Kasey Kahne happy where he’s at after dealing with dehydration issues

By Bob Pockrass, ESPN
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Kasey Kahne had trouble believing how good he felt Monday.

He had raced over the weekend in a sprint car in California at a Make-A-Wish Foundation benefit race co-sponsored by Rico Abreu. He had traveled across the country. And he felt fresh.

“I feel perfect,” he said during a phone interview this week. “I just haven’t felt this good on a Monday in so long.

“I get better every day and feel better about my decision and where I’m at, and now my body is starting to feel better as well.”

It’s been a strange seven weeks for Kahne, who stepped out of his NASCAR Cup Series ride after the Sept. 2 race at Darlington Raceway, where dehydration issues caused him to have trouble seeing and feel nauseous. He’d had those symptoms before, but the humidity that night and the length of the race took a worse toll on his body.

“But now being off for two months and my body totally recovering from everything, I’m like, wow, I actually feel way better.” -Kasey Kahne

He tested Oct. 2 at Charlotte Motor Speedway and suffered the same symptoms after two hours in the car. He wasn’t released to drive, and he has no plans to race in Cup again, even though he would like to do so.

Kahne, 38, who announced in August that he wouldn’t run a full Cup schedule after this season, has undergone tests to learn what was happening to his body. He has some answers, although not enough for anyone to be able to pinpoint how another driver could prevent the same thing from happening.

“I sweat so much sodium out of my body, once you get over two hours, I can’t even come close in a race [to replacing it] — I’m sweating so much out, you can’t hydrate enough prior to it or during the race to get it back in, to get that sodium back in,” he said. “It got to the point to where I couldn’t keep up. I’m glad I know all that now and understand it.”

He understands that his body has changed, although he doesn’t know why his body is so susceptible to dehydration.

FONTANA, CA: Kasey Kahne, driver of the #95 WRL General Contractors Chevrolet, stands on the grid during qualifying for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 16, 2018 in Fontana, California. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

“It sounds like through the environment we live in and age, your sweat volume can change over the years,” the 140-pound Kahne said. “My sweat volume changed to being a pretty high volume.

“When I was younger, the majority of races I won were 500-mile and 600-mile races. I was never worn out. I was never hot. I never sweated out. Never. … Everybody’s bodies are different and that’s just the direction mine went, and I wasn’t able to keep up and that’s just where I’m at now.”

Kahne was not having a great season when his full-time career abruptly ended. Regan Smith has replaced him for the remainder of the year in the Leavine Family Racing car.

“The big thing for me was to come back at Dover and finishing out the year and doing it with LFR,” Kahne said. “When I found out I wasn’t going to Dover and I wasn’t going to finish off the season, I was really discouraged and disappointed.”

The disappointment of not racing the past two months appears gone.

“Mentally, I feel better because I’m starting to be OK with not racing in NASCAR,” Kahne said. “I’m feeling better that way. And definitely physically being hydrated. Every race was taking me at least until Tuesday before I felt decent. And it was only decent. The longer, hotter races were taking me until Wednesday, Thursday, Friday before I felt decent.

“You don’t really realize it when you’re living it every single week because it just becomes part of how you feel and it’s normal, so you think that’s how you feel. But now being off for two months and my body totally recovering from everything, I’m like, wow, I actually feel way better.”

Kahne said he doesn’t think he could do anything to control the change in his body. He halfheartedly said had he weighed 180 or 200 pounds, he might have had enough sodium in his system and possibly wouldn’t have had as much of an issue.

It certainly has caught the attention of the garage.

“The heat that we face every week in our race car has to take a toll on your body,” Joey Logano said. “We train for it.

“I feel like Kasey was one of the drivers that was in shape more than others, probably more than me even.”

Drivers varied in how much they wanted to know about Kahne’s condition. Chase Elliott said a driver’s health should remain a private issue. Others were curious, but they also felt that they can do only so much to prevent the unpredictable.

“It is important for us all to understand what it is and, at the same time, that is why we prepare, because you never know what is going to happen in our life, in a race car,” Logano said.

“Just walking across the street, you can get hit by a car and all this is over. It is important to look past the hood pins in life and make sure you are prepared for the worst and hope for the best.”

Kasey Kahne pilots his World of Outlaws sprint car around Cotton Bowl Speedway in April. (Photo by Dave Biro/DB3 Imaging)

Kahne said drivers can get their sweat content tested, which could help them determine what they use to hydrate during the week and during a race. He said he got to the point where only time could help him feel the way he does now. He is not on any medication, nor has he made any changes to his diet.

Aric Almirola has worked with sports nutritionists and physical conditioning coaches to try to understand how to make his body perform at its best.

“I feel like everybody has different things that are specific to that individual,” Almirola said. “You’ve seen race car drivers that have major back problems, and then other guys race their whole career and never have any issues.

“You see guys that have issues like Kasey’s had or you see guys that end up with concussion issues and other guys don’t. I feel like it’s very specific to the individual and I wish Kasey nothing but the best and hope that they do figure out what is the situation, but for me, all I can go on is a personal basis for myself, and I feel like I’m in great shape.”

Kahne is still in great shape. He feels he could go run a half-marathon, and with it being done in less than two hours, he’d be fine.

Just a couple of weeks ago, Kahne was working out alongside friend Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

“It’s nice to at least know and he’s done some testing and maybe we can look at those results and actually see if there’s a way to maybe be a little proactive about it — maybe when you start feeling some of those symptoms come on as far as being run down and things like that after the races, like Kasey has been dealing with,” Stenhouse said.

“No doubt that probably had issues with his performance over the years with maybe not knowing that those issues were there, and it’s definitely a bummer that he couldn’t finish out the season with us. I was just working out with him … and I know he really wanted to finish out the year and try and get a good, solid run to the end for his retirement.”

Kahne still has some hopes to get into a Cup car. He has watched the races and kept up with what is going on in the sport. He just doesn’t know if a return is at all feasible.

“I’d love to get back in a car someday, but I’m just not sure that will happen,” Kahne said. “I don’t know. [I’m] not racing the super hot races, the super long races, things like that.

“It’s hard to pick and choose and not know what the weather is going to do. It’s not an easy task at this point.”

So his plan is to run about 50 sprint car races next year and get to a point where he is competitive in those cars after a 15-year Cup career. He wants to stay active. But he’d like to be active and feel strong.

“A normal Monday, I felt like s— for the last year,” Kahne said. “It’s so nice to feel good on a Monday. And I just kind of kept putting up with it and I never understood it.”