Unlike his three Hendrick Motorsports teammates, Kasey Kahne took his eligibility for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup down to the wire last year.
While Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson all locked up their respective spots in the 16-driver Chase field with early-season victories, Kahne’s chances were slipping away as he fired his engine for the Oral-B USA 500 at the 1.54-mile Atlanta Motor Speedway last August.
But by the end of the night, Kahne was celebrating his first and only victory of the season and relishing in the fact he finally locked himself in the Chase.
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Returning to Atlanta this weekend, Kahne is eager to sew up a 2015 Chase spot right now. Last year, the Atlanta race weekend was the penultimate event of the 26-race Sprint Cup regular season, but this year it’s moved to race No. 2.
"It would be a lot better and lot less stress, but it is what it is," Kahne said of wanting to lock in to the Chase. "We’ll take it any way we can. We want to make the Chase."
That said, Kahne has much loftier goals than winning a single race and making the Chase. So does his former engineer, Keith Rodden, who this year has rejoined the No. 5 crew, stepping up to be Kahne’s crew chief.
"We have goals this year like winning more races, running up front more often, being up front in practice, winning poles and doing things we didn’t do last year," Kahne said. "It all starts this weekend. It would be great to come off with a win right away, be locked into the Chase and then just go from there and try to win many more from then on out."
For Kahne, there is no better place to start than the site of his last win.
"I really enjoy racing at this place," he said of Atlanta Motor Speedway, where he has three career victories. "Just the surface and the speeds, the track is rough, you can move from top to bottom. It has always been one of my favorite racetracks."