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Monday, October 17, 2011
Kasey Kahne had sought challenge spot

By David Newton
ESPN.com

CONCORD, N.C. -- Kasey Kahne came to Charlotte Motor Speedway on Monday with a heavy heart, grieving over the death of Dan Wheldon and knowing that just as easily could have been him in Sunday's tragic crash at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Kahne had a strong interest in accepting the $5 million GoDaddy Challenge that reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Wheldon did to participate in the IndyCar Series finale before team owner Rick Hendrick said he couldn't.

IndyCar Series CEO Randy Bernard came up with the deal to entice top names from racing outside of full-time IndyCar to enter with the opportunity to win $2.5 million for the driver and $2.5 million for a fan to go from the 34th-starting position to Victory Lane.

Kahne, because the Sprint Cup Series raced on Saturday night at Charlotte, wanted to work it into his schedule as X Games star Travis Pastrana had before suffering an injury prior to his Nationwide Series debut in late July.

"I was absolutely thinking about it,'' Kahne said before the fuel injection test at CMS. "Mr. Hendrick didn't want me doing it. ... Driving an IndyCar is something I've always wanted to do and definitely thought about doing it for that race. It just didn't work out.''

Kahne said he's been numb since Wheldon was killed in the 15-car wreck that occurred on Lap 11.

"Really, all I can really think about is that,'' Kahne said. "I just think about his family and his friends and things they're probably going through ... losing somebody like that ... I woke up this morning and that was all that was on my mind.''

It was on the mind of many at Charlotte as they prepared stock cars to enter the fuel-injection era next season.

"I have kids, Dan has two young kids, real young kids, and there's no way that my children don't watch that and see that,'' Richard Childress Racing driver Jeff Burton said. "And my parents, my wife, my brothers, they all see that and hear about it, and it's hard on everybody.

"It makes you think about things you don't want to think about.''

As safe as NASCAR has made its cars, and with steps tracks have taken to add SAFER barriers, Burton said more can be done.

Burton said there are a couple of spots that concern him on the back straightaway at Charlotte that he plans to address with track officials and NASCAR.

"I've said it for years: You'll never reach safety,'' Burton said. "It's not a goal, it's an effort, and there's no way that you can ever be as far along as you want to be. We have to always be working harder to make it better.

"There's nothing wrong with excitement. There's nothing wrong with fans getting pumped up when people get together and those kinds of things. But when you do those kinds of things the consequences need to be reasonable, and certainly that's not reasonable.''

Former Indianapolis 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya called what happened at Las Vegas NASCAR's version of Talladega, adding, "I think these cars are way safer.''

Montoya obviously was shaken by the death of the driver he first got to know racing in Europe. His thoughts were summed up best on Twitter.

He wrote: "Life is not fair . . . we are gonna miss a really great guy . . . Dan we r gonna miss u. . . .''

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.