Monday, February 13, 2012

Kasey At Bat

With teammates including Jeff Gordon, there will be no
excuses for Kasey Kahne this year
 It’s not the bottom of the ninth and the bases aren’t loaded, but 2012 will mark an important at bat for Kasey Kahne.
A lot has been expected of Kahne ever since he stepped into the No. 9 Dodge of Ray Evernham back in 2003, replacing fan favorite Bill Elliott.  At times he has appeared on the brink of a breakthrough, especially in 2006 when he won six Sprint Cup races and two more on the Nationwide circuit.  But inconsistency has always been Kahne’s biggest challenge and only once during the past five years has Kahne qualified for the Chase. 
Of course he hasn’t always made the best career choices, moving from Evernham to Richard Petty Motorsports, which was in turmoil most of his time there, before spending last season at the lame duck Red Bull team.  But he won’t be playing for the Mudville Nine in 2012.  Kahne has a four-year contract with Hendrick Motorsports, acknowledged as the best team in NASCAR.   He’ll be 31 this season and is no longer an up-and-coming driver.  It’s time for him to produce and he knows it.

“I have four years here that I know it's going to be stable and be competitive and have great people and a great team around me,” Kahne said recently.  “To be able to be a part of all that is something that I haven't had. It's definitely nice to have it, makes you feel pretty good about where you're at. It's taken time. I've had some really good years in Cup and I've learned a lot from everything, and now I'm just in a really solid situation and need to take full advantage of it.”

Helping make the transition is Kenny Francis, Kahne’s crew chief since 2006.  The pair began to click in the second half of last year, winning the Phoenix race and scoring the third most points in the Chase, behind only Tony Steward and Carl Edwards.   Kahne has never been particularly good at the restrictor plate tracks, but that may change this year.

“To come down there (Daytona) with Hendrick Motorsports, a team that's won the race, I mean, it's just awesome,” Kahne says.  “The 5 car had two poles last year on restrictor plate tracks.  I'm usually somewhere probably in the 20s or 30s when it comes to qualifying on those tracks.  So that's exciting to know that, man, we might have a shot to get on the front row or something that we've never been able to do before.”

It’s been an unusual off season for Kahne.  First came the furor after he tweeted his disgust at a women openly breast-feeding in a grocery store.  Then he missed NASCAR media week while he was on jury duty (burglary, guilty).  Now comes word Kahne underwent outpatient arthroscopic knee surgery on Friday to repair a torn cartilage in his left knee.  No indication yet on what caused the swelling in his knee that led to doctor’s visit and surgery.  But Kahne has a history of knee surgeries and fast recoveries and isn’t expected to miss any time at Daytona this week when action gets underway.  In 2011 he had similar surgery on a Monday and raced on Saturday night.

That’s good, because there should be no excuses for Kahne this year.    

One of the country’s top paved short track, Irwindale  Speedway in Southern California has apparently closed.  Word started coming out over that weekend that workers were taking down parts of the grandstands and other facilities at the track.  Another victim of the poor economy and the intense competition for the Southern California entertainment dollar.

Milwaukee has been added to the IndyCar schedule for the coming year, with a company owned by Michael Andretti serving as the promoter.  Now rumors have Baltimore returning to the schedule.  While the street race was run for the first time last year with a good fan turnout, it was still a money-losing proposition.   

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