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Menzer: Versatile Kahne looking for turnaround in Cup

March 14, 2011, Joe Menzer,

After recent shuffling between manufacturers, he's hoping for stability in results

To suggest Kasey Kahne just needs to keep on truckin' is a cheap cliché and a racing misnomer.

While Kahne's foray into the Camping World Truck Series was a rousing success last Saturday night at Darlington Raceway, where he won the Too Tough to Tame 200 in a machine prepared and serviced for him by Kyle Busch Motorsports, Kahne's main focus remains squarely on the Sprint Cup Series.

"I just think maybe when my luck does change, it's going to go on for a long time. On the good side."


He won Saturday's Truck race in the No. 18 Toyota that now has captured each of the past two events in that series (Kyle also drove it to victory in Phoenix). For Kahne, it must have been nice to drive another Toyota. He's also in a Toyota -- for the time being -- in Sprint Cup, where this season he's behind the wheel in the No. 4 car for Red Bull Racing.

That makes three manufacturers in barely two seasons for Kahne, who last year drove the No. 9 Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports -- and prior to that was in the No. 9 Dodge for the same organization as it evolved from Evernham Motorsports to Gillett Evernham Motorsports to, eventually, RPM. Next year Kahne will make it a clean sweep in NASCAR manufacturers by switching to the No. 5 Chevrolet when he jumps into the seat that will be vacated by Mark Martin and begins driving for Hendrick Motorsports.

Who could blame Kahne if one of these days he wanders off before a race to sit behind the wheel of the wrong car? If that does happen, at least he'll know where everything is once he straps in. He's pretty much seen it all already, and he's only 30 years old.

An advantage?

Just last Wednesday, Kahne was at Whisky River in Charlotte to help promote the upcoming Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He was asked then if driving cars from all four manufacturers eventually would give him an advantage over at least some of the rest of the Sprint Cup field.

"I don't think it gives you an advantage, but I don't think it gives you a disadvantage, either," Kahne said. "You understand where everything's at. I mean, I'm going to know every engine out there -- how they run, what they feel like, where their power's at and where it's not. Just all the little stuff you can learn from it.

"So it's definitely not going to hurt me. But it's not going to make me any faster next year, either."

He's counting on the Hendrick engine department and his newest new team to make that happen. In the meantime, he's only three races into the curious one-and-done 2011 season he signed on for with Red Bull.

It hasn't happened for him yet at Red Bull, producing some whispers that maybe all this jumping around isn't so smart. Then again, what was Kahne supposed to do when he effectively became a free agent last year and was shopping his future services around? In the end, it seemed he really was left with only two choices: re-sign long-term with RPM when that organization's future looked cloudy at best, and utterly bleak at its worst -- or try to hook up with Hendrick for 2012 and beyond, worrying about filling the one-gap season of 2011 as best he could.

It wasn't much of a choice. Kahne took Option B.

He later hooked up with Red Bull, which seemed pleased to have added one of NASCAR's most recognizable, marketable drivers to its stable -- even if he essentially is only on loan for a year. Kahne eased into the job, leaving the muddled mess that was RPM at the time early to finish last season in his new Toyota ride.

It hasn't been what he would describe as a joy ride since then, at least not in terms of results on the track. Or at least that was not the way he was describing how his car was driving during the last Cup race in Las Vegas, when he complained long and loudly on his team radio about how the car was handling as he struggled all weekend before starting 30th and muscling his way to a respectable 14th-place finish.

"Some days you have stuff that happens, and other days you don't. [In Las Vegas], the car just shook all weekend long," Kahne said. "So it was kind of what I had to deal with. When it's shaking like that your head's bouncing around, your leg's bouncing around. It's killing power. It's killing front grip when you get into the corner. It just hurts you.

"So I was mad at the time. They learned what it was on Tuesday when the car got back to the shop, and said it won't happen again. So we should be good."

Even better days ahead?

Kahne did win the pole and earn a sixth-place finish that was his best of what mostly was a lost year in the 2010 season finale at Homestead. But overall -- in 31 races with RPM and five with Red Bull -- he failed to win a race for the first time since 2007. Despite seemingly constant turmoil at the office, he won two each at the Sprint Cup level in both 2008 and 2009.

This year, late troubles dashed a possible solid finish in the season-opening Daytona 500 and relegated him to 25th. He followed that up with a fine showing in Phoenix, where he started third and matched his best finish with Red Bull by placing sixth.

But he keeps thinking it all could be better. After last Saturday's truck race in Darlington, he knows it can be.

"I don't know why I have bad luck here and there. I mean, I blew a brake rotor off when I had Carl [Edwards] behind me at Daytona, and we're sitting in a perfect spot with 15 laps to go. I think we had a shot at winning the 500, or at least putting ourselves in position, and a brake rotor blows apart," Kahne said.

"I hate calling it bad luck, but we've had a good bit of it over the last year or year and a half. Hopefully it goes away soon."

Kahne made that statement last Wednesday and was talking about his life on the Cup side. Just three nights later, he coupled his considerable skill with some pretty good racing luck to win in the KBM truck at Darlington. It was his first win in any of NASCAR's three national touring series in more than a year.

It obviously was fun for him to be able to visit Victory Lane again. Now he just hopes he can transfer the good karma over to his Red Bull ride and keep it going in the series that counts most.

"I just think maybe when my luck does change, it's going to go on for a long time. On the good side," he said.

Perhaps Saturday was a start.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.