy for his team to focus on performance. Even Kahne's attitude has changed, showing signs of a maturing driver. In the past, he has focused more on winning and was upset when that didn't happen. Now, the driver has matured and has a new outlook. He says if he has a car that isn't win-worthy, he'll still try to drive it to its potential instead of becoming frustrated early on.
In 2007, Kahne's average start for the first eight races was 16.3, but in 2008, his average start for the first eight races is 14.6. This year, Kahne's average finish for the first eight races was 26.8, but in 2008, his average finish for the first eight races is 16.8. Kahne has also led three laps this season and is currently 11th in Cup points, 286 points behind leader Jeff Burton.
Even though Kahne's 2007 season was not one for the record books, fantasy players should not have discounted him in 2008. Already, Kahne is showing strong ability to be up front at the end of races, as he has finished in the top 10 in half of this season's races. Now that Gillett Evernham has some structure in place, Francis and the No. 9 team can put all of their effort into researching and improving the COT. Kahne should continue maturing as a driver, which will help his chances to become a contender for the Chase. Kahne has won or placed in the top 10 at numerous intermediate tracks, and fantasy players should consider him a top play at those tracks.