2008 Ride: No. 9 Gillett Evernham Motorsports Dodge
2008 Primary Sponsor: Budweiser
2008 Owners: George Gillett, Ray Evernham
2008 Crew Chief: Kenny Francis
Stats: 36 races, 2 wins, 4 top fives, 14 top 10s, 2 poles, 14th in points
Best Finish: First – Charlotte (May) & Pocono (June)
High Point: Who knew having a charming personality could make your season? After a lackluster performance in the Sprint Showdown seemingly kept him out of the main event, Kasey Kahne’s fortunes turned through the enthusiasm of his legion of fans. Compiling the largest number of votes for any driver not already in the All-Star Race, Kahne claimed the final spot in the field – then promptly smoked the competition in the final segment to score an upset victory.
That started a hot streak in which Kahne could seemingly do no wrong. Capturing a win in the Coca-Cola 600 the very next week, he added another at Pocono and a runner-up at Michigan for three top-two finishes in a four-race stretch. Charging up to seventh in the standings, at the time Kahne appeared to be a Chase lock.
Low Point: Unfortunately, that boost was short-lived, and Kahne entered late summer one of a handful of drivers battling for a select few playoff spots. The August night race at Bristol always proves critical to setting the top 12, and it was even more so for Kahne this year after suffering an engine failure at Michigan the week before.
Unfortunately, the bad luck would continue at the concrete half-mile after Kahne found himself an innocent victim of someone else’s mess. Swept into the night’s only major wreck, he finished 40th, dropped out of a playoff spot and never recovered.
Summary: When you look at his overall stats, Kahne’s No. 9 team was clearly the best-performing Dodge organization this season.
Unfortunately, that’s not saying much.
Despite adding the big money backing of sponsor Budweiser and new free-spending owner George Gillett, Kahne struggled with long bouts of inconsistency in 2008. The team collected three of their four top fives in a one-month stretch between May and June, including their two victories at Charlotte and Pocono. But if you look at the other 32 races, Kahne had just 11 top-10 finishes and led only 51 laps. In the process, he racked up four DNFs and nine finishes of 30th or worse.
As a result, Kahne was squarely on the playoff bubble for much of the season, finally watching that bubble burst over the final few races of the regular season in August and September. It was a failure that was difficult for the “young gun” to swallow; long considered one of NASCAR’s most talented drivers, Kahne is just 1-for-5 on making the Chase despite nine career wins and 16 poles during that stretch.
Instead, he was left to compete with sophomore David Ragan for 13th place, and the motivation just never seemed to be there for that lesser prize. Hardly making a peep in the Chase aside from a second-place finish at Charlotte, Kahne finished a distant 14th in points while failing to build any serious momentum for the following season.
Team Ranking: In George Gillett’s three-car pecking order, there’s no doubt the No. 9 is clearly No. 1. With 20 top-10 finishes since Gillett entered the ownership group in the middle of 2007, Kahne has more than double the total of the other two cars combined.
Off-Track News: Kahne’s court case stemming from a 2007 battery charge at Homestead-Miami Speedway finally came up on the docket. Kahne’s record will be cleared once he performs 50 hours of community service and donates $50 to a court charity, according to records from Miami-Dade County published by SceneDaily.com in early December. Kahne had been under fire for pushing down an elderly guard over a dispute concerning access to track grounds.
2009 Outlook: While Kahne, Francis and Budweiser return, the biggest challenge for the No. 9 team could be a change in their ownership ranks. Ray Evernham has divested all interest in GEM as of November 2008, choosing instead to pursue a career purchasing and revitalizing racetracks throughout the Southeast. Evernham was one of Kahne’s biggest supporters within the race team – he brought him on to replace Bill Elliott in 2004 – and it will force the young driver to assume more of a leadership role.
With team control falling exclusively to Gillett – a man with Rick Hendrick-like expectations but not the results to show for it – Kahne might be under pressure to pick up the pace. Now two years removed from his six win performance in 2006, the Chase may be a necessary step to prevent some major changes within the basic team structure of the No. 9. A new Dodge engine will help… but will it be good enough?
Quote of the Year: “If I can’t win races, I’m pretty upset. It’s been a little while. [But] since last Saturday night, I haven’t been such a bear, I guess. I’ve been a little bit nicer to my girlfriend, to my family. I try to be anyways. It’s difficult at times.” – Kasey Kahne after completing a Charlotte sweep with victories in the All-Star Race and the Coca-Cola 600 in May
2006 Frontstretch Grade: B
2007 Grade: D
2008 Grade: C+