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Behind the Hauler: Kenny Francis

Posted on: March 1, 2012 12:18 pm
Edited on: March 1, 2012 8:33 pm
By Pete Pistone

  Kasey Kahne(L), Driver Of The #5 Farmer's Insurance Group, And Kenny Francis, Crew Chief Of The #5 Farmer's Insurance
(Francis is hoping to guide Kahne into the Chase and a possible Sprint Cup title in 2012)

Kasey Kahne
and crew chief Kenny Francis have been a successful tandem working together at a number of NASCAR operations. The duo spent last season with Red Bull Racing and went to victory lane in the second to last race of the year at Phoenix in anticipation of their long-planned move to Hendrick Motorsports.

As the 2012 season gears up, Francis is ready to guide Kahne behind the wheel of the Hendrick No. 5 Chevrolet. Although their season didn’t get off to the best start at Daytona with a variety of incidents and bad luck getting in the way, Francis believes a successful season as well as tenure at Hendrick lies ahead.

He joined SIRIUS/XM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive” to preview the year and provide his perspective of working with Kahne and at Hendrick Motorsports:

Why do you and Kasey work so well together? What is it between you two?

We’ve got a lot of history together Kasey and I and we’ve been through a lot of ups and a lot of down too. We’ve got a great understanding of each other so hopefully we can be an asset to this organization and bring something to the table that’ll help everyone. We’re hopeful and confident that we’re going to run good and do well for Farmer’s (Insurance), all of our sponsors and the organization.

When did that chemistry begin?

Well we started working together the last race of 2005 officially but we had obviously known each other before that because he was our teammate at Evernham (Motorsports). So I’d say you know he was pretty young and I was younger too but he had a lot of talent and enthusiasm but I think we hit it off when we first met him. We started developing that relationship…it’s been a good time.

Assess him for us Kenny. What are some of the characteristics and attributes of Kasey Kahne that helps you as the crew chief try to get that car to victory lane on a more regular basis?

He’s pretty smart; he’s really good at thinking about the car and figuring out what he needs to go faster. He’s pretty analytical about things. He’s got a real good feel seat of the pants-wise. Which is great, he’s probably one of the most naturally talented people I know but he puts that together with a real good thought process.

Can you guys contend for multiple wins and a championship in 2012? A lot of people already have you as title contenders and expect big success in year one at Hendrick?

It’s too soon to kind of say anything. It’s going to take us some races to get used to things and understand the subtleties of these cars. The Hendrick chassis and bodies are a little different than what we had before. It all should be good. At the same time we are trying to sort out new cars and equipment and figure out what we’re building new, what we’re keeping from last year and there’s some uncertainty and unknowns.

How is he behind the wheel? It appears he keeps his emotions reigned in.

I think he’s good at that and a benefit yes. I mean everyone gets frustrated in this business, I mean it’s a tough business. You know it’s hard to keep your emotions in check in this business sometimes. Maybe some of that has rubbed off on me because I try to be even-keeled. I think that it’s an asset that you know if you’re having a tirade it’s not really doing anything to help solve the problem you’re having. If you’re going to get through it you have to put some thought into it and he’s very good about that.

You said you thought you could help the Hendrick team this year by maybe bringing a new perspective or some added information. Specifically are there things you’ve already been able to bring to the table here in the early going?

Well they struggled last year on their intermediate program and some of the mile-and-a-half tracks and we were able to be pretty successful on what we were doing last year. So that’s one area we’re focusing on. But overall the resources we have to work with and the strength of this organization is something I haven’t really experienced before. Having the stability and the strength of Hendrick behind us is a really good feeling.

So what can you guys accomplish in 2012?

Expectations are always high. We think we can contend, win races and when you win races good things happen in the points department. We had a pretty good run last year in some difficult circumstances for a lot of people and we had a good Chase. I’m hoping that momentum can carry over for 2012. We learned a lot last year that will help us this season and hopefully help the entire organization.

Early on we need to get our feet wet and get going, run a few races and see where we're at and see what we've got to work on as we go forward from there. Every place has a little bit different strengths and weaknesses. And we're looking forward to getting going. 

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Since: Jun 21, 2009
Posted on: March 4, 2012 12:10 pm

Behind the Hauler: Kenny Francis

I've heard the "Kahne now is working with the best equipment in NASCAR" argument in plenty of different places lately- but just because it's being said doesn't make it true. 5 years ago Hendrick's eqiupment probably was the best in the sport. But they're clearly slipping. Jimmie Johnson's championship streak has neatly hidden the fact that Hendrick cars have lost their lead over Roush-Fenway and Joe Gibbs Racing. None of the Hendrick lineup was competitive during the Chase last year. And while Tony Stewart won in Hendrick equipment, he did so independent of Hendrick motorsports. He was free to pick and choose what he wanted from the shop and what he wanted to get elsewhere. 

Francis hit the nail on the head when he basically said Hendrick desperately needs help on the intermediate range tracks that comprise more than half the schedule these days. If HM can't step their game up on those tracks they are destined to once again be also-rans in the championship chase. You can't rely on individual crew-chief innovation, either- not with the massive target Chad Knaus is carrying on his back for the whole organization.

Hendrick's equipment isn't bad. But neither is it that much better than what the other big-time teams are bringing to the track. Thinking that being at the Hendrick shop alone means Kahne should be a champion is short-sighted and wrong. The main benefit to him in making the move is stability; they know the shop will be there tomorrow. Stable equipment, however, doesn't mean better equipment. 

Since: Jun 5, 2011
Posted on: March 2, 2012 8:38 am

No more excuses

The time for excuses and "potential" is over for Kahne.  He's not a kid or a newcomer anymore, and he is working with the best equipment and support in the game.  Off the track, Kahne has everything it takes to be a major star in this sport; it's time for him to produce on the track, too.  Kahne has run some great races, but has had problems being consistent.  Part of it was equipment failure, but sometimes a racer needs to know just how far he can push his car and still get it to finish.   

With Hendrick, drivers prove who they are.  Jeff Gordon and Jimmy Johnson enjoyed good runs at the top of their sport.  Dale Earnhardt Jr proved that he is popular and a great "face" for NASCAR, but that his talent only extends to the "Car of Yesterday" and plate racing.   Mark Martin proved that he still had most of what made him great, but not quite enough gas in the tank.  

For better or worse, Kasey Kahne will now prove exactly who he is with Hendrick.   My guess: multiple wins and a berth in the chase.  I see an adjustment period and a win toward the middle of the season, followed by a "hot streak."

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