Kasey Kahne enjoys historic rookie season

Many veterans would give their right foot for Kasey Kahne's rookie year. The driver from Enumclaw, WA, put together one of the most outstanding seasons in United States Auto Club history at only 20 years of age. "I think we had a really...

Many veterans would give their right foot for Kasey Kahne's rookie year. The driver from Enumclaw, WA, put together one of the most outstanding seasons in United States Auto Club history at only 20 years of age. "I think we had a really good year," Kasey said recently. "We were new, but we did well in everything we raced. I'm happy with the way everything went and I think next year will be even better."

Kahne feasted on every aspect of USAC's racing menu -- the MCI WorldCom Midget Car Series, the Coors Light Silver Bullet Series and the Stoops Freightliner Sprint Car Series -- on both pavement and dirt. Kasey capped the memorable season by earning his Indy Racing Northern Light Series competition license at Texas Motor Speedway.

Kahne will be honored at the 45th Annual USAC Night of Champions January 5th at the Westin Hotel in Indianapolis for winning the MCI WorldCom Midget Car Series championship and earning Coors Light Silver Bullet Series' Oliver Trucking Rookie of the Year Award. Kasey received the Midget Driver of the Year Awards presented by Arizona Sports Shirts and Open Wheel magazine. He was also voted to the American Auto Racing Writers & Broadcasters Association's All-America team.

Kahne won a season-long battle with Jay Drake for the MCI WorldCom Midget Car Series title. He drove Steve Lewis' #91 Beast into the top 10 in 21 of 22 races and recorded 16 top-fives. Kasey won six features, including the 55th Annual "Night Before the 500 Classic" at Indianapolis Raceway Park, the Belleville Midget Nationals at the Belleville High Banks and the Four-Crown Nationals at Eldora Speedway.

"It was great winning the midget championship," Kasey said. "Everybody who worked on the car did a good job. We didn't have any mechanical failures.

"The Four Crowns race was probably the most fun I had all year. The car was so good that night at Eldora; everything was just perfect on it. Nobody could touch us that night. We were good other nights, too, but that night were as good as we could possibly be."

Kahne also led 36 laps before finishing second behind NASCAR Winston Cup star and Steve Lewis Racing teammate Tony Stewart in the Turkey Night Grand Prix at Irwindale Speedway.

Kahne lives in defending USAC midget champion Jason Leffler's condominium in Indianapolis. Leffler, a teammate of Stewart's, drives Joe Gibbs' Busch Grand National stock car.

"Racing with Tony Stewart, Jason Leffler and Dave Darland as my teammates at Turkey Night was really good," Kasey said. "They're all fast. If you can run with them, you know you're doing good. We had the fastest car; we could run with anybody there. Steve Lewis had a great car for us. We all qualified in the top six and three of us finished in the top four.

"Tony is a hard racer; he's as tough as anybody to pass."

Despite missing several races due to scheduling conflicts, Kahne drove the #67 Zarounian Brian & Gary's Cars For Less car into 10th place in the Silver Bullet standings, 14 points ahead of veteran Jack Hewitt. He recorded six top-10 finishes, including four in the top five.

Kahne became the second-youngest driver in USAC history to win a Coors Light Silver Bullet race Labor Day, leading all 100 laps from the pole in the 50th Annual Ted Horn Memorial 100 at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds Labor Day. Only Jeff Gordon, who was 19 when he won at Phoenix International Raceway in 1991, won at a younger age. Kasey was the first rookie since Bubby Jones in 1976 to win the prestigious race. He was also the first rookie to take the pole since Jimmy Sills in 1989 and the sixth driver to lead every lap. Pancho Carter was the last to accomplish that ... 32 years ago. Kahne is the 12th driver in DuQuoin history to win from the pole. The most outstanding aspect of Kahne's feat is that he won in only his second race on a dirt mile oval.

"We missed the first few races, but once we got going, we were fast in every race," Kahne said. "It was a new experience, but we learned fast. We got tangled up in a few crashes and that hurt us in the points. Otherwise, I think we could have finished in the top five."

Kahne raced in only half of the Stoops Freightliner Sprint Car Series events, but still finished 13th in the point standings. He recorded nine top-10 finishes, including seven in the top five, and finished third in the True Value Rookie of the Year standings. "We didn't race with that series consistently," Kasey said. "I liked racing the winged car the best."

Kahne also ran winged sprint car races with the Pennzoil World of Outlaws Series and the World of Outlaws Gumout Series. He finished third behind Stewart's new sprint car driver, Danny Lasoski, and Jeff Shepard in the fetchOmatic Front-Row Challenge at Southern Iowa Speedway.

In the 92 events Kahne raced, he recorded 62 top-10 finishes, including 41 in the top five and 12 victories.

Kahne was the fastest of three USAC front-runners to pass the IRL rookie test conducted by Pennzoil Panther Racing at Texas Motor Speedway.

USAC Coors Light Silver Bullet champion Tracy Hines and outstanding Stoops Freightliner sprint car racer Derek Davidson also participated in the tests which consisted of 10 laps within a speed range in four phases, 190-195 m.p.h., 195-200 m.p.h., 200-205 m.p.h., and anything over 205 m.p.h.

Kahne took 70 laps to pass the test with a fast lap of 208.7 m.p.h. around the 1.5-mile oval. He finished his test under the lights at the superspeedway.

"I had never been in a car with so much down force and gone 200 miles an hour before," Kahne said. "My test went quickly and it was great racing under the lights. The steering wheel was jumping around during my first laps. I wasn't comfortable the first few phases, but it started feeling better every 10 laps I ran. I was running as hard as I could the final phase. I was trying different lines through the corners. That is really exciting for me."

Racing fans around the world can expect much more exciting racing from Kahne for many years to come.

Kahne's website is: www.kaseykahne.com.

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Series USAC
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart , Jason Leffler , Danny Lasoski , Kasey Kahne , Dave Darland , Tracy Hines , Jay Drake , Pancho Carter , Jimmy Sills
Teams Panther Racing