Photo by Paul Strickland Jr. / TheRacingExperts.Com
Kasey Kahne's team rolling out the winning car at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Disclaimer: All opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.
Rick Hendrick’s investment in Kasey Kahne is starting to make a substantial return.
21 races into the year, Kahne holds the number one wildcard position with four races left before the field is set for the Chase. The No. 5 Farmers team sits 11th in driver points, earning two wins for Hendrick Motorsports this season at Charlotte and New Hampshire. Yet, four months ago, fans and the media were writing Kahne off.
At the beginning of the season, Kahne’s optimisms of beginning the year with a strong finish were ruined with an accident in the late stages of the primetime Daytona 500. Through the first six races, Kahne was sitting with a season best 14th place finish at Fontana, stalled at 31st in points.
After averaging the first six races of 2012 29th place, Kahne has scored 11 top-10 runs in the last 15 races to climb 20 positions in the point standings.
The start to the season was far from ideal, but the strong runs and finishes can be accredited to two major components: the chemistry with crew chief Kenny Francis and the strong efforts in qualifying.
Kenny Francis has been calling the shots for Kahne since the 2005 season finale at Homestead. The Kahne-Francis duo has scored 13 wins together, including a career high six wins in 2006, and two Chase appearances (2006 and 2009). The pair has also seen streaks off bad luck, including a more than two year, 81 race winless streak that ended in November of 2011.
Qualifying has been
the team’s strong point. Kahne has started on the pole position twice this
season. Through the first 21 races, the team has only qualified outside the
top-10 five times with a worst starting spot of 20th in the season
opener. The team carries an impressive 8.1 average starting spot, the best
among all drivers to make a start this season.
But it’s not the fact Kahne isn’t currently inside the top ten in points. As a driver, Kahne has shown consistently that he can be in contention to win races. Even in the first six events, Kahne ran well inside the top-10 at the different venues before bad luck curbed strong finishes.
When the Chase starts, don’t consider Kahne a dark horse, but more of a threat. The team has been proving they can be among one of the best in NASCAR with the amount of top-10 finishes over the last 16 races. After Watkins Glen, Kahne will be in the mix to win in the final four races since he has won at three of those racetracks.
Is this the year Kasey Kahne finishes top-5 in points for the first time in his career? A strong start to the Chase will not only accomplish that, but possibly the chance to be the defending champion in 2013.