THIS IS HOW badly things are going this season for Kasey Kahne: A year after winning a Nextel Cup-high six races, Kahne and his number 9 Evernham Motorsports Dodge team are taking solace in moral victories. Such was the case on June 10 following a 22nd-place finish in the rain-shortened Pocono 500, during which Kahne had the same handling problems that have plagued his cars for nearly four months. After the race crew chief Kenny Francis could only shrug and say, "At least today wasn't a total disaster."
Disaster has come in various forms for Kahne in 2007, three years after becoming the circuit's top rookie and one of its most popular drivers—and a year after the breakout season that should have set him up for a title run. Instead, he has wrecked out of two races, blown an engine in another and finished off the lead lap six times in 11 other starts. He's not only winless but also 28th in points.
Kahne, 27, has been battling an out-of-balance car that wobbles in traffic and corners like a Greyhound bus. Francis has been working to find a solution, but in the heavily regulated Nextel Cup, improvement comes in tiny increments. "Every race for us is a test session," says Kahne's teammate Elliott Sadler. "We're showing up with all our cars set up differently just to see if we can hit on something better."
The entire Evernham team has been hampered by a lack of resources, including the ability to run computerized aerodynamic simulations. Owner Ray Evernham is in negotiations to sell a share of his team in hopes that the added cash can elevate his team to the level of NASCAR's most powerful operations. Such prospects are of little consolation to Kahne, whose preseason hopes have long faded. He's looking for more immediate signs of encouragement, such as his 11th-place finish at Dover two weeks ago. "That's the only time I've felt like I had a top 10 car," says Kahne. "Yeah, it's disappointing, but it's what we've got."
From SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, June 18, 2007