As soon as he made it to “the show,” Kasey Kahne made headlines week-in and week-out. At the time, there may not have been a driver considered to be as hot on and off the track. Heck, he even won a contest on Fox for being the sexiest driver.
After Ray Evernham partnered with George Gillett, the two eventually combined efforts with Petty Enterprises. Kahne stayed with the team for less than two seasons before departing for Red Bull Racing while waiting on the ride that was expected to be the best of his career.
Kahne’s journey at Hendrick Motorsports started in 2012, quickly picking up a victory in his 12th race with the team. He ended that season fourth in the championship standings, a result that reflected exactly what was expected of him that year. However, since then, the No. 5 team is in quite a drought.
The Washington native’s last triumph came in Aug. 2014 at Atlanta. Last year, he missed the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Leading less than 100 laps in a season for the first time since his Sprint Cup career started in 2004, he managed to finish 18th in points.
Working with crew chief Keith Rodden for the second straight year, Kahne is looking to work his way back into Victory Lane in 2016. Speaking with Frontstretch, Kahne discusses his goals for 2016, what the No. 5 team needs to improve on, the low-downforce aero package and more.
Joseph Wolkin, Frontstretch.com: There’s a new generation of drivers coming into the sport now. What advice would give them as NASCAR implements more technology into the racecars, such as the digital dashboard?
Kasey Kahne: I think NASCAR is growing, and it is advancing things as quickly as anyone. Part of that is our cars get nicer and better prepared every single year. The cars are getting more advanced and high tech, and it is pretty cool to be able to see that from where our cars were when I came into the sport until today. It is not even the same racecars; it’s completely different.
Wolkin: How does a driver deal with all of the changes at such a rapid pace?
Kahne: I think young guys, they are going through that their whole life. They are more advanced with a younger age than say I was. I think it’s just all a part of where we live, and I think NASCAR is growing with everything it has.
Wolkin: What technology do you want to see in the cars in the future, such as anything specific with the digital dashboard?
Kahne: I didn’t know much about the digital dash at first. I didn’t know how that would be. Once I actually got it, the dash was way better than our old dash. It’s way more ‘there’ and has way more options. It depends how much NASCAR will let us use. I think they can keep opening that up or not depending on where they want that as time goes. That would be a huge part of what we have inside of the car that the driver actually gets to work with.
Wolkin: What was your first experience during race conditions with the digital dash?
Kahne: It was first introduced to me at Phoenix and I ran it in that race. The next weekend was Homestead and I didn’t get to run it because I think Jimmie Johnson got to run it there. I was mad because I had to use the old stuff one more week.
Wolkin: Do you feel like that is going to be the general consensus around the sport now that the new technology is dictating the direction of the sport?
Kahne: I would think so. I know for myself, that is the way it is. I would think a lot of the competitors would think the same way.
Wolkin: What are your thoughts on the new aero package, even though there are still complaints that the low-downforce package isn’t enough?
Kahne: It is definitely lower, and because of that, there is less drag. The cars – in the summer time – will definitely move around. The tires are going to fall off hopefully quicker because the cars are sliding around more. The speed still feels like you have a little bit more engine on it because of the less drag. You are going to gain in all areas that are good for myself. I enjoy power and I enjoy lower downforce. Hopefully, as a whole, this package is heading to be in the right direction, and it should help me with my performances a little bit.
Wolkin: In the past, you have performed well with similar packages. What are your expectations for this year?
Kahne: I need to get back into Victory Lane. The thing that I want to do is be fast. In practice, I want to be one of the best cars, and for the race and qualifying, I want to be near the top. On average, it is the same. In order to do that, you need to have speed every time you are on the racetrack. That is something we have lacked for 80 percent of the time for two years. Our goal is to have speed every time we hit the track. If we do that, we will be back in Victory Lane.
Wolkin: What do you feel like you have been missing for that 80 percent of the time?
Kahne: The speed. It’s not necessarily the answer because I don’t always know why. I feel pretty good at times, but I’m just slower than the faster guys. I haven’t been able to put a finger on it. Other weekends, I’ll feel the same exact way and be the same speed as say a Kevin Harvick. The guys are working hard to have that speed, it’s just going to take time for us.
Wolkin: How often do you lean on your teammates when at the racetrack?
Kahne: Well, in the past, the No. 5 and No. 24 [teams] have worked together and the No. 88 and No. 48 [teams] work together. So, not as much on those other two guys. Hopefully, this year as a team, we will all be able lean on each other a little bit more. If I get my speed back, they’ll want to work with me a little bit more. If we can do those things and become a stronger four-car team and lean on each other, it will only put Hendrick Motorsports higher up.
Wolkin: Since your team works so closely with the No. 24 crew, you are going to be stepping up as a leader now that Jeff Gordon has retired. What do you think is going to be the biggest difference now that you won’t be seeing and working with him every weekend?
Kahne: I think working with Chase [Elliott] is going to be very simple. It is going to be really good. He’s young and hasn’t went through a lot of things that we have over the past 10 or 12 years. He’ll bring different ideas and a different mindset and attitude to some of our meetings and race weekends. Overall, that is going to help all of us.
Wolkin: What are your thoughts on the caution clock in the Truck Series?
Kahne: I think it’s going to be really interesting. I’m going to watch it really close. I’m not going to race in it, though.