KNOXVILLE, Iowa — After 13 months out of the driver’s seat, Kasey Kahne will return to the cockpit of a winged sprint car when he straps in for Friday’s World of Outlaws Invitational at Knoxville Raceway.
But unlike his first go-round coming back to sprint car racing, when he retired from NASCAR competition just before the end of the 2018 season, this return has a different purpose.
This time, he’s stepping in to fill the seat for one of his regular drivers, rather than serving as a primary driver.
Kahne will fill in behind the wheel of the No. 9 Karavan Trailers entry at the black-dirt half mile this weekend, substituting for James McFadden, who is currently quarantined in his home country of Australia while the world begins climbing out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Knowing that the first World of Outlaws race contested since the global health crisis began is important for teams and sponsors alike, Kahne agreed to step in as the driver at Knoxville, though he was quick to note that the car is McFadden’s to pilot as soon as he can reenter the United States.
“Obviously, with the situation in the world right now, James can’t leave Australia just yet, so we’re just waiting for him to come back,” Kahne explained. “We wanted to be part of the World of Outlaws return to racing at Knoxville, though, for all our partners — Karavan and Curb Records and Team ASE. That was all really important to us.
“I’ve been out for more than 13 months, and thankfully I’ve healed up back to perfectly normal and I’m looking forward to getting in the car and making some laps,” Kahne added. “But overall, that’s James McFadden’s car for this year. I committed to him and whenever he can get back over here, then he’ll take back over and we’ll move forward from there. We’re just focused on this one race right now.”
Kahne last raced at Knoxville during the 2018 season, and while he hasn’t been focused on racing for a while, he’s looking forward to getting to work at a track he both enjoys and has felt comfortable at in the past.
“I’ve always had a lot of fun any time we go to Knoxville; I love that place,” Kahne relayed. “The racing that the track puts on and what Knoxville Raceway and everybody that runs the show at the (Marion County) Fairgrounds … what they do for sprint car racing, I love being part of that atmosphere. It’s something that’s really unique and pretty special.”
In contrast, while Kahne admitted that the urge to return to driving has been prickling the back of his mind at times over the last year, he also noted it hasn’t been as consuming as some people might think.
“(The itch) is always there, but I actually had a great summer last year, just being a big part of the NAPA team (with Brad Sweet) and the 9 team, but also not having to be there full time,” said Kahne, who spent a good bit of time with now four-year-old son Tanner during the summer as well. “I did some other things at the same time, but I was there a lot of the time, and I had a blast. I actually really enjoyed working with everybody and just being part of the team and being the owner and all that.
“I thought it was a really good time, but it will be fun to step back into the driver’s role this week.”
Kahne recognizes there are some fans who will jump to calling the Knoxville race “a comeback” for him in terms of driving sprint cars, but he cautioned people from thinking like that.
In his mind, at least until the circumstances dictate otherwise, this week’s race is just what the team billed it as in the original announcement on Twitter — a one-night only return for the Enumclaw, Wash., native and former NASCAR Cup Series star.
“We’re just going to do this one and kind of go from there,” said Kahne. “I doubt I’ll race a whole lot this year, but I could see maybe doing a few more until he (McFadden) was to get over here. It’s really completely up in the air right now.
“Really, a one-off for Knoxville makes a lot of sense to me, because that might be all it is. Who knows?”