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After finding stability, Kahne's best is yet to come

December 13, 2012, Joe Menzer, NASCAR.com



After finding stability, Kahne's best is yet to come
Following a rough start, driver finishes career-best fourth in his first year at HMS

When the 2012 season commenced, it appeared Kasey Kahne was poised for instant success.

Sure, he was with a new team, again. But Kahne was to drive the No. 5 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, an organization with a long-held reputation for putting its drivers in the best equipment available and backed by the best overall resources in the business. Plus, longtime crew chief Kenny Francis was making the transition to HMS along with him. They certainly were used to working together in new and strange situations, with the move to Hendrick marking the fourth different organization they had worked for in four seasons.

"Kasey is a smart race-car driver. He knows what he's looking for in a race car, and Kenny Francis knows how to give it to him."

--JIMMIE JOHNSON

Kasey Kahne

2012 Statistics
WinsFirst 26Final 10
Top-Fives75
Top-10s136
Poles22
DNFs40
Laps Led25229
Avg. Start9.27.7
Avg. Finish14.310.0

What possibly could go wrong?

How about a little of everything, at least at the outset of the season? Beginning with an accident that took him out of the season-opening Daytona 500 on Lap 189 of 202 and relegated him to a 29th-place finish, Kahne's first six races in his new ride were memorable for all the wrong reasons. When he lost an engine roughly halfway through the Martinsville race in the spring, he finished 38th, the fourth time in the first six races he had finished 29th or worse, and was mired at 31st in the point standings.

"We were struggling. But a lot of it really was bad luck that we had no control over," Kahne said.

He and Francis kept insisting to each other, and to the media whenever asked, that it was going to get better. It had to, right?

All doubts started to fade in a streak of seven races in a row during which Kahne finished eighth or better, including fourth at Talladega, fifth at Richmond and Kahne's first victory of the season -- and in a Hendrick car -- in the prestigious Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte. By the time they departed Dover after a ninth-place finish in June, Kahne was 14th in points and gaining confidence that he would make the Chase for the Sprint Cup for the third time in his career.

Another victory in July at New Hampshire helped his Chase chances, and he eventually made it in as one of the two wild-card entries, along with HMS teammate Jeff Gordon. When Kahne finished third in the Chase-opening race at Chicagoland, he jumped to fifth in the standings and remained fifth or better from there until the end of the season.

He eventually finished fourth in the Chase, by far the highest finish of his nine-year Sprint Cup career. His previous best had been eighth in 2006 while driving a Dodge for Evernham Motorsports. Since then, Evernham Motorsports had become Evernham Gillett Motorsports, which had become Richard Petty Motorsports, and Kahne had in turn driven Fords and a Toyota for Red Bull Racing before finally settling in his current No. 5 Chevrolet for the first of what he and owner Rick Hendrick envision as many seasons at HMS.

Teammate Jimmie Johnson, a five-time Cup champion, said he was not surprised by Kahne's success. "Kasey is a smart race-car driver," Johnson said. "He knows what he's looking for in a race car, and Kenny Francis knows how to give it to him."

Fellow Cup driver Kevin Harvick added, "You know, Kasey Kahne is usually going to be fast, especially on a track that has a top groove. He really knows how to work his car up there."

The consensus amongst his peers is that the best is yet to come for Kahne, who hopes to take the momentum gained from his strong finish in 2012 and carry it into 2013. There also is the matter of stability, as he and Francis won't have to worry this offseason about changing teams and manufacturers yet again.

"I think the communication between Kasey and his crew chief is really good," Denny Hamlin said. "Finding that right chemistry is such a big part of being a successful team and getting on the kind of roll that you want. They were really clicking the last part of the season and definitely will be a team to watch out for going forward."

Kahne credited Francis, Hendrick and his entire team for helping him turn 2012 around after the unexpected rough beginning.

"As a team, our greatest accomplishment was battling back from a poor start and making the Chase," Kahne said. "I have to thank Kenny for his vision and his preparation of our race cars. He and I and a lot of guys on the 5 team have been a lot of different places in recent years, but we've stuck together and through hard work were able to have a great season."

Watch all of Kahne's highlights from 2012 and flip through his year in photos below.