Kahne, Rodden gear up for better year in 2015

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The fourth member of the Hendrick Motorsports’ band – Kasey Kahne – seeks a better season in 2015.

Kahne won the fall Atlanta race a year ago to earn a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, but he was eliminated after the Contender Round along with teammates Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Still, Kahne has long-term job security  with a contract extension through 2018 confirmed late last year. Additionally, he’ll have a new crew chief in Keith Rodden, who returns to Hendrick a year after serving as crew chief for Jamie McMurray at Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. Rodden was Kahne’s long-time engineer before joining Ganassi.

Rodden replaces Kahne’s longtime crew chief Kenny Francis, who moves into a research and development role with Hendrick Motorsports.

“Having Keith Rodden back on the 5 team will be huge,” Kahne said during Thursday’s NASCAR media tour in Charlotte. “I worked with him for years. He engineered my car for the first time in 2004 I think.

“We have a great relationship; we’re friends. He did a nice job last year on the crew chief side, and has everything he’s learned from Kenny in the past. Getting back together with Keith will be good, because he brings a lot to the 5 team. It should be neat to get started.”

More pressing than the season ahead – at least in the interim – for Kahne is his beloved Seattle Seahawks going for their second straight Super Bowl championship (Sunday on NBC).

Kahne and Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson worked together last year in a charity event that raised funds for the Boys & Girls Clubs of King County.

“We did a golf tournament in June 2014 and we’ll do it again this year right after Sonoma in Washington,” Kahne said.

“Russell’s a good guy, a super focused guy. I’m looking forward to Sunday’s game. If they played anywhere close to the last 6-7 minutes they did two weeks ago, they’ll be two-time Super Bowl champions.”

April 5 in Motorsports History: Alex Zanardi’s amazing Long Beach rally

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Alex Zanardi entered the Long Beach Grand Prix on April 5, 1998 as the race’s defending champion and the series’ defending champion.

But the Italian didn’t seem a serious contender for much of the 105-lap event. Zanardi started 11th position and lost a lap early when he was involved in a multicar spin in the hairpin.

Alex Zanardi celebrates after winning the 1998 Grand Prix of Long Beach. Photo: Getty Images

But the race was still young, and despite emerging from the incident in 18th place, Zanardi slowly progressed through the field while battling radio problems that made communication difficult with his team.

With five laps remaining, Zanardi passed Dario Franchitti on the backstretch for second place and then focused in on leader Bryan Herta.

With two laps remaining, Zanardi made his move, making a daring pass on the inside of Herta in the Queen’s Hairpin (which no longer exists as the track layout was changed the following year).

The move was reminiscent of Zanardi’s famous last-lap move on the inside of Laguna Seca’s famed Corkscrew in 1996, which deprived Herta of his first CART victory.

Franchitti passed Herta as well, and Zanardi went on to clinch his first victory of the season.

“On a day when everything went wrong, we came back and won,” Zanardi said following the race. “I can’t explain it. It wasn’t until I saw Bryan ahead of me that I ever thought I had a shot at winning. It was amazing. I have no words to describe it.”

Following Long Beach, Zanadri won six more times in 1998 en route to his second and final CART championship.

Also on this date:

1992: Bobby Rahal led from start to finish to win the Valvoline 200 at Phoenix International Raceway. The win was the first of four victories for Rahal during his championship season.

2009: Ryan Briscoe won the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the first of three victories for the Aussie in 2009. The race was also the first IndyCar Series on Versus, which was rebranded as NBC Sports Network in 2012.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter @michaele1994