Sunday, February 25, 2018
Sports

Kahne loves Sprint Cup's longest race

CONCORD, N.C. — The Coca-Cola 600 is a long day that bleeds into a long night.

Drivers can either fight that or embrace it. Count defending champion Kasey Kahne as a guy who relishes the longest race of the Sprint Cup season.

"I've always really liked the longer races," Kahne said. "It gives you more time to work on your car, more time to kind of fine tune and get it as perfect as you can for those last 50 to 100 miles."

The evidence is apparent: Kahne has won the 600 three times, tying him with several others for the second most victories in the event's history, behind Darrell Waltrip's five. Kahne starts sixth, based on Thursday's qualifying, in tonight's race.

Long races are about attrition as much as anything. Those who can avoid chain-reaction wrecks or keep from wearing out their cars do well anywhere but particularly in these endurance events. It's telling that Kahne has completed 96.8 percent of his laps at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

It's no surprise then that when the same guy keeps hitting him — coincidence or not — Kahne starts taking it personally. Kyle Busch has wrecked Kahne three times this season, such a string of accidents that Busch recently joked he's waiting for Kahne to take him out.

After the Talladega accident Kahne said Busch "screwed up" and made a flippant remark about waiting for another in a series of apology calls.

For the most part, though, Kahne is pretty even-tempered. That suits the patience you need not to take crazy chances over a 600-mile race.

"(This) has always been one of my favorite races, just because there's a lot of communication going on where you need a good crew chief and a good engineer," Kahne said. "People are going to listen and work with you — understand what you're saying. I have that with Kenny (Francis, the crew chief) and Keith (Rodden, the engineer)."

Rodden has worked with Kahne one season, but Francis and Kahne have been together since 2005. Only Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus have a longer span in a Sprint Cup driver-crew chief pairing.

Kahne and Francis have worked for different teams in that span, but the constant has been their relationship. They've qualified for the Chase for the Championship three times, including last season, when they won two races.

It's about knowledge, but it's also about complementary personalities.

"I'd say we're both pretty mellow," Kahne said. "Because we're both kind of mild-mannered, we get along really well … no reason to scream and yell at each other."

Though they grew up in opposite ends of the country — Kahne is from Enumclaw, Wash., Francis from Jacksonville — they had similar backgrounds. Both love go-kart racing (Kahne still participates occasionally). Francis started out aspiring to be a driver, so he knows the sensibilities behind the wheel.

Kahne just loves driving fast, no matter what the vehicle. He's still heavily involved in the World of Outlaws sprint car series, one of the circuits where he drew experience early on. And he finished second in Saturday's Nationwide series race, losing to Busch, no less.

The presumption is drivers join the Nationwide field to get extra laps at CMS before the 600-miler. It's a fallacy, Kahne says, because the difference in Nationwide and Sprint Cup cars is so great.

Kahne, in his second season at Hendrick, loves it there. And not just because he knows he's getting great cars.

"It starts with how Mr. H (Rick Hendrick) treats people from the top — every single person," Kahne said. "Everybody I work with treats everybody with respect. That starts with Mr. H, and you don't have that everywhere you go."

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