Although the winds of change consistently alter the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series landscape for drivers, owners and teams, one of sport's principles remains the same - consistency wins championships.

Evernham Motorsports driver Kasey Kahne began his climb toward championship-level consistency at Daytona International Speedway last week and continued the quest with a one-day test at Kentucky Speedway today.

Kahne experienced success in spurts in 2005. He ended his second season 23rd in the championship standings after earning two pole awards, his first career NEXTEL Cup Series win at Richmond in May, five top-five and eight top-10 finishes.

While 2005 season graded out significantly lower than his 2004 rookie season in which he finished 13th in the standings with four poles, 13 top-five and 14 top-10 finishes, the 25-year-old from Enumclaw, Wash., is confident his experience and that of new Team Director Kenny Francis will deliver the consistency their No. 9 Dodge Dealers Dodge needs to make its debut in the Chase for the NEXTEL Cup.

"Last year I learned a lot about ups and downs," Kahne said. "We weren't consistent and didn't finish enough races. We did get our victory, but we need to get more of those, be a lot more consistent and get top 10s. This year should be good. Kenny Francis is a great guy and has been really good to work with so far. We have a great race team here, we just have to improve on everything we're learning over the winter and hopefully we'll start out strong."

The new combination has made handling the primary focus of its early-season tests. "The biggest thing is getting the cars to handle well when they're racing with other cars," Kahne said. "That's where we struggled last year with the Dodge Charger and that's what we've worked on a lot in the off season.

"Until you're actually in a race with 43 cars, it's really hard to tell what's going to happen and what changes have really worked. We're working hard to make these cars better. I know the horsepower in the engines is great and everybody's doing a fantastic job. We just have to make sure the cars can race well. That's what we really emphasized over the winter."

In addition to handling, Kahne and his No. 9 crew also are looking for ways to enhance the aerodynamic performance of the Dodge Charger platform that qualified only two cars for the 2005 Chase for the NEXTEL Cup. The manufacturer petitioned NASCAR to make changes to the Charger nose, but Kahne is prepared to race the season with the current design.

"As of right now, there's nothing (new)," he said. "I wish we could get a little bit for that nose, get a couple things from NASCAR and make it a little better so we could make it run with the other two manufacturers. It's been difficult with the Charger nose, but, hopefully we'll get a little bit and have a good season."

The 2006 campaign is set to start in 33 days in Daytona Beach, Fla., when 43-cars rumble to life for the start of the Daytona 500. Following his solid test there last week, Kahne said he and his new-look No. 9 team are poised to come out of the gate strong on February 19.

"Our Daytona test went pretty well," he said. "We were there for three full days and you can do a lot in that time. We were similar to last year, maybe a little bit better, and, from talking with the engine shop; we're going back with more power. I think the Dodge Charger should be decent down there. If we bring enough power back, we'll have good handling racecar."

Testing continues at Kentucky Speedway tomorrow with Scott Wimmer and the No. 4 Morgan-McClure Motorsports Chevrolet. Fans can view testing from the designated area outside the speedway Fan Center for free. Testing usually begins at 9:00 a.m. and ends at 6:00 p.m. Team schedules will vary based on objectives.

Kentucky Speedway season and single race tickets are on sale now. The 2006 season begins May 13 with the ARCA RE/MAX Series "Kentucky 150" and Cowboy Crush prerace concert. Visit the schedule and tickets pages of this site for complete information.

Story by Mike Schmaltz

~ Kentucky Speedway ~