Driver keeps his head up after Daytona 500 wreck
Mooresville, N.C. -- For the second straight year, Kasey Kahne is off to a slow start in the Sprint Cup Series.
Kahne was holding on to fifth place early in last Sunday’s Daytona 500 when contact with Kyle Busch from behind sent the driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet SS spinning into turn 1.
“I was upset, kind of pissed off about it, until yesterday,” Kahne said on Wednesday while promoting an upcoming race at Bristol Motor Speedway. "I’ve wrecked at the (Daytona) 500 plenty of times, and that was the first time I ever wrecked there and thought that I had a shot. I think my car was as good as any car there. I know it was. So that’s what’s so disappointing.”
Kahne said crashing a potential race-winning car had him stewing over the missed opportunity for longer than usual, but a team meeting with drivers Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. helped him understand what happened.
Kahne was running right behind Gordon at the time of the wreck. Gordon explained that he and Matt Kenseth both slowed, forcing Kahne to do the same. It ended with the contact from Busch.
“That wreck was uncontrollable,” Kahne said. “I realize that we’re not that far behind, one race is not a very big deal. It’s something you can get over easy.”
If there's no sense of panic in Kahne's voice, it's because he was in a similar situation last year.
After an early crash, he finished 29th in the 2012 Daytona 500. The following weekend in Phoenix, he finished 34th. Overall, in the first six races of 2012, Kahne collected three finishes of 30th or worse, and found himself 31st in points, despite winning two poles.
He responded to that slow start with seven straight top-10s, including a win in Charlotte. He added another win at Loudon, and by early September he'd secured a place in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Five top-fives during NASCAR's playoff helped him to finish the season in 4th.
"We’re not going to crash every race. At some point we’re going to take off," Kahne remembers telling himself after the slow start. “And we did.”
A brand new Generation-6 car makes the circumstances of 2013 quite different. Few know what to expect on any of the non-restrictor plate tracks. But Kahne said the stability of long-time crew chief Kenny Francis and the reputation of Hendrick Motorsports are keeping him confident they can overcome another slow start.
“I can tell by the things we’ve done to this point -- with testing and how we raced in the 500 -- how prepared Kenny and our team are,” Kahne said. “So it’s comforting, and exciting to look into Phoenix, Vegas and Bristol and just be ready to go.”
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