Kasey Kahne, Kenny Francis quiet challengers
FEB 12, 2013 2:46p ET
By Rea White
Don’t count on Kasey Kahne to overstate his case. A man of few words, he’s never been known for making broad pronouncements or exaggerating his potential.
Make no doubt, though — championship promise resides in this 32-year-old.
Kahne and crew chief Kenny Francis may be two of the more reticent men in the NASCAR Sprint Cup garage area, but that may actually work in their favor.
After all, they don’t waste time in predictions. Instead, they talk calmly of the season ahead, address whether they can convert a fourth-place overall finish in 2012 into a 2013 title in basic terms — and then turn their attention to going out and attempting to do just that beginning with the 2013 Daytona 500 (Feb. 24, noon ET on FOX).
Kahne has his best shot at a title right now. Entering his second season with Hendrick Motorsports, continuing with the crew chief he’s worked with since 2006, when they partnered at Evernham Motorsports, and coming off a stellar season, Kahne is ready.
He’s paid his dues. He’s learned his lessons. He’s watched and listened and tried to figure out the nuances of the sport from talking about it with the best. Now is his chance to show just how far he has come — and to excel in his own right.
Interestingly enough, it is that penchant for listening rather than talking that could pay dividends for Kahne this season.
Last season, he earned two of his 14 career Cup wins and made the Chase for the Sprint Cup for the third time. He also spent a lot of time learning the Hendrick system — and more about racing from teammates Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
“It’s been completely different than anywhere else I’ve ever been and raced,” he said. “But I really liked it. … those three guys, (they are) three of the best guys out there, and what they’ve done on the track and off the track, all three of them. Since I started in racing, I’ve felt like you need to listen in order to get better. Whether you’re driving, away from the track, on the track, whatever it is, you need to listen and get better from people that have done it.
“I have three of the best guys on the track, and off the track, that I can learn from, and then we have Mr. H. that’s always right there, and he just gives us all such great opportunity.”
Also helping him with that learning curve is long-time crew chief Francis. They started together at Evernham, worked at Red Bull Racing for a year together and then moved as a unit to Hendrick.
One simply cannot overestimate the positive impact that the level of trust this pair shares has on their joint effort.
“Any time you can go into a year without a lot of change as far as drivers and crew chiefs go, you feel good about it,” team owner Rick Hendrick said.
“The way Kasey and Kenny ran and their efforts is going to be good for our whole organization, and we’re all super excited about the car, and I think this year is going to be a great year for our sport, and I’m just excited about it.”
Not to mention, this pair seems to grow even more alike as time passes.
So while they are intent on being competitive and gaining new ground — Kahne will admit when asked that his team has a shot at running for the championship — they will do so in their own way. If history holds, it will be by studiously working on their own effort and quietly surging to the front of the field.
That’s simply how this pair operates.
“We’re both kind of quiet, so we don’t have to say a whole lot and we know what we’re thinking, which works out good for both of us because neither one of us like talking a whole lot. … Our relationship has always been solid,” Kahne said.
“I’ve always been a huge supporter and fan of everything that Kenny does because of his mindset and how hard he works and how bad he wants it. He has a couple of things that he works at, that’s winning races and taking care of his family, and it’s pretty neat to see that, so I’ve always been a huge fan, and that’s the guy I want on my side.”
Francis, 43, shares the same opinion of his driver.
While there, at times, might be things that other teams would be talking about in-depth, this pair just understands one another too well.
And that, so far, has been paying big dividends.
“We do kind of communicate by osmosis sometimes, it almost seems like … Sometimes that’s a good thing, sometimes that’s a bad thing,” Francis said. “We kind of look at each other and tell what we’re thinking or what’s going on. If you listen on our radio you don’t hear a whole lot. We don’t talk a whole lot. … We have a pretty good relationship. We’re all kind of quiet people by nature so we do a lot of not a lot of words but a lot of meaning.”