Kasey Kahne explains decision to step away from NASCAR

One day after Kasey Kahne announced his decision to retire from full-time NASCAR racing, he faced the media at Bristol Motor Speedway to explain why.

Essentially, it came down to this: At 38 years old, Kahne could sense he was tired of devoting his life to racing and knew he wouldn’t be able to commit himself to another full year on the NASCAR grind.

Here are five of Kahne’s comments on the decision, in his own words:

— — On being committed: “When I was young, my dad was all about if you do something, you do it 100 percent. You put everything you have into it. When my parents finally said yes for me to go racing at 14 (years old) like it was 100 percent from that point on and it’s all that I’ve thought about. … Twenty-five years later, it’s just a lot and it will be nice to not have that on my mind full-time.”

— On why he wanted to keep racing after Hendrick: “When we first started talking (to Leavine), it was going to be fresh, new, something different. It was exciting to me, so I wanted to give it one more shot with a different group and a different company and I did that. We have had some success this year, we have also had races where we all wanted them to be better and then we have had some races that weren’t good at all. But the successful days make me happy on Monday and excited to come back for that next race. But I just kind of ran out of that anymore.”

— On the potential for other offers: “There were a few other offers I had received over the last month and just options that we could talk about, things like that. It felt really good to have that, but at the same time it wasn’t necessarily about that anymore. I didn’t feel that I could seriously race all of next year and be completely committed 100 percent and I feel like there are guys out there that can be and that should have those opportunities over me at this point in time.”

— On driving again in NASCAR: “I feel like I can still go out and win races and be competitive. Why be completely done if there is an opportunity to do a couple of races — a Daytona 500, a Brickyard, or whatever it may be? Or maybe never drive another Cup car after Homestead. I’m not sure. But I still love racing. If I can help out at some point, I’d love to get in the car probably and still do some driving.”

— On dirt racing: “I could see myself doing 40 or 50 sprint car races next year. Not a full deal, because that doesn’t do me much good for backing off a bit. But you can do 40 or 50 races in about three months in that deal and still have eight or nine months to do other things.”

What I’ll remember about covering Dale Earnhardt Jr.

At the end of a Richmond race in May 2011, Dale Earnhardt Jr. pulled into the garage, climbed out of his car and disappeared into his hauler. He had finished a disappointing 19th and was particularly upset about the result that night.

In those days, I covered Earnhardt like he was the home team — meaning he warranted a story regardless of the race outcome. So I waited 15 minutes or so, but he never emerged. Finally, someone from the team came out to say he had already left.

That was really surprising. Earnhardt always talked — always, always, always. He talked after good races, ho-hum races and even those terrible races in the Lance McGrew Era.

So when he didn’t comment at Richmond, I made it the subject of a column. The premise was basically this: Earnhardt declining to talk shows he may have reached a new low in his frustrating slump.

But here’s the thing: Even that night, it was never Earnhardt’s intention to leave without comment.

I know that because I got an email the next day with an unusual subject line: “yo, its Jr here.”

Huh? Was someone pranking me? Earnhardt had never reached out to me before that.

It began: I didn’t know of any other way to contact you. I guess I could have asked Mike (Davis), but I just read your column and got this addy from the bottom of the page.

The email address looked legit, so I read on. Earnhardt wrote he was certainly upset about the result and wanted to talk with Steve Letarte in the hauler afterward — but he did not mean to leave without speaking to the media. He had asked someone if there were any reporters waiting outside and was told no by mistake, so he went out the side door closest to the exit tunnel and left the track.

Earnhardt swore he would have commented had he known any reporters were waiting.

I promise I didn’t refuse a word with the media, he wrote. I just wanted to let you know that I wouldn’t disrespect you or any of your colleagues like that. If you don’t mind passing that along to whomever you think it would concern, I would appreciate it. See ya in Darlington.

Think about that for a moment. Most drivers wouldn’t give a second thought about declining comment to a reporter after a bad race — let alone feeling bad enough about the perception to reach out and clear the air.

But the most popular driver in NASCAR? That attitude is indicative of how he treated the media throughout his career. If any driver could have gotten away with being rude over the years, it was Earnhardt. Except he was the opposite.

For those in the NASCAR media, lucky us. The biggest superstar of this era has been respectful, courteous and understanding of the role reporters play. He has given some of those most deeply thoughtful and introspective answers many of us will ever hear. And he always treats media members like peers instead of peons, which is remarkable for someone of his celebrity.

Earnhardt could have turned out to be an ass to the NASCAR media and the coverage wouldn’t have changed. Just look at how Tiger Woods treated the golf media: Even though Woods was a jerk, his value to the sport demanded endless stories.

Fortunately for us, that’s just not in Earnhardt’s personality. It’s not part of his makeup to think he’s above anyone else, and it showed in his actions time and again over the years.

For example: On pit road after a race, he would often call out to reporters with a grin as the interview concluded.

“Everyone travel safely!” he’d say while walking away. “Y’all have a good week!”

When ESPN’s Bob Pockrass started to leave as a post-race interview wound down at Texas earlier this year, Earnhardt yelled, “Hey!”

Pockrass stopped and looked back.

“Happy Easter!” Earnhardt said with a grin and a wave. “I’m not gonna see y’all for two weeks!”

But more than just being cordial, Earnhardt scored points with reporters for his detailed answers. In an era where the media increasingly relies on page views, Earnhardt was a frequent clickbait topic. That would irritate and annoy many an athlete, because their social media posts and quotes get blown up and taken out of context in the name of clicks.

If Earnhardt was upset, though, he didn’t show it. He understood reporters’ jobs, why they wrote the things they did and didn’t make an issue of it.

But to really see a glimpse into Earnhardt’s character, just look at how he approached his answers to different reporters. Earnhardt never seemed to play favorites. An unknown blogger nervously asking a question at their first race was just as likely to get a stellar, memborable answer as the beat reporters who Earnhardt encountered every week.

I was fascinated by that, and once asked him privately whether he tried harder to give good answers based on who was asking the question. He looked at me, puzzled.

“Why would I do that?” he said.

It didn’t occur to Earnhardt, because he treats everyone with respect. Whether he knew a reporter or was seeing them for the first time, he consciously tried to give his best answer.

I’m telling you all this for two reasons. First, I’m not sure we’ll ever get that fortunate again. And second, I want to write it down in order to look back and remember what it was like to cover Earnhardt during his driving career.

Look, there are still personable drivers and accommodating drivers and interesting drivers remaining in NASCAR. But Earnhardt may very well be a once-in-a-lifetime package in terms of his star power, quotability, accessibility and authenticity.

To say he’ll be missed by the media doesn’t really do it justice, and it’s also premature. Only years from now will we realize how good we had it covering a uniquely genuine athlete who never acted like he was better than those who sought to make a living writing about his story.

News Analysis: Danica Patrick to retire from full-time racing

What happened: Danica Patrick will retire from full-time racing and conclude her career with two races next season: the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500, she announced Friday afternoon. In an emotional and often tearful news conference, Patrick said she wasn’t forced into leaving NASCAR but was “nudged” into the next phase of her life after a ride for 2018 did not materialize. The 35-year-old has seven top-10 finishes and no top-fives in 189 career Cup Series races. Patrick acknowledged she has had “a little bit more struggle on a car-to-car basis than everyone, and it took me a really long time to say that. … With stock cars, the closing rates aren’t quite as quick, so I think it showed up more over time in stock cars just because you can be more defensive than in an IndyCar.”

What it means: The Great Star Power Drain continues in NASCAR. Whether or not you thought Patrick was worthy of an elite Cup Series ride for five full seasons despite not producing results on the track, you can’t argue with the name recognition she brought to NASCAR. There are people in this country who can only name one NASCAR driver — and it’s her. Though her celebrity and fame didn’t save NASCAR from its decline or turn the sport around, Patrick absolutely brought new eyes to the sport and created new fans — many of them young females — by giving people someone different to root for. Her loss, particularly combined with the departures of Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr., is a big blow to NASCAR when it comes to coverage in the general sports world.

News value (scale of 1 to 10): 10. This is a mega celebrity retiring from NASCAR when some people were hopeful she could somehow remain in the sport and find another team despite her ride at Stewart-Haas Racing going to Aric Almirola.

Three questions: What team will Patrick run the Daytona 500 and the Indy 500 with? Can she jump back into an IndyCar and be competitive again? In a decade from now, what will Patrick’s NASCAR legacy be?