Is Kahne ready to grab victory?

Is Kahne ready to grab victory?

It was exactly one year ago last Tuesday that Kasey Kahne boldly shouted to the entire NASCAR world that despite his young age, he was ready to be a star. Kasey Kahne on TV. Photo by Eric Gilbert. In the final Cup race ever at ...

It was exactly one year ago last Tuesday that Kasey Kahne boldly shouted to the entire NASCAR world that despite his young age, he was ready to be a star.

Kasey Kahne on TV.
Photo by Eric Gilbert.
In the final Cup race ever at Rockingham last February, Kahne qualified his familiar red #9 Dodge third. People were still trying to find out exactly who this kid was that was driving Bill Elliott's car when he grabbed everybody's attention again by battling reigning-champion Matt Kenseth to the finish line in one of the closest finishes in NASCAR history.

In the next race, Kahne claimed the pole and then finished second again in Las Vegas and then third the following week in Atlanta. The 24-year-old Kahne was quickly becoming a household name.

Kahne picked up five runner-up spots last year including a gutsy second-place performance at California Speedway in September that put him into a Chase for the Championship spot with one race left before the final cut-off. Kahne finished 24th and a lap down the next week in Richmond and missed the cut by 28 points. Undaunted, Kahne picked up four top-5 finishes in the final 10 races and claimed the Rookie of the Year award. He is anxious to return to California this weekend to pick up where he left off.

"California has been one of my favorite race tracks, and it's one that I'm looking forward to going back to this year for sure," said Kahne, who won the pole in his first Cup race at California last May. "We had good cars in both races last year, and we would've liked to have had the win there in the fall. Hopefully we can get up front, lead some laps and put ourselves in a position to go for the win again. I'd like to be the first team to win in the new Dodge Charger this year. That'd be pretty cool."

The #9 Dodge team took advantage of strong qualifying results that set the tone for good finishes throughout the year. Kahne started in the first two rows 12 times last year, including four poles, trailing only perennial pole-sitter Ryan Newman (nine poles) and four-time series champion Jeff Gordon (six).

Kasey Kahne.
Photo by Eric Gilbert.
Kahne is looking to continue that success under NASCAR's new rules which will see the race cars impounded after qualifying.

"There are things you're going to have to think about, but we'll still be able to go for poles," said Kahne, who finished 22nd in the Daytona 500 last Sunday. "It's kind of like wait and see, but we made one run (in testing) at California similar to what you can do to the car. It wasn't too bad. You're not going to be able to run that lap with the nose weight and be able to get the car down like you want to. You're going to have to be careful with the tire and valance."

Kahne is satisfied with his maiden voyage through the Nextel Cup circuit, but knows that success as a rookie doesn't guarantee him success in the future.

"A lot of rookies have done well," said Kahne, who finished 11th in the Busch Series standings last year despite missing four races that conflicted with his Cup schedule. "I was fortunate enough to have a pretty good season last year. I've heard about the sophomore jinx a few times, but my rookie season wasn't as good as I thought it should have been. We had problems that I didn't think we should have had. Maybe we had our sophomore jinx in our rookie season. I think with everybody's commitment here, we're going to have a much better season in 2005."

One year after grabbing everyone's attention in Rockingham, Kahne has blossomed into one of NASCAR's bright young stars and is likely to find victory lane several times during his career. He'd like to start on Sunday.

"I just hope we can dominate an entire race this season and not just seven-eighths of a race."

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Bill Elliott , Matt Kenseth , Ryan Newman , Kasey Kahne , Eric Gilbert