Kasey Kahne Doesn't Need to Be Kyle Busch to Beat Him
Don't be someone you're not. It's a fairly common piece of advice delivered both on the personal and the corporate level. Many a company has found itself in financial peril because they failed to recognize this simple truth. Countless failed couples can relate to it as well; trying to change someone into becoming a different person is destined to failure. And in NASCAR, that fact is equally truthful. Drivers cannot be successful trying to be someone they're not.
USA Today's Nate Ryan wrote a thought-provoking article on Kasey Kahne yesterday. In it, Ryan argues that Kahne needs to stand up for himself, something that is fairly benign. But then he goes on to argue that not only should Kahne plan to wreck Kyle Busch but that doing so was somehow in his nature. He writes:
- “Kahne needs to channel the same strong-minded ruthlessness, which surely is lurking somewhere beneath the fresh-faced good looks that once made him the star of insurance ads aimed at swooning soccer moms.”
Original Nate Ryan article on Kahne
While every successful driver has a strong-minded core there is nothing in Kahne's public history that would suggest he's a ruthless racer. He's been wrecked four times by Joe Gibbs Racing in 23 races and yet his strongest response is a Twitter blast. That's not saying Kahne is ok with the status quo; he clearly is not. But it simply is not in his nature to apply the chrome horn to his competition. That's particularly true in terms of premeditation; for Kahne to follow Ryan's advice would mean that he would be planning on punting the #18 should the opportunity arise.
Yes, the thought of Kahne turning Kyle Busch around would make for an entertaining race. If anyone has earned to be on the back side of a bump and run, it's Busch. Kyle would complain over the radio and then head for the trailer, planning his own revenge on Kahne. As the NASCAR World Turns, just another step in the soap opera for fans to follow weekly.
Kasey Kahne Autographed Merchandise
But it's not Kahne's job to entertain the masses; he's there to win. If they enjoy the way he races and cheer his moves from the stands, fine. That's not the primary goal. The primary goal is to win races and championships. That's why Kasey went to Hendrick Motorsports in the first place. Kahne spent the first seven years of his career in perpetual limbo. Financial issues followed his teams with Kahne going from Evernham Motorsports to Gillett-Evernham to Richard Petty Motorsports without ever getting out of the #9 car. He willingly added a year to that limbo, running out the string for a departing Red Bull Racing, simply to have an opportunity to drive for Hendrick.
Hendrick Motorsports offers Kahne the kind of platform he's only dreamed of but that platform comes with a price. Rick will provide you with race-winning equipment, surround you with experienced engineers and pit crewmen. He will compel your teammates to share information that in other garages would be team-specific. But when you have all of those assets, he expects you to win. He expects that you will compete for the championship and if you don't win it, another teammate will. As Steelers coach Mike Tomlin might say, “The standard is the standard.”
At 33 years of age, Kahne uses a driving style that he's established over a decade in stock car racing. Thanks to his prior USAC midget car and Sprint Car experience, Kahne knows how to drive on the ragged edge. Yet he is a thinking man's driver. He doesn't let emotion get the best of him- never too high when things are going well, never too low when they aren't. He's also generally fast right off the truck, particularly in his two seasons with Hendrick where he's averaged a start inside the top ten. That style and mental toughness has served Kahne well over the years. He's won 16 races during his ten years and scored double-digit top tens in eight of those seasons (including this year, where he has ten such finishes).
There's no reason to trade in a decade of driving experience for one night of revenge in the Tennessee mountains. It might be emotionally satisfying to consider the possibility but that dream ignores several big realities. With two wins and sitting in 11th place, Kahne is a strong candidate for the Chase but he's by no means locked in. A number of other drivers have one win and are outside the top ten. What if Ryan Newman wins on Saturday night while Kahne crashes trying exact revenge on Busch? Kasey would then be deep in the field and essentially counting on none of the other one-win drivers winning at Richmond or Atlanta.
That crash described above is all too likely to happen should Kahne go after Busch during the race. Kyle watches his back like a particularly paranoid Mafia button man outside the local Federal building. He knows exactly who he's wrecked, when he wrecked them, and whether or not they've evened the score. And like that button man, he's likely to strike first if he thinks you're coming for him. You're only going to get once chance to dump Busch before he's going to return the favor. As Omar once said on The Wire, “You come at the king, you best not miss.”
"You come at the king, you best not miss" (warning - NSFW dialogue)
There's a difference between standing up for yourself on the track and deliberately planning to go after the opposition. Standing up for yourself on track isn't a bad thing. It shows the competition that you will not be taken advantage of, that your kindness shouldn't be mistaken for weakness. Mark Martin is one of the most understanding drivers in NASCAR; if your car needs to find a spot in line or you slide into his fender by accident you can count on Martin not to overreact and put you into a wall. Yet no one mistakes Martin's kindness as something they can take advantage of. Over the years he's built a reputation that speaks for itself. Kahne is in the process of doing likewise and doesn't need to toss that all out the window now.
No, what Kahne needs to do now is to stick with what brought him to this point in the first place. He needs to continue to drive intelligent races and make the right moves at the right times. He needs to take the opportunities that present themselves but to keep his focus on where its been all along; winning the Sprint Cup championship. Anything that helps in that endeavor is good. Anything that detracts from it is bad. Spending one of the three remaining races before the Chase looking for revenge falls into the latter category.