Face it, guys. I think we’re all a little jealous of Kasey Kahne if we’re being honest. The favorite of crazed soccer moms in Allstate commercials, Kahne drives fast cars for job, has had a fairly impressive list of girlfriends, and he’s got a cool name that makes him sound like a young country singer.
All this from a guy who looks like he isn’t even old enough to date my daughter. A guy who- although he has Bud on the car- looks too young to have Bud IN the car.
At times, I think it’s a little too easy not to take Kasey Kahne seriously as a result. It’s too bad. The reality of it is that among the stable of young guns racing for Richard Petty Motorsports, the former open wheel star has the most impressive resume, with 9 career Cup wins, 7 more wins in the Nationwide (formerly Busch Series and a pair of trips to victory lane in the Camping World (formerly Craftsman) Truck Series- as well as 16 poles in Cup competition.
Kasey Kenneth Kahne was born April 10, 1980 in Enumclaw, Washington. The “Apple State” town has honored their favorite son with his own day (“Kasey Kahne Day” was held Sept. 5, 2005), and there’s also a street there named after the driver of the #9 once piloted by Bill Elliott.
Racing for Kasey started at age 14 in micro-midgets with help from his dad Kelly. By the time he was 16, he had won a Mini-Sprint Class championship at Hannigan Speedway, along with a Northwest Mini-Sprint Car championship. Kasey followed his early success with a second place finish in the Northern Sprint Tour in 1997.
During his formative racing years, Kasey Kahne competed in everything from the World of Outlaws to the Gumout Racing Series, and the All-Star Circuit of Champions. In 2000, Kahne won the USAC Midget Series championship and was also named “National Midget Driver of The Year.” In that same era, he raced in the Toyota Atlantic Series.
At Indianapolis Race Park, young Kahne won the “Night Before the 500″ classic in 2000 & 2001- something only Jeff Gordon had accomplished up to this point. In just 11 2001 starts, he won 4 races.
In 2002, Kasey Kahne’s NASCAR career launched driving the #98 Channel Lock Ford for Bill Davis Racing in the Busch Series. In his inaugural season, he finished 33rd in the points with a lone top 10 in 20 starts. In his only full season in Busch competition, Kahne finished 7th in the final points in 2003- winning his first race at Homestead in the Ford 300. In addition, he finished in the top 10 14 times and hit the top 5 at 4 events.
At the 2004 Daytona 500, Kasey Kahne made his Cup debut for Evernham Motorsports. He qualified 27th, but finished 41st. Though he had no wins in Cup competition, his 13 top 5s and 14 top 10s won him Raybestos Rookie of the Year honors- with an overall points finish of 13th. The skill was apparent, the cars were good (he captured 4 poles- the first at Las Vegas), but Kasey’s luck was bad. Kahne lost out on one win due to a blown tire, and wrecked on another occasion when his car slipped through oil from a blown engine. He also went winless in 30 Busch starts and he also competed in the Craftsman Truck Series- winning his debut at Darlington, as well as picking off a win at Homestead.
2005 was not especially kind to the Northwesterner, though he won his first Cup race at Richmond in May. Kahne’s Dodge Charger suffered numerous blown right-front tires and it was thought that the race set-ups were overly aggressive. He also finished second to Hoosier Tony Stewart at the Allstate 400 at Indiana’s famed brickyard.
Kahne also ran a partial 2005 Busch schedule (20 starts) and won races in Texas and Kansas.
Kasey Kahne’s breakout season came in 2006. He won 6 Nextel Cup events- including a sweep in Jimmie Johnson’s house- Lowe’s Motor Speedway. Other wins came at Atlanta, California, Texas and Michigan. Bouts of inconsistency dogged Kahne a bit, but he finished 8th in the points. He also picked up 2 wins in 17 Busch Series starts.
With the exception of Busch Series wins, 2007 proved to be a difficult year for Kasey Kahne. He was shut out of victory lane in Nextel’s final Cup season. He had just 8 top 10s and a lone top 5. Kahne was also one of a handful of drivers found to be in violation at Daytona. Holes were found in the wheel wells of his Dodge during inspection.
Kahne finished 19th in the points.
A new sponsor brought a sense of new life in 2008. After several years sponsoring Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kasey Kahne became NASCAR’s new face for Budweiser. Kasey ran well in the Bud Shoot Out, the Gatorade Duels and crossed the line 7th at the Daytona 500. He followed the effort up with a solid 9th in a star-crossed, rain-filled Auto Club 500 at Fontana.
Fan adulation has to be a motivator for racers, and Kasey Kahne was honored by fans, who voted him into the May All-Star race. In spite of old tires, Kahne went on to win the non-points event and a cool million dollars- the first time a driver voted in by the fans won the race.
The victory propelled a nice run for the “9.” On Memorial Day weekend, Kahne won NASCAR’s answer to a marathon, the Coca-Cola 600. On June 6th, Kahne successfully tackled the Pocono 500, in spite of running in 38th at one point due a mishap in the pits. The run of success continued when Kahne won the pole at Infineon. Unfortunately, a signal that the hot streak was over came when he finished 33rd in the Save Mart 300.
A summer slump waylayed Kasey Kahne’s attempt at making the Chase. Whether it was bad luck or faulty cars, Kahne finished with what had to be a disappointing 13th after doing so well in early season stretches.
Another fresh start comes for Kahne in 2009 as Gillett-Evernham Motorsports has merged with Petty Enterprises to form Richard Petty Motorsports. NASCAR legend Richard Petty has maintained a high profile presence with the team, seeming to benefit a young organization anchored by Kasey, Elliott Sadler, former Ganassi driver Reed Sorenson, and A.J. Allmendinger- like Kahne, a former open wheel success.
Kasey Kahne may be a lot like that cute blonde-haired girl in your high school class who was actually pretty smart, but had to work hard to overcome the “airhead” image to be taken seriously. For some critics, it’s too easy to dismiss Kahne as a “pretty boy”, but wins don’t lie and Kahne has won his share. The girls may think Kasey gorgeous, but he’s more than shown that he’s more than just another pretty face- a kind of new age Freddy Lorenzen.
Besides racing cars, Kasey Kahne is also a race car owner, fielding a team that competes in the World of Outlaws with Joey Saldana, USAC Sprint Cars with Brady Bacon, and USAC midgets with Brad Sweet. He also serves on the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation.
SOURCES: Sporting News Record & Fact Book- 2007 Edition, The Official Site of Kasey Kahne Racing, Wikipedia.
PHOTO CREDITS: Top photo by clared23, Kahne with Jimmie Johnson by Ellen Siska, Kahne with Bud car by kahnegirl183, and Kahne All-Star victory photo by catz007cs. More by these photographers may be found at flickr.com.