Kahne's win has Chase implications
The Chase for the Sprint Cup wild card was custom-made for Kasey Kahne.
In a year marred by accidents and engine failures, Kahne has fought back from a season-low 33rd in the points standings after the race at Phoenix International Raceway in early March to put himself in Chase contention with his win at New Hampshire on Sunday.
Sunday's win, his second victory of 2012, vaulted Kahne to 12th in the Cup points standings and atop the wild-card standings in the battle for one of those two slots in the Chase.
“I feel like we’ve been pretty tough all year,” Kahne said. “We just haven’t finished them off a lot of the times, but we’ve been there all year long. Hopefully, from here on out, we’ll get some more top 10s and top fives in a row, and from here out we need to stay after it.
“And it doesn’t get us in the Chase yet, but it definitely helps with a win today and the win in Charlotte. I can’t wait for some of these other tracks coming up.”
NASCAR instituted the wild-card element to the Chase last year to reward winning drivers. While the top-10 teams in the points standings get locked into the Chase, the two drivers with the most victories who are within the top 20 but outside of that group in the points standings earn transfer spots for the final 10-race playoff system.
Considering that Kahne moved to Hendrick Motorsports at the end of last year and brought his longtime crew chief Kenny Francis and race engineer Keith Rodden with him, the 32-year-old racer was expected to be a Chase contender, according to the preseason polls.
But with four accidents and an engine failure in the first 15 races, Kahne and his No. 5 crew have been in battle mode for most of the season.
Still, once he climbed into the top 20 in points after surviving the race at Talladega in early May with a fourth-place finish, the team just had to focus on wins.
Denny Hamlin, who finished second to Kahne on Sunday, says he never counted the No. 5 team out.
“They always have chances to win races,” Hamlin said. "With our format, all you need to do is win races. Just being in the top 20 in points, if you’re in the top 20 in points, you shouldn’t be in the Chase anyway.
“They can win races. It doesn’t matter if they were 20th in points with two races to go, I would still consider those guys (to have) a chance to get in the Chase and win the championship.”
Hamlin, who hasn’t been worse than eighth in the standings this year, is well aware that some of his toughest competition down the stretch will come from the Hendrick camp.
“When you have potent teams like that, driver/crew chief relationships like they have over there, you never count them out," he said. "It all works in cycles. Bad luck is when those guys had at the beginning of the year. Look at it today; the fortune turned around in their favor.
“All of this luck that people talk about, it all works itself out in the end.”
Francis doesn’t have a specific game plan for the seven races before the Chase. With the team still outside of the top 10, Francis feels the best strategy to lock the team into a playoff berth is simply to win races.
“You can never have enough,” Francis said. “Two is a step in the right direction. Hopefully, that will work out in the end if we have to fall back on that. Three would be even better. We’re going to keep after it.”
Kahne would like to keep the winning streak going with a victory in the Brickyard 400 — a race that has eluded him in eight starts. His best finish was second to Tony Stewart in 2005.
“Indy is a race that I want to win as bad as any race that we go to,” Kahne said. “We’ve come close over the years, so hopefully we can put something together there and have a really strong car.
“I don’t have a plan yet. I’ll come up with something.”
14: Career victories for Kasey Kahne
46: Points separate Carl Edwards (11th) from 10th place in the points standings
150: Laps of 301 that Denny Hamlin led at New Hampshire
173: Circuits until Denny Hamlin knocked Tony Stewart off the lead lap while running 19th. Stewart recovered to finish 12th.
Jimmie Johnson short-pitted on Lap 231 after running in the top five for most of the race — three laps later, the caution flag flew for oil on the track.
“I’m going to keep my mouth shut on that caution,” Johnson said. “We had a great race car. There was a lot of speed in the car. It was the Gibbs cars and the Hendrick cars and at times, I was the best Hendrick car running top two, three. But then that caution put us back in traffic. We got through there, decent.”
Johnson battled back from 17th to salvage a seventh-place finish.