Keith Rodden is on the chip and that might be just what Kasey Kahne needs
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Kasey Kahne knows his new crew chief Keith Rodden is not afraid to crack the whip.
“He never has been,” Kahne says. “I think that is the kind of guy I need.”
And the driver should know. He’s worked with Rodden for more than a decade. First in the Xfinity Series in 2004 as his engineer then two years later when Kahne graduated to the Sprint Cup Series, Rodden was by crew chief Kenny Francis’ side.
Yet after 10 years, 317 races and 16 victories together, Kahne needed a change. After three seasons with Hendrick Motorsports, the No. 5 Farmer's Insurance team was trending south. Kahne peaked in 2012 with two wins and a fourth-place finish in the point standings. Last year, Kahne was the last driver to qualify for the Chase with a win following his victory at Atlanta Motor Speedway. But once Kahne was in the Chase, he didn’t transfer beyond the second round.
Kahne finished 15th in the point standings but the decision was already made to promote Francis to vehicle technical director.
I feel like Keith will do that and he will also crack the whip like you say. He is aggressive, he pushes hard, he wants it and he will get what he needs.
“I need someone who will push me harder and ask more out of me and also out of the team and out of everybody there,” Kahne said of Rodden. “I feel like Keith will do that and he will also crack the whip like you say. He is aggressive, he pushes hard, he wants it and he will get what he needs.”
A different tact
For years, Rodden was the Ying to Francis’ Yang. While both are engineers and driven, Francis’ demeanor is low key compared to Rodden.
As far as like cracking the whip, I might do that and not even know I’m doing it. It’s just the way I communicate with Kasey – or Kenny.
“We’re all way different personalities,” Rodden says, then changes his mind. “Actually, we’re not. I’ve got a different personality. Kenny and Kasey are very similar. As far as like cracking the whip, I might do that and not even know I’m doing it. It’s just the way I communicate with Kasey – or Kenny. They’ll just look at each other and talk a little bit. It’s no one’s fault. It’s just the way it is.
“Kenny has been doing this for a long time…it opens up some avenues for him and it pairs someone who’s loud and obnoxious like me back with Kasey who is so quiet, cool, calm and calculated.”
As for Francis, Rodden says his friend is “as happy as I can remember him being in a long time.” In his new role, Francis is an asset to the entire HMS operation rather than concentrating solely on the No. 5 team.
“He’s challenged professionally in a way he wasn’t before,” Rodden added. “It’s really awesome to come back and work with him again. Obviously, from a personal standpoint, we have a lot of history together. We’re really good friends and professionally, I don’t know anyone in the whole sport as smart as him.
"So moving him to the vehicle technical director role, allows us to bounce stuff off of him all the time whether it’s me or Alan (Gustafson) or Chad (Knaus) or Greg (Ives). So it helps out the company so much more.”
Follow @KeithRodden on Twitter and you’ll quickly discover a sports fanatic. Affectionately known as “Killer”, Rodden has a hard core, competitive nature.
“He has always been that way,” Kahne said. “That is just Keith. That is how he has been as an engineer and as a crew chief. I’m looking forward to the season and getting started with him.”
Coming home again
Rodden left Hendrick Motorsports – and Kahne – for a season to hone his skills as a crew chief for Jamie McMurray and the No. 1 team at Ganassi Racing. When the opportunity arose to rejoin his friend at Hendrick Motorsports, it was an opportunity Rodden couldn’t resist. When he returned to HMS at the end of last season, Rodden jokes, “It was like I never left.”
All the guys from the 24/5 shop, I want to say they welcomed me with opened arms but heck, they acted like I was on a long vacation.
“It was kind of odd, really,” Rodden said. “I’m in a different office in the same building. All the guys from the 24/5 shop, I want to say they welcomed me with opened arms but heck, they acted like I was on a long vacation.
“It’s really nice that everyone is so accommodating and kind of hit the ground running and working with me.”
Both Rodden and Kahne acknowledge it was time to shift gears. With the season Jeff Gordon and the No, 24 crew had last year, Rodden says it’s time for the No. 5 team to “step up” on their side of the shop. In the off-season, Rodden restructured the No 5 team and worked with his new crew “in a smaller group setting with Kasey” to build a united front. Kahne says it was “a really good off-season” for the team.
“I definitely think we needed to make a change and needed to do something different,” Kahne said. “To be able to get Keith back, someone that I have actually worked with since 2004, it’s been a long time.
“I just like how he is aggressive, how he wants it. He pays so close attention to things. I can talk to him about anything from sports to anything.”
A rebuilding year
Kahne’s current situation isn’t much different than Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 88 team several years ago when the driver’s morale was low and permeated the team.
Rodden isn’t one to shy away from a challenge.
“We’ve got to get it going,” Rodden said. “He’s entering the prime of his career. He looks younger and has better hair than I do, but I’m younger than he is – I like to point out.
“He’s been doing this a long time – since ’04 in Cup and I’ve been doing this since ’06, so it’s time for both of us to get going. We owe it to Mr. Hendrick and all of our partners to do it. There’s no one on our team that isn’t capable of being a part of a championship winning team.”