Kahne class of rookie field

Kahne class of rookie field

With back-to-back second place finishes at Rockingham and Las Vegas, Kasey Kahne has emerged as the rookie-of-the-year candidate to watch. Kahne had big shoes to fill inheriting the No. 9 Dodge seat formerly occupied by 1988 series champion Bill...

With back-to-back second place finishes at Rockingham and Las Vegas, Kasey Kahne has emerged as the rookie-of-the-year candidate to watch. Kahne had big shoes to fill inheriting the No. 9 Dodge seat formerly occupied by 1988 series champion Bill Elliott.

Matt Kenseth takes the checkered flag inches ahead of Kasey Kahne.
Photo by Autostock.
"To run second for two consecutive [NASCAR NEXTEL Cup] races is a great accomplishment," Kahne said. "There is no doubt I would've liked to have won, but I know we'll be in Victory Lane eventually. I never expected this so soon."

Neither did anyone else. After a heated tug-of-war between Ford and Dodge for Kahne, NASCAR insiders wondered what all the fuss was about. Kahne, the open-wheel star recruited by Ford for a full time development deal in the Busch series in 2002, didn't really heat up the circuit until the closing dates of the season.

He won the season closer at Miami in 2003, finishing seventh in the Busch championship points. When word got out that Ray Evernham had snatched Kahne away from Ford to replace the semi-retired Elliott, no one could have expected that Kahne would come out of the box this good.

"This young man," said Evernham. "Has about as much talent as I've seen of anybody in a long, long time. He can get the job done on the racetrack, but what amazes me most about him is his maturity and the way he can communicate what the car is doing. When you find someone who can communicate what the car is doing while they're still learning the racetracks and stuff like that, they're normally pretty special. I haven't seen that in a long time."

Kasey Kahne.
Photo by Dan Hamilton/Vantage Point.
Kahne was off the radar at Daytona, after engine problems relegated the No. 9 team to a 41st place finish after running just 42 laps. But then on to Rockingham, where Kahne challenged and almost caught winner Matt Kenseth in one of the closest finishes in NASCAR history. With the repeat performance at Vegas coupled with his first Cup Budweiser pole - Kahne looks not only most likely to be the 2004 Raybestos rookie of the year, but poised for his first Cup series win.

"I came into it as having a huge seat to fill [in Elliott's absence]," Kahne said. "I was going to do whatever I could to not make mistakes and do everything I could right. Everything that Ray Evernham has asked me to do on and off the track; I've tried to do to keep everything flowing. We've been lucky enough to race good, too.

"Bill will call me up on the phone and I'll talk to him or I'll see him at the track. I've talked to him a few times this week about Atlanta. ... So far it's been great. I know it can turn bad at any time. I've had a lot of good things happen in racing, but I've also had a lot of bad things. I've learned a lot. My first year in Busch, I think I did everything wrong you can do in a Busch car and get away with it or not get away with it. We don't have to go through a learning curve like that [with this team]."

Kahne is especially hoping to garner another stellar finish this weekend. Atlanta Motor Speedway is the home track of Elliott, this weekend will mark the first time he has missed the Atlanta Cup date since 1979.

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Bill Elliott , Matt Kenseth , Kasey Kahne , Ray Evernham