NASCAR's Kahne urges students to practice safe driving

The guest speaker yesterday at Chestnut Hill Academy looked young enough to be a student.

NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne, wearing a T-shirt and jeans, was the headliner for the Allstate Teen Safe Driving Pit Stop. His pitch was for the students to think about what's involved in driving when they aren't wearing the protective equipment that racers have.

"Fooling around with texting and cell phones are distractions," Kahne, 29 (but looking 19), said before his appearance. "Just a little distraction can cause an accident."

Having a young racer who drives fast for a living seemed to be popular with the students. They also liked the video of crashes in Sprint Cup races where the drivers walked away uninjured.

Kahne, 15th in points entering Sunday's Autism Speaks 400 at Dover International Speedway in Delaware, is confident he will be one of the 12 qualifiers for the Chase for the Championship. With 14 races remaining before the Chase begins in September, Kahne is 77 points out of 12th place.

"We should be fine," he said, optimistically. "We've had an up-and-down start to the season. The last few weeks we've been pretty fast, but we haven't finished where we wanted to because of the way the races played out."

Kahne said the Chase is continually on his mind.

"It's where you need to be for yourself, your team and sponsors," he said.

Kahne hopes to receive a power boost in his No. 9 car by using the new Dodge engine for the first time at Dover.

"It's supposed to have more power and torque," he said. "It's [also] lighter and cooler."

Dover has not produced any celebrations for Kahne. His only top-10 finish in 10 starts was seventh 3 years ago.

During the presentation to the students, Kahne and the Speed channel's John Roberts stressed communication between teenage drivers and their parents. Allstate urges students to sign a safe-driving "contract," which can be found at www.allstate.com/teen.

Delaware Rep. Mike Castle also spoke to the students. He and other congressmen last month introduced the Safe Teen and Novice Driver Uniform Protection Act, which would give funds to states that issue graduated driver's licenses to teens.

Change for Earnhardt

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will have a new crew chief for Sunday's Dover race.

Team owner Rick Hendrick yesterday said he is replacing Tony Eury Jr. Team manager Brian Whitesell will serve as Earnhardt's crew chief at Dover International Speedway. Then Lance McGrew, a veteran NASCAR crew chief, will work with Earnhardt on an interim basis.

The ouster of Eury, Earnhardt's cousin, was expected, because Earnhardt has only one win in 48 starts with Hendrick Motorsports. He is 19th in the points standings, 203 out of the 12th qualifying spot for the Chase.

Hendrick's other three drivers are in the top 12 in points. Jeff Gordon is first, Jimmie Johnson is fourth, and Mark Martin is 12th.

"Our performance hasn't been where it should be," Hendrick said. "It's impossible to pin that on any one factor, but a change is the right decision at this point."

Said Eury: "I have mixed feelings, and that's just natural. But I enjoy working at Hendrick Motorsports. I'll do whatever I can to help all of our teams and try to be part of another championship." *

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