Editorial

Kasey Kahne vs. Jeff Gordon
by Pete McCole

April 16, 2004

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Gordon vs. Kahne

Race #

Jeff Gordon (1993)

Kasey Kahne (2004)

 

St.

Fin.

Pts.Pos.

St.

Fin.

Pts.Pos.

1

3

5

5th

27

41

41th

2

28

34

16th

3

2

21th

3

8

6

10th

1

2

8th

4

4

4

5th

12

3

4th

5

5

24

8th

1

13

5th

6

21

17

9th

5

40

11th

7

7

34

15th

3

2

7th

Avg. Fin.

 

 

17.7

 

 

14.7

In 1993, Jeff Gordon was a fresh, young face on the Nextel Cup circuit. A star from the open-wheel ranks, Gordon was a “young gun” before the term existed.

A little over a decade later, after winning four championships and 64 Nextel Cup races, Gordon has often been referred to by some as the next Richard Petty.

Now, an outstanding start by a young driver named Kasey Kahne has some calling him the next Jeff Gordon.

And what exactly does Gordon think about that?

“It's hard for me to compare,” Gordon said. “I was the young guy who came out of open wheel ranks like Kasey. Kasey is a little bit quieter than I am. But I'm impressed with what he's done on the race track. So if anybody wants to compare me to him, that's a compliment to me.”

The similarities between the two drivers are striking. They come from similar backgrounds, started off racing good equipment, and both have had the same mentor early in their careers – Ray Evernham.

As crew chief on Gordon’s Hendrick Motorsports team, Evernham teamed up with Gordon to win 47 races and three championships before leaving Gordon in September of 1999 to spearhead Dodge’s return to Nextel Cup.

Now Evernham is a proven team owner, helping to mold Kasey Kahne the same way he molded Gordon.

“I can see where Ray, and his relationship (with Kasey) could be a lot like his and mine,” Gordon said. “Ray is very good at being confident. He has more confidence now than he used to have, in being able to show Kasey things that he can work on to be better or things that he's doing well. I think Ray can really compliment those things. He is really good with a new driver who wants to learn and who has the talent. It's only going to compliment both of them.

“Ray really knows how to put an organization together and how to put people together to build a strong program. I don't think he expected - nor did anybody else - expect that to happen in the first year or even in the second year. In the third year it doesn't surprise me.”

Gordon and Kahne (pictured right) each come from championship-winning careers in the open-wheel ranks, each winning the USAC Midget Championship, Gordon in 1990; Kahne in 2000. They join a long list of drivers from an open wheel background who have found success in NASCAR’s premiere circuit.

And both drivers turned heads with their performance early in their rookie seasons. Gordon won his first Gatorade Twin 125 qualifying race in 1993 and went on to finish fifth in the Daytona 500. In his first seven starts, he posted two top-five and three-top 10 finishes, for an average finish of 17.7.

In Kahne’s first seven starts, he has four top-five finishes, including three second-place showings, for an average finish of 14.7.

Gordon though, finished out 1993 with a whopping 11 DNF’s, including four in his first seven starts.

“Things I keep trying to remind people is that I wrecked a whole lot more at this point than Kasey has,” Gordon said. “ I never want to take away from a guy who's done a great job. He's done a great job and there's no doubt about that. When it comes down to getting that car to the finish line and putting yourself in position to win, you've got to give a lot of credit to that driver.

“That (No. 9) car was winning last year, or at least it was capable of winning. I think it's been a very fortunate situation for Kasey and he needs to capitalize on it. As drivers, especially young drivers coming up through the ranks, our goal is to get in the best ride at the right time that you possibly can. I was very fortunate that I got with Hendrick Motorsports at a time when they were really doing well and growing and being able to bring those types of cars to the race track. And I capitalized on it. And now Kasey is in that same situation."

Gordon went on to post seven top-fives and 11 top-10’s on his way to winning the Rookie of the Year title.

How far could Kasey Kahne go? All Gordon can say is Kahne has all the talent and all the tools he needs.

“Rookies have a lot more pressure on them these days,” Gordon said. “The expectations are to win multiple races the first year. Back when I was a rookie, if you won a race it was a huge thing. I finished second and it was a big deal. Kasey’s done an amazing job and he's been very impressive.

“When I first came into the sport. I didn't know anything other than just pushing that pedal down as hard as I could and just driving the wheels off of it. Kasey has that ability, but he also has a good head on his shoulders and he's smart and he knows how to go about it. That's why he hasn't torn up as many cars as I did when I first came in. They obviously have their act together and now they have a driver that has his act together. That's a great combination."

The author can be contacted petem@autoracing1.com

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