Kasey Kahne exits NASCAR with legacy of early Cup Series success
by Rick Minter/ Andrews McMeel Syndication
Among the many milestone events in the 2018 NASCAR season was the apparent end of Kasey Kahne’s NASCAR driving career.
Kahne, at the age of 38, was believed to have several more years ahead of him in his Monster Energy Cup Series career, but after falling seriously ill during the running of the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on Labor Day weekend, he never ran another competitive lap in a Cup car.
He worked with his doctors to try to determine why he was so dehydrated after driving in competition and even ran a mock race at Charlotte. But in the end, he and his doctors decided he was no longer able to compete under racing conditions in the heat of a Cup car.
So, he announced his retirement, and he now plans to resume racing Sprint cars, where the open cockpits are cooler and races are relatively shorter.
Many in the sport were disappointed that Kahne’s career was not celebrated more by the NASCAR community, especially during year-end festivities.
Clint Bowyer took to Twitter to complain that Kahne wasn’t mentioned during the Cup awards ceremony in Las Vegas.
He wrote: “If a guy put in more than 10 years of his life or so into @NASCAR I do hope they figure out a way to recognize his being there somehow as we go along. Kasey should’ve been recognized at the banquet for all he’s given the sport.”
Kahne’s career, indeed, was remarkable, especially in the early years.
The Enumclaw, Washington, native first came to NASCAR as a driver for Ford Motor Co. He raced in the series now known as Xfinity in 2002, in a car owned by the late Robert Yates, who at the time was busy with his Cup operation, but set up a Busch Series team just for Kahne.
“That was kind of my first go in stock cars,” Kahne said at a press session during the 2018 NASCAR media tour. “Ford was pushing that pretty hard at the time, so that kind of forced Robert [Yates] into doing a 16-race schedule with me.
“We just went from there. It started in a small little building in a small shop with little lighting and everything, and a group of guys working hard to get cars ready for Daytona.
“It ended as part of Rensi Racing up the road, which helped us a good bit by the end of that year just with some speed and things.
“So it was cool to get to know Robert and Doug [Yates] and Dale Jarrett at the time … Ricky Rudd, Elliott Sadler. … It was a great experience. I wouldn’t change it.”
Kahne didn’t win in his time with Yates, but got the first of his eight Xfinity victories the next year in the No. 38 Ford owned by Brad Akins.
“That was more of a team that had been racing, and we instantly were fast right off the bat with that car,” Kahne said.
He switched to Dodge in 2004, moved to the Cup Series and took over the No. 9 car vacated by Bill Elliott. He scored his first Cup win the next year at Richmond and had his best season in 2006, when he won six races.
Kahne went winless in 2007, then won twice in 2008, as the team became known as Gillett Evernham Motorsports.
He then won twice more in 2009, as the No. 9 team morphed into Richard Petty Motorsports.
After a winless 2010, Kahne moved to Team Red Bull and won at Phoenix. In 2012, he joined Hendrick Motorsports and won twice in his first season. He scored three more wins over the next two seasons before going winless in 2015 and 2016.
He got his 18th and final win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year in his lame-duck season at Hendrick.
Kahne was most successful on the 1.5-mile tracks at Charlotte and Atlanta, winning four Cup races at the former and three at the latter.
But by the end of his time at Hendrick Motorsports, it was becoming apparent that Kahne’s health was an issue.
After he won at the Brickyard in 2017, he appeared to be completely exhausted. And as it turned out, he was.
“I’ll carry that win forever because that will be one of my biggest wins in racing,” Kahne said at the media tour. “I was barely alive after that race. I was so worn out. … I’ve been pretty bad after some races, but not at that level. That stuck with me through like Wednesday and Thursday before I started feeling (better). Thursday was the first day I started feeling really good again. It was tough. I don’t think I’ve ever been that dehydrated, for sure.”
Appropriately it might seem, Kahne ran his last NASCAR race at Darlington Raceway, where he was absolutely dominant in the Camping World Truck Series. He won both of his starts there, and posted three other wins — at Charlotte, Homestead and Rockingham — in just six career starts in the Truck Series.
Photo: Kahne was perhaps most widely known as the driver of the No. 5 Chevy at Henrdrick Motorsports from 2012 to 2017.Courtesy of NASCAR