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KAHNE LOOKS TO MOVE FORWARD AFTER WIN
Being the fourth driver in NASCAR’s top organization might be the loneliest place of all in the world of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
Ever since Hendrick Motorsports expanded to three cars, and then four, there has always been that one driver on the outside looking in. On any other team, that racer might be the alpha driver. But when surrounded by superstars such as Jeff Gordon or Jimmie Johnson, winning a race isn’t enough to feel accepted into that elite fraternity.
Just ask Kasey Kahne, driver of the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy.
“You just kind of feel like you're out on your own little deal a lot of the time, your own little island, trying to do the best that you can,” Kahne said.
And that’s what Kahne did this past weekend at Indianapolis. When it came to the final restart, Kahne powered past Brad Keselowski for the lead and the win on a track where he had always dreamed of arriving first at the checkered flag.
“Things don't work out too often for us,” Kahne said. “So it was great to win today. It was great to get up front and be able to close it, get in front of the 2 (Keselowski), win the race at the Brickyard — Indianapolis. It was unbelievable.”
Kahne has a long history with Indianapolis. He and his father moved their from Washington State when he was 19 years old to persue a racing career. He ran his first race there in 2004 and over the years has seen numerous Indy 500 and F1 races at the track.
In his first trip to the Brickyard 400 as a Hendrick driver in 2012, Johnson won, Dale Earnhardt Jr., finished fourth and Gordon rounded out the top five. Kahne was 12th.
This season, Kahne’s performance has been overshadowed by his job status for next season. Although there’s a year left on his current contract, his name continues to swirl in the rumor mill.
Team owner Rick Hendrick was asked twice this past weekend whether Kahne would continue to drive the No. 5 Chevy beyond this season.
“Our plans are not set for the 5 car,” Hendrick said after the win. “There's nothing concrete or done, and that hasn't changed. We'll see how things shake out, you know, the rest of the year. There's a lot of things involved, sponsors and a lot of things we look at. We're going to try hard. But there's no decisions made at this time.”
Kahne has heard the scuttlebutt as well. But after his 102-race drought ended at Indy, Kahne wanted to prove he wasn’t giving up without a fight.
“I think this just shows I still want to win races,” Kahne said. “This shows that I gave it all that I can to get a win. It shows that I'm passionate about driving stock cars, that I can still win races, too.
“I have a deal through 2018 with Hendrick Motorsports. Hear a lot of things, but tough to say exactly what's going to happen, because I don't know at this point. I know me and Mr. H will figure it out. But I think this just shows that I want to do it, and that I still have the drive and passion to do it, and I enjoy it. So I'm going to keep trying hard. I know that.”
But in NASCAR, sometimes all the effort in the world won’t propel a driver to the top of the sport. There are far too many variables to take into account. The driver alone can’t carry the car to the championship.
He’s hoping this past weekend’s win will revive the team’s confidence — and his own. Kahne knows how tough it is to maintain momentum when a crew doesn’t win. And at an organization such as Hendrick Motorsports, where winning is expected, it’s easy to feel more like an outsider. And he doesn't have a large support group to help him through the tough times.
“I don't really have anybody, to tell you the truth,” Kahne said. “I just feel like I kind of enjoy life a lot because of my son (Tanner) and just try to show up at the track and do the best that I possibly can and put the work in during the week, but that doesn't mean you're going to run well.
“Everybody is putting the work in. The competition is so tight, so close. You need that little bit extra all the time. Hopefully, this win will give us some of that, because we definitely haven't had that.”