Kasey “I Wonder What He’s Like?” Kahne
2006 Ride: No. 9 Dodge Dealers Dodge
2006 Owner: Ray Evernham
2006 Team Director: Kenny Francis
Stats: 36 races, six wins, 12 top fives, 19 top 10s, six poles, eighth in points.
High Point: Kahne dominated the intermediate tracks this year. All of Kahne’s six poles and six wins came on tracks 1.5 miles or longer. Since falling just short of several wins in his rookie year in 2004, Kahne has found victory lane with increasing regularity. This year saw the addition of Team Director Kenny Francis and an almost immediate improvement in race and qualifying setups. Kahne’s first two wins, the spring races at Atlanta and Texas, came from the pole. Kahne then won Darlington and the Coca-Cola 600, also taking the pole for the Nextel All-Star Challenge in that stretch. Kahne won from the pole again at Michigan in June, then rounded out 2006 with a win at California on Labor Day Weekend and a season sweep at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. Kahne made the Chase for the Nextel Cup for the first time in his career, finishing eighth in the final standings.
Low Point: Kahne was brilliant at times this season; but for as many races as he was untouchable, there were others when he touched the wall and turned his finish upside down. Kahne failed to finish five times, and 10 times finished 30th or worse with a myriad of issues ranging from wrecks to mechanical failures. It was this inconsistency that kept the No. 9 team from contending for the Cup; four of those bottom 13 races came in the Chase, keeping Kahne from ever being in serious contention.
Summary: Early on, it looked to be Kahne’s kind of year – his worst finish in the first five races was 11th, and with Kenny Francis on board after twice guiding Jeremy Mayfield to the Chase, all systems seemed to be go. Once again, Francis delivered, this time with a young prodigy; although it was the third year in a row that the Evernham camp narrowly slid into the top 10 at Richmond, Kahne edged Tony Stewart by 16 points to earn the right to contend for a title. Kahne got off to a decent start in the Chase with a 16th-place finish at Loudon, but in the next two races, Kahne finished 38th and 33rd to drop out of contention. He bounced back at Talladega and Lowe’s with a second and a first, but three more top 10s in the final five were countered by two more finishes of 38th and 33rd, relegating Kahne to eighth in the final standings.
2007 Outlook: If Kahne and crew can find the consistency that escaped them in 2006 – look out! This team proved to be the team to beat on the intermediate tracks all season long. A little luck and a little more work on short-track setups, long an Achilles’ heel for this team, and Kahne should contend again.