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.”

Michael Carter wins Mazda Road to 24 Shootout

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Michael Carter was selected as the winner of the 2018 Mazda Road to 24 Shootout.

Carter was one of four drivers who competed for the honor and a $100,000 scholarship that went along with it. Matthew Dirks, Hannah Grisham and Loni Unser also competed.

With the scholarship, Carter will compete in the 2019 Battery Tender Global Mazda MX-5 Cup.

“What a journey this has been,” said Carter in a press release. “The reason I started racing a Mazda was because of the Mazda Road to 24 Shootout. It was our one single goal all along and to finally accomplish that is surreal. The process begins next week of getting ready for next season, for the series test at Barber, and to put together a good season in the Global MX-5 Cup.”

Carter was invited to the Shootout largely because of his 2018 performance in SCCA. He finished second in the SCCA Hoosier Super Tour Points Championship, won the Spec Miata Challenge and won in Spec Miata at the American Road Race of Champions.

The 18-year-old Carter had his eye on the Road to Mazda early.

“Each year, it is exciting to see the next batch of talent that is in the pipeline,” said John Doonan, Director, Mazda Motorsports. “I heard something from Michael and his father that really hit a chord with me which was that they built a Spec Miata with the sole purpose of going up the Mazda Road to 24 ladder.

That really speaks to the challenger spirit at Mazda, to why we have the Shootout, and to the family that we have at Mazda. Michael is the driver today who walks away with the scholarship, but we had four families come together here who have all gone racing together. For all of us at Mazda, it’s very rewarding to give these families a chance to go racing together. We look forward to watching Michael take the next step in his career in next season’s Global MX-5 Cup.”