CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Kasey Kahne and Tony Stewart are entering next month's Chili Bowl Nationals in honor of late racer Jason Leffler.
Kahne will drive a car entered in combination with Stewart, Leffler's girlfriend, Julianna Patterson, and former father-in-law, Bob East., in the Jan. 14-18 race at the Tulsa Expo Center in Oklahoma.
Plans had been for Leffler and Patterson to co-own the car, and Leffler and East to build it together before Leffler's death in a June sprint car crash. East continued the project following the accident, and Patterson turned to Stewart for help after the three-time NASCAR champion broke his leg in his own sprint car accident last season.
"She told me, 'I'm going to be a car owner at the Chili Bowl' and I said, 'OK?' kind of quizzically, and it's just gone on from there," Stewart told The Associated Press. "Bob is building the car. The owner was going to be Jason and Julianna, and I really wanted to be involved."
So did Kahne, who was close friends with the 37-year-old Leffler, a journeyman NASCAR driver who loved racing so much he entered everything he could. The night he was killed in a sprint car race in New Jersey, the winner was guaranteed just $7,000.
Kahne had to first convince his NASCAR team owner, Rick Hendrick, to sign off on his participation in the Chili Bowl. Hendrick hasn't forbidden Kahne from any extracurricular racing, but hasn't exactly rubber-stamped Kahne's opportunities, either.
Kahne felt racing in honor of Leffler at the Chili Bowl, with the promise of raffling off the car after for the Charlie Dean Leffler Discretionary Trust to benefit Leffler's son, would get him the permission from Hendrick.
"There's just a lot of good reasons to get involved," Kahne told AP. "Jason loved Chili Bowl, he was always so good at Chili Bowl and I enjoy driving on dirt. It was just such a good idea for me do it for Jason."