Egg came first, but Kahne's closing

ON MOTOR SPORTS

March 28, 2004|By SANDRA McKEE

Rookie Kasey Kahne is scrambling the top of the Nextel Cup points standings, and he has an egg to thank for it.

A few weeks ago, crew chief Tommy Baldwin decided to bring Kahne a present.

The gift was an egg. The kind you can crack open for breakfast. But Baldwin wasn't bringing his driver breakfast - though the advice he delivered with it could have been boiled down to the familiar, "I want mine over easy."

Kahne said Baldwin told him: "I want you to work the throttle as if there is an egg under it. I want you to be fast, but smooth."

The exchange occurred before the race at Rockingham, and the results have been as impressive as eggs Benedict, pretty incredible for a first-year driver. Going into today's Food City 500 at Bristol, Tenn., Kahne and his Ray Evernham-owned Dodge are fifth in the Nextel Cup points race.

He won two pole positions in his next four races after being given the egg. He is one of just five NASCAR drivers ever to produce three top-five finishes in their first four races. Today, he starts fifth at Bristol.

But it's not the first time an egg has helped produce fine results. The very mention of it brings back a memory of the 1986 spring race at Pocono International Raceway.

It was there that car owner Rick Hendrick paired renowned crew chief Harry Hyde with his brilliant but struggling young driver, Tim Richmond.

That race weekend, all the talk was about what a mismatch the teaming of Richmond and Hyde was going to be, because at the time, Richmond was Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. rolled into one. Personable, handsome and talented on one hand, brash and party-loving on the other. Hyde was from the old school, the serious school of racing. No one thought Richmond would listen to him or curtail his act enough to suit Hyde. And no one thought Hyde could bend enough to cope with Richmond.

How wrong everyone was. And one of the reasons was that at the beginning of their relationship, just as the cars were about to take the green flag for the start of their first race together, Hyde gave his driver an image he could relate to.

"Just remember, Tim, a racecar is like an egg," Hyde said into his headset that day. "If you don't take care of it and handle it gentle, it'll break."

Richmond hadn't won in two years. He was developing a reputation as someone who drove his cars too hard - blowing engines, wearing out tires, scraping walls. But that day at Pocono, he heeded Hyde's words and went on to win the race - the first of seven victories that season.

Kahne, who will celebrate his 24th birthday April 10, has yet to win. But the egg has been doing its work. Last weekend, despite an incredible number of misdeeds - trying to come onto pit road too fast, a flat tire, a bad pit stop and getting spun out late in the race - he managed to keep his car off the wall and finished 13th.

"I'm learning a lot every weekend," Kahne said on a conference call last week. "I learned a lot last weekend at Darlington - though at times I didn't act like there was an egg under there at all. Hopefully, the things I've learned will carry over to Bristol. This will be the longest, probably the hardest race I've ever had in a racecar."

It will be interesting to see if the rookie can keep his car - and the egg - from cracking.

A trial, all the same

There are lots of stories floating around right now that the federal antitrust case of Ferko vs. NASCAR is about to be settled out of court. The suit has been brought by two shareholders in a rival racetrack ownership group who want a second Nextel Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Reports say talks are going on in an attempt to reach a settlement before pretrial arguments are to be heard in July.

The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer has reported that a settlement could include International Speedway Corp - NASCAR's separate track-owning arm - selling tracks at Rockingham, N.C., and Darlington, S.C., to Speedway Motorsports Inc, SMI, the company operated by Bruton Smith, who owns Texas Motor Speedway and other tracks, including Charlotte, Atlanta, Bristol and Las Vegas.

According to the Observer, if that happens, Smith would transfer one of the three races at those tracks to Texas and another to Las Vegas. The third date would alternate between Darlington and Rockingham.

It wasn't so long ago that Smith and Bob Bahr acquired North Wilkesboro Speedway, closed it and shipped that track's historic race dates to Smith's Texas track and the other to Bahr's track in New Hampshire.

There was a lot of crying over that. A lot of longtime fans were hurt. A lot of history ignored. For bigger profits. At bigger, more modern venues.

Another report, in the Orlando (Fla.) Sentinel, quotes an attorney for the plaintiffs as saying the Observer's "speculation concerning Darlington and Rockingham is wrong."

Maybe. But any settlement that tears a race from its long-growing Southern roots will result in a trial for someone.

Racing blooms

The auto racing season blossoms at Hagerstown Speedway in April. Next Sunday, the month begins with fan appreciation night and a tripleheader program featuring late models, late model sportsman and pure stock races. The Easter Bunny will also be there for the kids. Gates open at 4 p.m. Racing begins with warm-ups at 5:30.

On subsequent weekends, look for enduro racing, a tri-track shootout with cars from Winchester-Hagerstown and Cumberland speedways and the World of Outlaws late models.

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