My notes show the early part of Kasey Kahne’s rookie season included a second-place finish at North Carolina, second in Las Vegas, and third in Atlanta. He won the pole at Darlington, finishing thirteenth, and started fifth at Bristol before crashing out of the race. At Texas he started third and finished second. Kahne has never been quite as hot since then. Here’s my April 16, 2004, interview with him.
Q. Was your astonishing early success in the 2004 season a surprise to you?
A. I think it’s definitely a surprise, how well we’ve ran so early in the season. It’s not a surprise that this team can do it and that I can, but I really didn’t realize it would happen so soon.
Q. With all of NASCAR’s tradition, isn’t a bit overwhelming to excel as a rookie?
A. It feels really good. I was thinking about that last night—the ones that have won races, the Tony Stewarts, Jimmie Johnsons, Ryan Newmans, all won races in their first season. That’s pretty cool for them to do that. It’s a pretty big deal to win a race in your first year. We haven’t won one yet, but we’ve come pretty close. It’s actually really exciting.
Q. What’s the secret to your great qualifying attempts?
A. I’ve always enjoyed qualifying. It’s one of my favorite things to do every weekend. You get two laps to yourself. You try to get your car as good as you can in practice, and then you get two laps not to make any mistakes and drive it as hard as you possibly can. It’s fun to qualify because you can drive the car so hard.
Q. You don’t feel small and lonely out there in a qualifying attempt?
A. I used to when I first started in mini-sprints and sprint cars. You know, everybody’s watching, so it’s kind of nerve-wracking. But anymore, it’s really fun. I mean, I think that’s the best.
Q. Is driving in the draft at Daytona fun, frustrating, or frightening?
A. It’s fun when you have a car that can really draft up and suck up to a car. It’s frustrating when you don’t. It’s one of them tracks that can be … you can either really have a ton of fun there, or you can just be frustrated all day.
Q. Does trading paint with another car put your heart in your mouth?
A. No, not at that moment. At that moment, you’re like, all you want to do is pass that car. And if you do touch the wall, you want to pass him that much more. It just makes you more mad. Not mad, but more willing to do anything to make the pass.
Q. Sliding a sprint car sideways on dirt ovals must have been superb training for superspeedway racing.
A. The horsepower those cars have and how quick they handle—you can go in any direction really quick and the cars are really on edge a lot. So by driving a car like that on edge, it helps you with driving any other type of car on edge.
Q. How many bad things can happen during a pit stop?
A. Too many. But with our Dew Crew, they do a pretty awesome job. They have great pit stops. As a driver, you can get into the pits too hard and slide through your pit. You have to really be focused. You can gain or lose a lot.
Q. When did you first know you’d be a major-league driver?
A. When Ray Evernham called me last year. Before that, I always tried to work as hard as I could to get to this level. Until I actually got with Ray Evernham here, you just never know if you’ll make it or if you won’t.
Q. How different is your hometown of Enumclaw, Washington, from North Carolina, where you live now?
A. The temperature’s a lot warmer in North Carolina during the summer, and it’s colder during the winter. Both of them have mountains, and both are pretty green.
Q. Do you have any cool cars for the street?
A. A Dodge Durango’s all I have. I think it’s cool—the ’04 Dodge Durango Hemi. I have a Harley, too, a customed-out Fat Boy Harley-Davidson. It’s fun to ride.
Q. What’s the first vehicle you ever drove?
A. My dad had a flatbed farm truck at our house that we had for cleaning up the land or else feeding cows. So I drove that for three or four years of high school. And we had four-wheelers while growing up.