Kahne's season on way to putting nightmare 2007 behind him

2/29/2008 - NASCAR

LAS VEGAS -- Set your TiVo. Kasey Kahne will display his dance moves on a new Allstate commercial that debuts this weekend.

"We had a choreographer and everything," Kahne said. "You won't expect to see me doing the things I do. It's different. You're definitely going to see me like you've never seen me before."

Kahne is convinced people will see a lot of different things from him this season compared to last year. At the end of the 2006 season, Kahne was NASCAR's most prominent rising star. Then he endured a disastrous 2007 campaign.

Kahne went from a can't-miss, future Sprint Cup champion to a guy who couldn't compete and rarely finished in the top half of the field.

The season is only two races old, but the Kahne of 2008 is looking a lot like the one he left behind from 2006. He ranks sixth in the standings with two top-10s, but NASCAR loop data paints a clearer picture:

  • Kahne is No. 2 in average running position at 7.2.

  • He's No. 3 in driver rating (NASCAR's version of the NFL's quarterback rating) at 106.7.

  • Only Kahne and Kevin Harvick have completed every circuit of the first two races on the lead lap.

  • He's made more quality passes (green lap passes inside the top 15) than any other driver with 236.

"It seems like it's all back to where it was," Kahne said Friday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. "We just never could get the cars right last year and it showed. So I'm really excited that things are going good."

Kahne finished seventh in the Daytona 500 and ninth on Monday at Fontana, despite brushing the wall late in the race. The team made some repairs to the car and will use it this weekend in the UAW-Dodge 400. He brushed the wall again in practice Friday, but damage was minimal.

"The race in California gave us a lot of confidence and gave us an idea that we are heading in the right direction," Kahne said. "The team did a lot of work in the offseason to make our cars better. It felt like that work paid off at California. We're probably off to the best start we've ever had. We have a little momentum."

Momentum was a runaway train racing downhill to nowhere a year ago.

Kahne was wondering how things could go so wrong so fast. It started with a 50-point penalty at Daytona for a rules violation discovered before qualifying.

That bad news was only the beginning. The on-track performance for the No. 9 Dodge team was a huge step backward.

Kahne ranked 32nd after the first two races a year ago. He never got much better; Kahne was 28th after 20 races.

Kahne ended the year 19th after posting three top-10s during the Chase, but he ended the year with a wreck at Phoenix and a 24th-place effort at Homestead.

As if that wasn't bad enough, things also ended on a low note off the track. Kahne was accused of shoving a security guard to the ground in a disputed incident at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Kasey Kahne? A physical altercation? The quiet-as-a-mouse, mild-mannered guy who rarely says an unkind word about anything or anyone?

What's next? The Dalai Lama abuses puppies?

It just didn't fit for Kahne, sort of like his year on the track. He made the Chase in 2006 and won six races in his third Cup season.

Going from that to a winless 2007 didn't make sense. The problems had little to do with his driving and a lot to go with the technical issues on the car.

"Last year we just didn't improve on the body," said crew chief Kenny Francis. "We started off the year not quite where we wanted to be, but we kind of overreacted and made it worse."

Complicating things more was trying to figure out the Car of Tomorrow while hoping to get better in the old car.

"Just having only one car to worry about this year has helped a lot," Kahne said. "And a lot of things have settled down here now with the organization."

Nothing was settled last season. Ray Evernham sold controlling interest to George Gillett, forming Gillett Evernham Motorsports.

Kahne is building a relationship with Gillett, the owner of the NHL's Montreal Canadiens. Kahne went snowboarding and parasailing in Wyoming this week at a resort owned by Gillett.

Evernham is only a consultant now, concentrating on his broadcasting career. GEM has a new director of competition in Mark McArdle, who previously led the team's engine program. GEM also has a new CEO, Tom Redden.

"We changed some structure at the shop that has really helped," Kahne said. "If we have good racecars, we'll race well. And now we have good racecars."

And Kahne now has one of NASCAR's most recognizable sponsors on his car with Budweiser. A Bud man isn't how most people see Kahne.

"Hey, I really like the stuff," he said. "And I like working with the Budweiser people. It's just going to get better as the season goes as they see we can win."

Kahne wouldn't have said that last year. He also wouldn't have snowboarded with his team owner while downing a few Buds. And he definitely wouldn't have revealed his dance moves in a commercial.

But things are changing. Maybe a dance in Victory Lane is coming soon.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.