SPARTA, KY - JULY 13: Kasey Kahne, driver of the #95 Dark Matter presented by Ionomy Chevrolet, stands on the grid during qualifying for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Quaker State 400 presented by Walmart at Kentucky Speedway on July 13, 2018 in Sparta, Kentucky. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Kasey Kahne hasn’t raced in the Knoxville Nationals since 2003. Since then, the Washington native won NASCAR’s rookie of the year, three Coca-Cola 600’s, a Brickyard 400, and also an All-Star Race. Despite not having a championship, Kahne still managed to rack up a pretty impressive resume.

Kasey Kahne races in first Nationals since 2003

Now, Kahne returns to Iowa, where he hasn’t raced in a Nationals in 15 years.

“I’ve been part of this race and here for as many days as possible, since 1998,” Kahne said. “[Whether I was] supporting it as a fan, car-owner, driver, or whatever it may have been, I just really liked it. This whole week is a great event. There are so many fans here that enjoy and support it, and so many race teams.”

The event means so much to Kahne, amongst others, that he flew from New York to Knoxville after the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race on Sunday. The track hosts a one-day event that honours the late Ralph Capitani, appropriately dubbed the Capitani Classic. Along with Kyle Larson and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kahne came down to get laps.

“It was a pretty quick trip,” Kahne said. [We] got ready, basically, as quick as we could. We just took off to the airport. We shared a plane to come out and got here just in time for qualifying. “It was really nice to get laps and just run and try to understand a little bit of the driving technique at Knoxville Raceway again.”

Why put all that work into a one-night event that only pays $5,000 to the winner? Kahne wanted to make sure he was ready for the Knoxville Nationals.

“It’s the biggest race there is in sprint cars,” Kahne said.

Now, Kahne will have a shot to get back behind the wheel in the big one: something he hasn’t done since being in the cup series.

“I didn’t feel like I was racing enough sprint car races to just show up at the Knoxville Nationals and race it,” Kahne said. “I think with this race, you have to be in a car for a good bit that year in order to show up at a race this big.”

After the 2017 season, the 38-year old moved from Hendrick Motorsports to Leavine Family Racing as NASCAR’s youth movement came to HMS. The move was critical as to why Kahne was able to race at the 1/2 mile oval this year.

“When I was with Hendrick, they didn’t like when I went and raced sprint cars,” Kahne said. “So, I just wasn’t racing enough to come to this race at all.”

Kahne has raced in over 10 sprint car races this season, securing a high finish of P5 during Ohio Speedweek at Eldora.

“I’ve really enjoyed the sprint car side of things,” Kahne said. “I’ve been able to race more. Each race, I get a little more familiar, feel better in the car, and feel like I make less mistakes throughout a night. It’s been really good. It takes time to get to the level of all these guys and what they do each week. I’m trying hard to figure it out and I’ve enjoyed that.”

Kahne finished seventh in the B-Main at Knoxville and ended the night in a lacklustre 22nd position. The spot in the points will keep Kahne from qualifying for the A-Main on Saturday, unless he came back and ran at Knoxville on Friday night.

With the cup series qualifying at Michigan on Friday evening, which starts at 4:05 p.m. CT, Kahne would have to qualify his No. 95 car, board a plane, and fly to Iowa in time for 7:15 p.m. hot laps at Knoxville.

“[Cup series qualifying] goes into late afternoon or early evening, so we won’t be able to come back Friday, I don’t think,” Kahne said Wednesday before the racing kicked off.

Even if Kahne sits on his points, his total should be enough to earn him a spot at least in the C-Main on Saturday night, depending on how Thursday shakes out at Knoxville.

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