NASCAR Race Weekend Central

2009 NASCAR Driver Review: Kasey Kahne

Kasey Kahne

2009 Ride: No. 9 Richard Petty Motorsports Dodge
2009 Primary Sponsor: Budweiser
2009 Owners: Richard Petty, George Gillett Jr., Ray Evernham
2009 Crew Chief: Kenny Francis
2009 Stats: 36 starts, 2 wins, 7 top fives, 14 top 10s, 10th in points

High Points: There are actually two high points for Kahne and his Budweiser team that essentially helped define their 2009 season. At first, it appeared as though the hangover from 2008 continued to grip this team into the first few months. Remember, last year Kahne and Company won two out of three races in May and June, then quickly crashed and burned right out of Chase contention. Through the first 11 events of this season, the team seemed to be stuck putting out that fire, only scoring two top-10 finishes while finishing outside of the top 25 four times.

However, Kahne began to turn his season around with a somewhat surprising victory in Sonoma, California. Not only did the Toyota/Save Mart 350 win allow the Washington native to add “road-course victory” to his resume – on a track where he had never had a top-20 finish, no less – but it was also symbolic in that he was able to put Richard Petty back in victory lane for the first time since 1999.

Unlike the previous year, though, the No. 9 team was able to build momentum off their West Coast victory to reach their second high point of the season, earning a place in NASCAR’s all-important Chase while collecting another victory at Atlanta along the way.

Low Point: Unfortunately for Kahne, once he made the Chase, instead of focusing on winning a championship, both he and his team were faced with off-track distractions to deal with. Just one race into the playoffs at New Hampshire, the crankshaft on the new Dodge R6 engine broke, putting the entire team behind the 8-ball in the points.

Furthermore, it put RPM officials in the position of dismissing conspiracy theories of sabotage by an engine department that learned they would no long have jobs at the end of the year after the announcement of a merger with Yates Racing. A few weeks later, more changes were made, as George Gillett announced an unusual financial partnership with a member of the Saudi Royal Family while conducting the merger.

After enduring several seasons of mergers and ownership changes, the decision ultimately brought Kahne back to the manufacturer (Ford) that he ended his Nationwide relationship with in a bitter manner several years ago – leading the 29-year-old to make public comments that he would be highly interested in entertaining other options once his contract expired at the end of 2010.

Of course, it’s hard enough to win a championship when things are going well – let alone when your Chase becomes an off-track soap opera as it did for Kahne. So while he did record four top-10 finishes during the season’s final 10 events, including a runner-up at Talladega, he also endured four finishes of 33rd or worse.

Summary: Despite the constant upheaval that continues to plague his team’s management, Kahne continues to provide a somewhat stabilizing force for what was known in 2009 as RPM. Once again, the No. 9 was the only team to record a victory and have a chance at making the Chase this season. But Kahne, who was once thought to be the sport’s next champion, has displayed the same inconsistencies throughout his career on the track that have been present in his team’s front office off of it.

Coincidence? I don’t think so. Unless long-term stability comes out of the most recent merger with Yates or Kahne becomes a legitimate championship contender next season, look for this driver to look for greener pastures, as he will be in search of a program that does not have the type of distractions that prevented him from reaching his full potential in 2009.

Team Ranking: While AJ Allmendinger certainly showed some glimpses of hope throughout 2009, it was clearly the No. 9 Dodge at the top and then everybody else at RPM this season. Kahne had six more top fives than his closest teammate, and more than double the amount of top 10s than his RPM stablemates as well. There is certainly no question as to who is number one at this camp.

Off-Track News: The 2007 alleged “shoving incident” between Kahne and a security guard at Homestead finally came to a resolution in August of this year, when the civil suit against the Sprint Cup driver was dismissed. The timing could not have been better, as it gave Kahne more time to deal with the rest of the drama that was about to come his way in the months that followed.

2010 Outlook: If Allmendinger’s two top 10s in three runs as a Ford to close out the season are any indication of how this team will perform next season, then the expectations bar should certainly be raised. There is also every reason to believe that Kahne will once again be the best in class at Richard Petty Yates Gillett Motorsports with a little bit of Evernham presented by the Saudi Royal Prince… or whatever the heck they’ll be called.

What will that mean, exactly? For Kahne, I think that will be a season that looks very similar to 2009. There will once again be an adjustment period with new team members and this time, a new manufacturer. Contract negotiations (or lack thereof) will certainly play a role as well. However, I believe Kahne can successfully work through those distractions, as he has done in the past. Expect about two wins and a Chase berth, but nothing more.

2006 Frontstretch Grade: B
2007 Grade: D
2008 Grade: C+
2009 Grade: B+

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