NASCAR: Kahne starts season with bang at Shootout

The 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup season started well for Enumclaw driver Kasey Kahne, who finished second in Saturday’s nonpoints Budweiser Shootout at Daytona International Speedway.

With the second half of the 76-lap, two-segment race winding to a close, Kahne’s No. 9 Budweiser Ford Fusion crew passed up a pit opportunity and stayed on the track on old tires in the No. 2 spot during a caution that brought out a green-white-checker overtime period.

When a crash ensued on the restart, the field was frozen for the finish. Kevin Harvick won the race with Kahne a close second.

“That actually worked out great for us,” Kahne said of the strategy to stay out. “We had a great Budweiser Ford the entire race. I was having a blast out there. The racing was good, it was side-by-side and there was a lot going on. We were right there. Even on the restart there, Harvick got in front of me and I was pushing him and I was right on the white line. I was like, ‘Man, the tires aren’t too bad.’ So I was happy. The Roush Yates Ford engine is definitely an improvement. That’s nice to have.”

Kahne and the No. 9 team hope Saturday’s performance is a prelude of things to come with Sunday’s Daytona 500 and the season.

“My car was really good all night,” Kahne said. “We were sliding around a lot and bouncing off the track. It was doing some things we didn’t exactly want it to do, but it handled awesome and was really fast. The Roush Yates Ford engine was unbelievable for me. I loved it, so I can’t wait for next week. We’ll just keep working on the car and keep trying to get better and, hopefully, we’ll have a good shot in the 150 and the 500 as well.”

The Daytona 500 kicks off the 2010 season. Qualifying with the Gatorade Duels begins Thursday with racing set for 10 a.m. Sunday on FOX.

The 2010 season marks a return to Ford Racing for Kahne, who started his stock-car career with Robert Yates Racing in 2002, competing in 20 of 34 Nationwide Series events.

“I’m excited,” Kahne said. “I know the company has worked really hard to try to get us some better performance. The alliance with Roush Yates is something I look forward to and I think the engine here will be awesome compared to what I’ve had in the past. That’s really exciting, coming to Daytona and knowing you have a great shot at qualifying well, you have a great shot at running good – pushing cars around, you don’t need to be the guy getting pushed all the time, you can maybe do some pushing yourself. So it changes the whole restrictor plate type of racing for me. I think it’s gonna change it up, and, hopefully, I’ve been able to learn a lot in the past and it’ll give us a better chance on Saturday and Sunday over the next couple weeks. And then the rest of the season, I think we have a great team.

“The guys are all still together. We work well together. We enjoy working together. We had some fun during the off-season, and I think this whole change and merger I really think can only help the 9 guys. As long as we can be prepared and as long as we can get the cars and the things that we need through Roush, I think we’ll be in good shape.”

With a year under his belt with Richard Petty Motorsports, Saturday marked Kahne’s sixth start in the Budweiser Shootout and his best finish. Kahne made the field thanks to his 10th-place finish in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.

Kahne finished the 2009 season with two victories, seven top-fives and 14 top-10s, more than the other three RPM teams combined. He also finished 10th in the standings, his second career top-10 showing.

Kahne won at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., in June and returned a Richard Petty Motorsports car to victory lane for the first time since 1999. It also marked Kahne’s first win on a road course.

Kahne added another win in September in Atlanta.

The 2009 season marked the second straight year that Kahne produced two victories.

Kahne’s best season in the Cup series was in 2006, when he finished eighth in the standings, posted six wins, 19 top-10s and six poles – all career bests.

Kahne made his Cup debut in 2004, producing a career-best 13 top-fives and four poles, and was named Raybestos Rookie of the Year and won his first race in 2005.

The moves bode well for Kahne’s future and where he sees himself in the next five years.

“I just want to win,” he said. “I love doing what I do. I love being a NASCAR driver and racing and having our own short track teams. I just want to keep getting better and keep giving everybody the opportunity to get better as well, and working with people and communicating.”

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