TALLADEGA, Ala. – Kasey Kahne has again found the enjoyment that comes with being a racecar driver.
“It’s fun to drive (the cars),” Kahne told NBC Sports about how well the No. 5 team has been performing lately. “It’s great to work with everybody right now and we’re all enjoying (racing) again.”
In the last 10 races, Kahne has earned six top-10 finishes, including a season-best third place at Charlotte Motor Speedway two weeks ago. Kahne has been noticeably happier around the Sprint Cup Series garage while praising Hendrick Motorsports for the cars the organization has been bringing to the racetrack.
It’s a much different scene from the first half of the season. With just six top-10 finishes in the first 17 races, including one DNF, Kahne and crew chief Keith Rodden struggled to find a common balance. The areas the team worked in didn’t translate to any improvements. Kahne failed to make the Chase for the second consecutive year.
Then suddenly, the team hit on it.
“They’ve all been working in the right areas, which you can work really hard in other areas and not always make those gains but for whatever reason, this swing at it the guys have worked in all the right areas,” Kahne said. “They’ve all worked together, put their heads together and figured where we were lacking and how we need to be better. And we’re still getting better each week, still improving, which is great, especially this time of year for Jimmie (Johnson) and Chase (Elliott), who are battling for a championship. To still have the cars being improved is incredible.”
When asked in what specific areas the team worked to find improvements, Kahne noted the biggest difference didn’t have to do with the car at all. Yes, he admits, Hendrick Motorsports has found more speed, but his group of guys has also worked hard at being better together. That includes the communication between engineers and the crew chiefs and the trust they have in what Kahne is saying.
“Things that we didn’t have early in the year and we’ve been building, making better each week for the last seven or eight,” Kahne said.
That includes the relationship between Kahne and Rodden. Kahne admits it took time for the two to get on the same page. Rodden analyzed things one way. Kahne communicated things in another. There was also a certain feel the driver was looking for.
“So it took some time to get that trust in each other and the direction we need to go and both of us be behind one another,” Kahne said. “Not just him being behind me, but me being behind him, and that goes along with our engineers, as well.”
Now, Kahne says he and Rodden talk every day, every week. While he has yet to lead a lap this season, Kahne has nine consecutive top-15 finishes, which lead the series. His average finish since Bristol in late August has been 9.0, which is second-best in the series.
Kahne considers it being back on a high. The team survived the low, which he said goes back to last year, and stayed together. It makes it more fun, Kahne said, to make the improvements they have. The goal is to end the year on this high and build toward 2017.
With his contract at Hendrick Motorsports expiring at the end of the 2018 season, Kahne stated in August if he hasn’t performed by then, he would “need to leave.” Kahne stands by his statement, but that doesn’t mean he’s put any additional pressure on himself.
“That’s why I’m here,” Kahne said. “I’m racing in the Sprint Cup Series to perform and to do well and to be at Hendrick Motorsports you have that opportunity because Mr. (Hendrick) gives it to us. There were times we were maybe a little behind as a company, but overall, everything’s right there and it’s how we take it and what we do with it as a team. We’ve been doing a much better with it. If we keep doing this, then our performance is going to keep improving and we’ll be winning races again and everybody’s going to be happy.”