No. 5 Farmer’s Insurance/Hendrick Cars.com/Quaker State Chevy
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
Crew Chief: Kenny Francis
Average Start: 11.3
Average Finish: 15.6
Races Led: 15
Laps Led: 340
% Laps Completed: 92.3%
Points Finish: 14th
2011 in a Nutshell
A very compelling case could be made that no driver did more with less in 2011 than Kasey Kahne. Despite driving for Red Bull Racing, as dysfunctional a team as they come, Kahne made one trip to Victory Lane, nearly won several others, and finished a very respectable 14th overall. He did all this while continually to show the talent which has earned him a seat with NASCAR’s preeminent organization.
Reasons to Believe
Kasey Kahne is one of the most skilled drivers in NASCAR who will finally be driving equipment that matches his immense talent … Outside of Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus, Kahne and Kenny Francis might be the best combination in the garage … Francis’ engineering background makes him an ideal fit at Hendrick and he should have no problem adjusting to his new home … Kahne can win on any kind of track on any given weekend … For the first time in what seems like forever, Kahne finally has stable ownership and doesn’t have to worry about his future … He is excellent on the intermediate tracks and should be improved at Daytona and Talladega, thanks to Hendrick horsepower … Kahne is an exceptional qualifier … In his eight years in Cup, he’s never led less than 186 laps in a single season.
Reasons to Doubt
Kahne has never had to play second fiddle, let alone third fiddle, on a team before…It will be interesting to see how he fits in with his more accomplished teammates … Many a driver has joined Hendrick seemingly a “perfect fit” and many a driver has failed to live up to the hype … Kahne is prone to the occasional stretch where he disappears on the track and he does have a tendency to push his equipment too hard … Dover, Talladega, Chicagoland, Martinsville and Texas are among his worst tracks statistically and all of them are in the Chase … He has never has finished in the top-10 at Watkins Glen.
Area of Strength: Kenny Francis
If you take Chad Knaus out of the equation, Kenny Francis might be the best crew chief in NASCAR. With an engineering mindset that will play well with an organization as technologically advanced as any in the sport, Francis has been atop the pit box for 12 of Kahne’s 13 Cup victories and has twice guided him to the Chase for the Sprint Cup. And don’t think for a second Francis is merely benefitting because he’s working with a great driver, as he also called the shots for Jeremy Mayfield in 2004, winning once and making the Chase.
Area of Weakness: Being the fourth team at Hendrick
Wait a second, your asking yourself “How is driving for organization that has won 10 Sprint Cup titles since 1995 a bad thing?” It’s not that it’s a bad thing per say, it’s more the fact Hendrick Motorsports has never placed more than three cars in the Chase in any given year. Maybe it was because of whom they had driving the fourth car or maybe it was matter of not having enough resources and depth in the personnel ranks? Whatever the reason, you do have to wonder if Hendrick can break the hex and finally have all of its drivers compete in the Chase?
Best-case Scenario For 2012
Kasey Kahne duplicates what the man he’s replacing did in his first year at Hendrick. For those who don’t remember, all Mark Martin did was snag five wins and finish runner-up in points to Jimmie Johnson. This is a very realistic scenario for Kahne in 2012.
Worst-case Scenario For 2012
Like Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kenny Schrader, Ricky Craven, Casey Mears and others before him, Kasey Kahne finds life at Hendrick Motorsports isn’t all its cracked up to be. Kahne flounders, his relationship with Kenny Francis starts to show cracks, and ultimately, it’s another lost year in a career filled with them for the 31-year-old driver.
In Their Words
“I think that we’re going to have really good equipment and going to have a great team, and I still have Kenny Francis, so the communication is going to be there. So yeah, we’ll just see how high we can rise, how well we can step-up and see what we can do throughout the whole season. That’s my biggest deal this year is to be as consistent as I’ve ever been each week and to win races. If we can do that, we’re going to have a great year.”
Predicted Number of Wins: 3
The Racing Geek’s Final Thought
This is Kasey Kahne’s time. He has the perfect team behind him led by a guy in Kenny Francis who he has a phenomenal relationship. For Kahne, everything is on the table this season – a multitude of wins, a high finish in points, and if everything goes right, his first Sprint Cup trophy. Conversely, if he doesn’t meet the minimalist of expectations, it’s going to be him and no one else who bears the brunt of the blame.