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NASCAR Season Preview: Kasey Kahne

Photo credit: Mike Kalasnik (CC-BY-SA)

#5 Farmers Insurance/Quaker State Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports

Born: April 10, 1980

Home: Enumclaw, Washington

2011 HIGHLIGHTS: Driving for Team Red Bull in a holdover year before joining Hendrick Motorsports, Kahne broke a winless streak of over two years with a victory at Phoenix in the penultimate round of the season. For a team in its last year of competition with a lame duck driver, the #4 organization performed relatively well, finishing 14th in points.

2011 LOWLIGHTS: For the second consecutive season, Kahne missed the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Had he made it, his six finishes of seventh or better in the final seven races might have put him in championship contention. But Martinsville proved to be Kahne’s Achilles’ heel; finishing 39th there in April knocked him out of the top 10 in points for good, while a 25th place run in October was the lone blemish in his late-Chase run.

SEASON OUTLOOK: Now that Kahne’s year in purgatory with Team Red Bull is over and he’s finally with Hendrick Motorsports, he feels that he has the organization around him to finally contend for his first Sprint Cup title. He’ll also have two of his greatest allies working with him; crew chief Kenny Francis, who followed Kahne from Richard Petty Motorsports to Team Red Bull, will fill the same role at Hendrick, while Jay Frye, who managed Team Red Bull last season, is now working with Hendrick as a consultant.

Together, they should have the talent and chemistry to resuscitate Hendrick’s oldest team, which free-fell to 22nd in points last season with Mark Martin behind the wheel and Lance McGrew on top of the pit box. That’s a far cry from 2009, which nearly saw Martin and Alan Gustafson steal the championship from Kahne’s new teammate Jimmie Johnson. Depending on how well team leader Johnson and elder statesman (ha!) Jeff Gordon perform, this could only be the third best team at Hendrick Motorsports; that being said, their organizational depth is unsurpassed in the sport, and this team could be its strongest title contender very easily.

– Chris Leone

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