CHARLOTTE , N.C. – Kasey Kahne knows exactly what his Hendrick Motorsprots team needs in 2017.
“You have to win in this sport, you have to run up front, you have to lead laps,” Kahne listed off Wednesday at the NASCAR Media Tour.
Kahne did none of those things in 2016, his 13th season in the Cup Series.
The Hendrick Motorsports driver went winless for the second year in a row, had an average running spot of 16th and failed to lead a lap for the first time in his career.
That added up to Kahne missing the playoffs for the second straight season.
But Kahne says “there’s more optimism” in the No. 5 shop based off where the team wound up at the end of 2016. In the last 12 races, Kahne earned one top five (Charlotte II) and five top 10s after not earning a top 10 in the previous eight races.
“Where we started, consistently 18th to 20th, was not anything that we wanted,” Kahne said. “After the last 12 to 14 races were eight to 10, so that jump, that consistency that we showed throughout the whole season for the speed of the car, I thought was good. We’re working hard to make another jump, because eighth to 10th is not where we want to be either. Definitely a lot of progress from where we were at the beginning of last season.”
Kahne said the work to make the jump back to a competitive level began the Monday after the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“I’ve been with (crew chief) Keith (Rodden), I’ve been with our engineers and all of us as a team from the pit crew side to the road guys, to the guys putting together cars, we’ve been a team and working together to progress in the same areas that we made gains. We’ve had a couple of months to do that. I feel that is a lot of hard work … but for us we’re going in the right direction and it’s going to show this year.”
Kahne, who has 17 Cup wins since 2004, will be seeking his first victory since the August 2014 event at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Since that time, Kahne and girlfriend Samantha Sheets have had their first child, Tanner Lee Kahne.
“I really want to be in Victory Lane with him. That is one thing I do think about,” Kahne said of winning again. “That’s definitely where we want to be, that’s where everybody wants to be.”
And to do that, you have run up front and lead laps.
“If you want to be part of the playoffs you have to do all that,” Kahne said. “Then you’ve got to do it in the playoffs as well if you want to win championships. To me, consistently in the top 10, if we do that as a team, week in and week out, we’re going to have our fair shots to win, whether it’s a stage or the final stage.”