Originally created 04/09/06

Kahne's fan support is growing fast



FORT WORTH, Texas - Kasey Kahne has become the new face of NASCAR. His blue eyes and boyish zeal have elevated him to superstar status, and the sport has been quick to join the ride.

Once just part of the pack, Kahne now is one of the most popular drivers in the sport. His fans are so adoring, he's usually got one or two people assigned to him to keep order.

He's featured in commercials for Allstate, Mountain Dew and Dodge. He also represents a line of men's products for Avon.

Despite only two victories in 78 starts, he's one of the hottest drivers in the sport. His fan base - most of them women - is quickly reaching Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s and Jeff Gordon's.

"I've been happy all year with the way things have gone," Kahne said. "We've had momentum all year. We just need to keep doing what we've been doing."

Part of that success includes the pole position for today's Samsung/RadioShack 500 at Texas Motor Speedway (2 p.m., Fox-Ch. 54).

Kahne put his Dodge Charger on out front during time trials with a fast lap of 190.315 mph.

While the other Dodge teams are pressing NASCAR for rule changes on their front bumpers, Kahne seems happy with his Charger. He now has a win at Atlanta and two pole positions. He's also fourth in the Nextel Cup Series standings with four top-10 finishes in six races.

Part of Kahne's success has come with the addition of Ken Francis. After leading Jeremy Mayfield to the Chase for the Championship the past two years, Francis was re-assigned by car owner Ray Evernham to Kahne's team. Now Kahne is a top-10 driver, while Mayfield has dropped to 33rd in the rankings.

"We get along," Kahne said. "We haven't worked together, but I've known all those guys for awhile and we just hit it off quick. We had a tough season in (2005) and learned a lot from it. This is a big season for myself and our whole team."

Kahne lost a photo finish to Elliott Sadler at Texas in 2004. A year ago, he blew two engines in two races at the 1.5-mile racetrack. This year he's got the same car he drove to victory at Atlanta, which closely resembles Texas.

Kahne's victory at Atlanta in March started from the pole position, too.

"Some of it translates (from Atlanta to Texas)," Kahne said. "The way you transition here in the corners, it's the same way. There's a lot of banking and then it gets flat real quick. Those are the two big differences."

Reach Don Coble at don.coble@morris.com.