Kahne enjoys working double duty

For Kasey Kahne, on-the-job training this season will mean spending a little extra time in the office.

The 23-year-old native of Enumclaw, Washington is challenging for the Raybestos rookie of the year award after replacing Bill Elliott in the #9 Evernham Motorsports Nextel Cup car and is competing for the Busch Series title in the #38 Akins Motorsports Dodge.

Kasey Kahne.
Photo by Dan Hamilton/Vantage Point.
Kahne qualified fourth for today's Busch Series race at North Carolina Speedway and will roll off the grid third in the Subway 400 Nextel Cup Series event on Sunday (1:00 pm ET on Fox).

"It wasn't a perfect lap," Kahne said after his Cup qualifying effort on Friday. "I'll keep working with (Crew Chief) Tommy Baldwin (Jr.) and the team and hopefully we'll keep getting better."

When the #38 Cup team came to Rockingham for a testing session in January, they spent their time working on a good race set-up for the Cup race this weekend. They set the car up in qualifying trim for practice on Friday morning and were looking for the quickest line around the track. The strategy worked well in qualifying and Kahne expects to have a good car for Sunday.

"Tommy has done a great job with the car," Kahne explained. "It's a little bit different than what Bill had because he drives a little different than I do, but it's fairly close and I think it's going to be really good (on Sunday)."

The #9 team won at Rockingham last November with Bill Elliott in the car. They have a new car and new driver, but their experience as a winning team will be a key component for Kahne to challenge for a quality finish.

Rockingham traditionally favors experienced drivers who have mastered the art of feathering the car into the corners. The abrasive track is hard on tires and they lose their grip after just a few laps. Kahne will have to avoid pushing the car too hard early in the run so that he can maintain a competitive pace later in the run. He's looking forward to the challenge.

"I've always really liked that track a lot," Kahne said. "We've always been fast there, just never had the great finishes. Hopefully we'll have two real good runs."

Kahne had a brutal start to the season last week at Daytona. He got caught up in an incident on lap 11 that took him out of the Busch Series race and then lost his motor 42 laps into his Nextel Cup Series debut in the Daytona 500.

"So far we've qualified good in the Busch races and the Cup races," he admitted. "But we haven't raced very good yet. We have to work on that. We'll come out Saturday and Sunday and hopefully finish (well) in both races."

Kasey Kahne.
Photo by Dan Hamilton/Vantage Point.
While he's a rookie in the Cup Series, Kahne has benefited from the veteran experience of Baldwin and Elliott, who is mentoring Kahne and Evernham teammate Jeremy Mayfield. Drawing on Elliott's experience has helped Kahne get over the anxiety of his first season in the sport's top level.

"It's good to have someone like that because he teaches me things that would take a lot of races to learn," Kahne said. "I knew who he was four months ago, but I had never talked to him. He's been here to help. It's been a big help."

Kahne spent time with Kevin Harvick at Daytona, talking about the demands of running well in both series. Harvick won the 2001 Busch Series championship and finished the season in the Cup Series after Dale Earnhardt was killed in the Daytona 500. Harvick confirmed that the demands are physically and mentally exhausting.

"It definitely looks like it's going to be difficult at times, Kahne said. "But I worked really hard over the winter to prepare and get in shape. I've been trying to get ready for this stuff the past couple of months, and I think I'm ready for it. I'm excited to do both. Mentally, it's going to be all about the performance. We'll have to be on top of our game, and I'll have to be focused all the time and make sure we don't have those mistakes and finish some races."