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Race car driver Kasey Kahne made a splash like no rookie before him in the history of NASCAR's top series. His appeal with fans was instant.
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Athlete. Born April 10, 1980, in Enumclaw, Washington. Never in the history of NASCAR's top series has a rookie made the kind of splash that Kasey Kahne did in 2004. From old school gearheads to a flock of new female fans. Kahne's appeal was instant.
When Kahne was hand-picked by car owner Ray Evernham to replace retiring legend Bill Elliott, many longtime NASCAR fans questioned the move. But Evernham, the man who turned Jeff Gordon into a champion, knew talent when he saw it. And a look back into Kahne's amazing sprint car career reveals what Evernham had known all along. Kahne is a classic wheel man.
From the unlikely racing home of Enumclaw, Washington, Kahne's love of all things fast came from his father. When the family decided to take the plunge full-time, they migrated to the Midwest to try their hand at USAC sprint car racing, the same series that had produced Gordon, Tony Stewart, A.J. Foyt, and Mario Andretti.
In 2000, Kahne slipped behind the wheel of the same cars that had won USAC titles for Stewart and Gordon and by the end of the year Kahne himself was a USAC Midget champion. But when NASCAR came calling, he jumped at the chance.
After two seasons in the NASCAR Busch Series came the shocking announcement that he would be replacing Awesome Bill Elliott in 2004, with Elliott staying on to mentor Kahne's transition to the big leagues. The unknown kid finished second in just his second Nextel Cup start, then repeated the feat one week later. Over his first seven races, he finished 3rd or better four times and added improbable pole positions at Las Vegas and Darlington.
But Kahne's real impact was off the track. His media-friendly smile and steel blue eyes introduced NASCAR to a whole new legion of female fans. A wave of endorsements and publicity washed over the 24-year old, threatening to overwhelm and overshadow his success on Sundays. Late season struggles had pundits wondering about a flash in the pan, but steady success—and that elusive first win—has calmed the storm in 2005.
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