2011 NASCAR Preview: The Top 30 Driver Countdown
2011 Driver Countdown
No. 4 Red Bull Toyota
Team: Red Bull Racing
Owner: Dietrich Mateschitz
Crew Chief: Kenny Francis
Years with current team: 1
Under contract through: 2014 with Hendrick Motorsports
Best points finish: 8th (2006)
Hometown: Enumclaw, Wash.
Born: April 10, 1980
Perhaps Kasey Kahne should start seeking sponsorship from U-Haul, since he’s been doing a lot of moving in recent months, and another big move is on the horizon. A disgruntled Kahne, given a contentious release from Richard Petty Motorsports last October, will have only one year to build on a five-race stint with Red Bull Racing that ended last season.
Kahne’s future plans have already been announced; he was signed to replace Mark Martin at the No. 5 seat at Hendrick beginning in 2012 before a rare agreement with Red Bull Racing was reached. That leaves RBR as a temporary stop on the way to arguably the sport’s best team, a partnership where keeping all sides distraction-free will be a challenge.
“I see what Red Bull’s all about,” claimed Kahne after surprising with a pole at Homestead in last season’s finale. “I see how they do it. They have really good people. It’s just a matter of a little bit of direction, some leadership, and we’re working on that. We can be a strong team next year.”
One development tops the list of fixes: Kahne is reunited with crew chief Kenny Francis, who also made the exit from RPM, and they will be joined by several other teammates who were laid off from that downsizing company. The return of veteran leader Brian Vickers to RBR should also rejuvenate the effort, which suffered without him. Jay Frye is also a solid and respected GM, excellent at making the most out of modest resources.
Overall, the dedication and financial support are a far cry from RPM, where it never seemed the money and equipment were fully behind Kahne for much of his tenure. But considering the short stint at RBR, can this guy keep his attitude adjusted should things go wrong early? How he left the No. 9 team was ugly at best — a third brake failure caused Kahne to crash at Charlotte and leave the track before repairs were made to his Ford. Kahne said he wasn’t feeling well, but what led to his release was the fact that he was essentially caught in a lie, running in a 5K charity race the next morning.
So will Kahne flourish in his one-year stint with RBR? Don’t hold your breath. He’s heading to a different team that runs a different manufacturer — his third in three years — so the depth of knowledge shared may not be adequate for large-scale success. They may eke out a win or two, due to Kahne’s talent alone, which could conceivably net them a wild card Chase berth, but nothing more.
What The Competition Is Saying
Thoughts from anonymous garage-area owners, crew chiefs and team members.
The recurring phrase with Kahne is “lots of talent.” A rival crew chief notes, “What happens to Kasey next year bears watching because it’s not something that happens very often. He’s sort of being farmed out to Team Red Bull for one year, and nobody really knows how that’s going to work. I think (crew chief) Kenny Francis showed a lot of professionalism. Distraction is a potential issue, since this whole arrangement will close at the end of the 2011 season.”
Another crew chief says, “You’ve just got to wonder when, or if, things are ever going to work out for this guy. He’s got great talent. He’s a proven winner. He’s had more than his share of bad luck in things falling apart around him, but yet, he hasn’t had a thing to do with any of it.”
A third says, “It’s hard to believe, but right now, I think Kasey Kahne is actually underrated.”
Top 5s: 7
Top 10s: 10
Laps Led: 350
Laps Completed: 10,309
Lead Lap Finishes: 21
Bonus Points: 60
Races Led: 10
Average Start: 13.5
Average Finish: 18.9
After First 26 Races: 18th
Final Points Standing: 20th
Driver Rating: 82.8 (15th)