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Hendrick: Kahne worth the wait

- jutter@charlotteobserver.com
Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012

Hendrick Motorsports has waited for over a year for Kasey Kahne.

One more day wasn’t going to hurt.

The drivers, crew chiefs and other officials with HMS were all on hand Wednesday as the Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway made its annual visit to the sprawling complex.

One chair remained empty – the one designated for Kahne during the open interview session.

Kahne was participating in his third straight day of jury duty in Iredell County and unable to attend.

“The fact we waited over a year for him shows you how bad I wanted Kasey and how bad he wanted to be here,” said team owner Rick Hendrick. “It was a disaster because I couldn’t start a team (for him) last year, I had to help somebody. As it worked out, he did real well.

“I wanted him bad because he’s such a fit with our guys, his age and the way he drives so hard. He’s everything I like in a driver.”

Hendrick signed a deal with Kahne in April 2010 to take over the No. 5 team in 2012. Mark Martin still had a year left on his contract.

Since NASCAR limits team owners to four Cup teams, and with no driver availability at HMS, Kahne went to Red Bull Racing for the 2011 season.

After a rough start, he came on strong in the final third of the season, scoring the third-most points during the final 10 races of the season and earned a victory at Phoenix.

Hendrick says Kahne is mix of Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, two drivers for Hendrick who have won nine championships between them.

“The guy has no ego – if he’s got it he doesn’t show it to me. He’s very appreciative and he’s very precise in what he says and feels and all he wants to do is race,” Hendrick said.

“A lot of people don’t see it come across that Kasey is that die-hard of a racer until you get to know him a little bit.”

Kahne, 31, has had a successful but tumultuous eight-year career in the Cup series.

It began with former crew chief-turned-team owner Ray Evernham. Evernham eventually merged his organization to form Gillett Evernham Motorsports, which in turn became Richard Petty Motorsports.

Once Kahne agreed to join HMS in 2012 it necessitated a brief tenure with another team.

Despite the unpredictability in ownership, Kahne did manage to win 12 races during that span, including a career-high six in the 2006 season.

Kahne has worked with just two crew chiefs in eight years – Tommy Baldwin and Kenny Francis, who will remain the role with Kahne at HMS with his No. 5 Chevrolet team.

“Kasey and I have a great relationship. We talked a few years ago about whether we would carry this relationship forward as things we were going kind of haywire where we were at,” Francis said.

“We decided to try to do that if we could make it happen. At the same time, I said if it doesn’t work out there are no hard feelings. I didn’t want it to put any pressure on us.

“That’s pretty much the basis of what works with us, we’re pretty honest with each other.”

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