News & Media

Francis: From years of team instability to sense of belonging

January 26, 2012, Mark Aumann,

CONCORD, N.C. -- Kenny Francis may have more manufacturer's manuals stacked on his office bookshelves than anybody else in the Sprint Cup garage. In the span of four or so seasons, he's worked on Dodges, Fords, Toyotas and now Chevrolets.

Believe him when he says that definitely wasn't planned. After a one-year rental to Red Bull Racing -- following stints at initially Evernham Motorsports and finally Richard Petty Motorsports -- Francis and Kasey Kahne believe they've finally found a permanent home at Hendrick Motorsports.

"Now we feel like we're in a position where we can build for the future."


"The roller-coaster that Kasey and I have personally been through over the last couple of years -- with companies having financial issues, getting sold, going out of business, things like that -- we hope we can put all that behind us and just focus on racing," Francis said Wednesday during NASCAR's preseason media tour.

"It's been four years or so that we've been going through that. And as much as you try not to let that distract you, it's a distraction."

The distraction has been off the track. Ray Evernham's operation wound up merging with Petty, which then suffered with funding. Early in the 2010 season, Kahne jumped at an opportunity offered by Rick Hendrick -- but with a catch. He had to run 2011 with Red Bull since Mark Martin was still under contract to drive the No. 5 Chevy.

"As far as the different manufacturers and teams we've been with in the past, it wasn't really by choice; it just kind of happened that way," Francis said. "I feel like from that experience, we've seen other ways of doing things. We've had to think of other ways of accomplishing things ourselves. So we bring a little bit more diverse view of things to this company."

And that ability to perform at a high level without assistance proved intriguing to Hendrick higher-ups when they went looking for a crew chief to pair with Kahne.

"They were enthused about that," Francis said. "They were thinking, 'Here's a couple of guys who have had some success despite being kind of on their own, so to speak. I wonder how they do things.' It's been refreshing to be welcomed like that."

It shouldn't come as a surprise that where Kahne goes, Francis follows. They've been together since 2006.

"We believe in each other," Francis said. "He's one of the most talented drivers out there. He's smart. He's pretty level-headed. So for my side, that's what attracts me to him. If you can make the car a little better, he'll show it. He'll get more out of it.

"From his side, I'm a technical person. I try to stay even-keeled when we have issues. I try to work through things logically, but at the same time, you've got to be aggressive solving problems and trying to come up with the next new thing. I always want to break things down to the fundamental physics behind what's going on. I don't know if that's different than everyone, but I think that's different than a lot of people out there."

It seems like every time Kahne and Francis have gotten some positive momentum, things outside their control have knocked them backwards.

"We went through so many ups and downs to get here," Francis said. "We felt like when we were at Evernham in 2006, things were going really good. And then we all know the rest of that story -- the company had some issues, it turned into Richard Petty Motorsports, and then we ended up in Fords, which was no one's plan when we first signed up with Ray.

"We felt like we were right there at it, and then it kind of went away. Since then, it's been so much of a roller-coaster but now we feel like we're in a position where we can build for the future. There were certainly years where we didn't live up to Kasey's potential. We expect that won't be the case any more."

That's particularly true after the way Kahne finished out 2011. He had seven top-10 finishes during the Chase, including a win at Phoenix. And that has Francis pumped up.

"We always have high expectations," Francis said. "We want to go out and run good and win races. We want to contend. I feel like we had a pretty good year last year. We had a real good Chase and we got some momentum coming into the year. We felt like we learned a lot of things last year that are going to help us this year.

"We need to get our feet wet and get going, run a few races and see where we're at and see what we've got to work on. Every place has a little bit different strengths and weaknesses. And we're looking forward to getting going."

About those other manufacturer's manuals? Francis can finally put them in the recycling bin, along with the cardboard moving boxes, because it looks like he'll have a permanent address.

"We're definitely starting over but hopefully we can build this for a much longer period of time," Francis said. "It literally was, for a couple of years, starting over from scratch."