Kahne Set For Sophomore Season

Don't talk to Kasey Kahne about a sophomore jinx. Last year's NEXTEL Cup Series Rookie-of-the-Year doesn't want to hear about any expectations to fail.

"Last year there were no expectations," Kahne said. "Nobody really expected us to run much better than 30th probably at times, so that was pretty easy to run up front because people didn't expect you to run up there.

"We had a good race team, but this year we need to run up front because there will be more expectations. Our whole team has higher expectations. Last year we wanted to finish in the top 15 and win the Raybestos Rookie of the Year award. We were able to do that. This year we need to run in the top 10 every week and get in that Chase for the NEXTEL Cup."

Kahne may be young in age, but his driving abilities and demeanor are mature beyond his years. He burst onto the NEXTEL Cup scene last year with the Evernham Motorsports team and racked up 13 Top 5 finishes and 14 Top 10's.

After a stellar short track career in midget and sprint cars, the transition to stock cars seemed to go smoothly and quickly. But Kahne disagrees.

"It was a long transition," Kahne said. "It took time to figure it out. These cars drive so much different from the sprint cars and midgets. It took time, but I feel like we spent the time on it and learned a lot. I’ve learned a lot about what I look for in the car each week. You might not throw your arms around as much as you do in sprint cars, but you’re definitely driving these cars."

Kahne's rookie year included five runner-up finishes including two photo finishes at Rockingham and Texas that found him on the short end of making his first trip to victory lane. But his impresive performances weren't lost on many fans and Kahne has quickly become one of NASCAR's most popular drivers.

"We ran up front a lot of the time last year," he said. "I had a lot of seconds and top 10s. I think that really helped out. You get more fans as you do that, and the fans that follow NASCAR are just unbelievable in how loyal they are to teams and drivers and sponsors and every part about NASCAR. It's definitely cool to have that many more fans."

Kahne has already shown he'll be a force at Daytona by running some fast laps during "Pre-Season Thunder" testing, including leading one of Thursday's sessions. He realizes race conditions are drastically different from a test session, but Kahne is anxious to use his pre-season experience in his "Speedweeks" effort to go all out in every event.

"That’s the way I'm going to approach it," Kahne said. "That's how we approached it last year and everything went fine. We didn't run that great, but it worked out good. We'll do the same thing this year. If something does happen, that's just part of it. Hopefully nothing does and we can finish up toward the front."

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