Kasey Kahne claimed his first career NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series victory in 2005, an impressive win from the pole at Richmond in May. After a successful rookie season in 2004 which saw Kahne record five second-place finishes, the only question was at what point during the season the driver from Enumclaw, Wash., would get his first win.
While that first career victory headlines the chapter documenting the 2005 season, it may prove to be something not included in the pages that will play a significant role in the future of the 26-year-old driver.
NASCAR imposed tire and spoiler rule changes prior to the start of the 2005 season. At the same time, Dodge introduced the return of the Charger to Nextel Cup competition. In race conditions, the tire and spoiler changes proved to be a challenge for several teams. The new car was a third factor for the Dodge teams.
Kahne qualified the No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge Charger in the top 10 on 15 occasions including two poles – back-to-back at Darlington and Richmond. In race conditions, handling was an issue. Kahne tried to compensate for the aero and balance problems through aggressive driving in the race, but the effort came at a heavy price. Kahne had nine DNFs during the year. Accidents contributed to some of those DNFs. Now, Kahne hopes to turn that learning experience into on-track results in 2006.
Team owner Ray Evernham has made a change in the structure of all teams at Evernham Motorsports. The change eliminated the crew chief position and replaces it with a leadership team comprised of a team director, car director and engineer. The change is designed to foster better collective thinking, decision making and intellectual motivation. Kahne will be teamed with Kenny Francis (team director), Mike Shiplett (car director) and Keith Rodden (engineer).
Few rookies have impacted the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series the way Kahne did in 2004. At the start of the season, he was an unknown rookie. By the end of the season, Kasey Kahne was a household name. Whether it was his hard-charging style on the race track or the year-long media frenzy, Kahne’s popularity skyrocketed over the course of the season.
Kahne was elated to be Evernham’s choice to replace legendary Bill Elliott in the No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge in 2004. Kahne’s credentials were impressive in the open-wheel ranks, but he had limited experience in NASCAR racing. Evernham saw the talent, similar to earlier years when another youngster emerged on the NASCAR scene from the open-wheel ranks. Evernham teamed with that driver – Jeff Gordon – to win three championships and 47 races in NASCAR’s premier series.
Evernham wasn’t the first to notice Kahne’s talent. Steve Lewis, who once employed Gordon and Tony Stewart, offered Kahne a sprint, midget and Silver Crown deal for the 2000 season. In his first season, he garnered the USAC Silver Crown Rookie of the Year awards, and both the USAC Midget Series Champion and Driver of the Year honors. And, for the first time in his career, he was racing on both dirt and asphalt surfaces.
The following year, Kahne ran the Atlantic Series and a partial USAC schedule with occasional stops with the World of Outlaws, Gumout Racing Series and All-Star Circuit of Champions winged sprint car associations.
Kahne moved to the NASCAR scene in 2002, running a limited Busch Series in preparation for a full Busch schedule in 2003. He ended the ’03 season in exciting fashion, notching his first NASCAR win at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In addition to his win, he had one pole, four top-five and 14 top-10 finishes en route to a seventh-place finish in the NASCAR Busch Series standings.
In his first season at Evernham Motorsports in 2004, Kahne had 13 top-five finishes and four poles. He finished 13 th in the season point standings and easily claimed the Raybestos Rookie-of-the-Year title.
Kahne and his new team are looking for a fast start in 2006 in quest of a berth in the Chase for the Championship. Kahne finished 23 rd in the point standings in 2005.
Kahne along with teammates Jeremy Mayfield and Scott Riggs will be seeing action in the NASCAR Busch Series in 2005 in the No. 9 Ultimate Chargers Dodge from Evernham Motorsports.